Sandra is hosting this session round. She has asked two questions this time with our choice on answering either or both...
Have you ever created a character different from yourself in some significant way, such as (but not limited to) different gender, race, ethnic group, religion, or sexual orientation? If so, what, if any, research did you do to portray these differences? Was this character a main character, secondary character, or walk-on? Did these differences have an impact on the story?
Have you ever written writing exercises? If so, did you find the experience useful? What type of writing exercises were they, and did you do them on your own or as part of a writing class or workshop?
I will answer both questions, but the second one first. I have engaged in numerous writing exercises. My second blog is an ongoing exercise where I work on dialogue, plot flow, and character developments. I haven’t been involved in any writing classes or workshops, so all these endeavors have been mine alone. I love doing them and feel my growth as a writer expanding into areas that I’ve never considered before.
The exercise I like the most is what I call an “idea page.” Basically, before writing the story, I let my main character take control into telling me about his/her life almost like a therapy session or a journal page. In this way, I can feel their emotions, their motivations, their problems and the development of secondary characters. I have previously posted an idea page if you care to read more about it.
Onto the first question now, which I’m sure has a few people eager to hear my answer. Yes, I’ve written stories featuring the entire color spectrum. African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, whatever. I’m an equal opportunity writer. My research mainly involves just going out and listening/watching people interact - and watching TONS of reality television! :-)
*Michelle waits for the chuckles to die down before clearing her throat uncomfortably*
Okay, there is something else that I want to touch upon concerning this question - something fascinating to me. Sandra asked if these differences ever have an impact on the story. For my stories, I would like to say no. For myself, and for my readers, I have to say yes and not entirely in a good way. Let me explain.
I have one finished novel I'm going to focus on for this question. (For reference, I mentioned this story in the last Blog Chain. It’s the one that has gotten the most agent attention and that I loathe revising on at the moment.)
The incident involved the people who I asked to critique the story before submission. Their opinions were very encouraging - of which I am eternally grateful - and I made the necessary revisions. As the query phase started, one person also said something that made me pause in my tracks. To paraphrase, this person said since I had written a strong female black character I should use this to my advantage when catering toward the African American genre.
But . . . the main character wasn’t black.
This person (and the other readers when reviewing their comments) assumed the main character was black because I am a black writer. Yet I had made no distinction of this in the story. One of the things I had learned during the writing process was to use as little physical descriptions as possible with the main character so that readers can relate more to the story no matter their ethnic background. I did this. I didn’t mention any skin color, nor did I put in any specific mannerisms or language that would indicate the main character’s race.
In truth, from my own personal viewpoint, my main character is white.
The incident involving my story is disturbing. Does this mean that, whatever I write about, people will automatically assume the characters are black if I don't describe their features because the writer is black? And what about my other novel that is ready for submission?
I haven't allowed anyone to read through it because I wrote the characters as rural/hick in the same distinction as my life growing up as a farm girl. But will people automatically think the characters are white because I wrote them as country people while not taking into account my own background since a black farm girl is not something people hear about often in our society? Will they think I'm stereotyping a certain race as being country rednecks?
Makes a person wonder . . .
All right, I’ve strayed enough with this topic. Do please visit Eric’s post from yesterday and stay tuned for Kat’s post coming up tomorrow.