Raven's Pen

Writing, Reading, and Ruminating

Category: Characters

5 Tricks for Getting to Know Your Characters

Characters can be elusive little goblins. One of our endeavors as writing people is to track them down and figure out who they are by the tiny clues that they give us.

Sometimes those clues do not consist of much at all. I, like so many others, has repeatedly fallen into the trap of not knowing exactly who my characters are. Now, how much you know your characters is often dependent on how much you plan a story before you begin writing. I, as I believe I have mentioned, am a terrible plotter.

I come up with names, a few plot points, maybe a little bit of a personality for a few characters and ta-da, I call it ‘good enough.’ Obviously, this is not exactly conducive to knowing my characters. Usually, I learn who they are by writing. The first draft is a place to try things, it is where you figure out who you are writing about and how they feel about their world.

But, that does not mean that I am not collecting tips and short-cuts to shove up my sleeve and pull out when necessary. Today, I want to share the tricks that I have; obviously, this is an ongoing list, but why wait?

Here we go:

1#

We describe people everyday: the guy we saw at the coffee shop with a moody look on his face; the girl who sat next to us on the bus. It’s pretty common knowledge that the best characters are usually the ones with a bit of depth; a backstory that gives them something to strive for or a few fears that they avoid facing. They are the ones that seem to most human, and the most relatable.

So, I find it helpful to start with hopes and fears. Fear is often an easier thing to begin with because it is so poignant, but that might not be the case for everyone. Maybe your MC is afraid of clowns, what would they do if they see one? Or maybe their fear is much larger and more complex, maybe they hide it behind other fears and try to convince themselves that it does not exist. One of my current MCs if afraid of someone showing her exactly who she is and believing that person; it leads to a whole host of problems in her life.

Once you know something about your characters’ fears: spend some time looking at how you can use them.

While fear often pushes characters away from one thing or another, hope pulls them toward new possibilities. I think it is important to look at both and see if they balance each other and where they do not. Remember: don’t be afraid of giving your characters flaws, it only makes them stronger.

2#

This is related to the first: emotions are a gigantic part of our lives (yes, even if you try to turn them off), why shouldn’t they be for our characters as well? What are the emotions that drive your character? Love, hate, despair, kindness, revenge, loneliness?

Consider where they help and hinder your characters, and how you can use them to your benefit.

Is it time for an evil cackle yet?

3#

This is one that I may have talked about before, but I think it is worth mentioning again: if you character is stuck in a waiting room before a doctor– or dentist– appointment, what do they do? Do they pick up a magazine? If so, what kind? If not, how do they distract themselves? What are they feeling?

The questions are close to endless. While this may not help in the context of your plot, it can help you understand more about what your characters do in situations that you can relate to your own life. If a waiting room doesn’t work, you can always send them to a coffee shop or other public place… What do they order? What do they think about the people they see?

Make them see a bit of the world before you drag them through you plot. It’s only fair… and they never need to know that you call it ‘research.’

4#

Random generators can be a very good thing. While I often do not pick anything from them, they often spur me toward a few ideas worth considering.  If you are not interested in random generators, try searching for images of something that is prevalent in your character’s life– even if it is just a hunch. Photos often help to visualize a character’s appearance; a person’s clothing choices and general surroundings often reflect at least a bit of their personality– even if they purposely chose to act exactly the opposite as the way they feel.

Do not be afraid to spend time trying details on and casting them aside.

5#

Pulling off of #3, this is something that many people seem to find extremely helpful: act out conversations with your character. What are there face expressions? How do you think they use their body language when they speak? I often find myself making funny faces while writing dialogue, strangely enough, it helps me to understand what my characters are thinking and feeling.

The conversations that you have do not have to be related to your story. Explore and see what you find. Walk around your bedroom and mutter to yourself for heaven’s sakes. Recite a mundane conversation with your character and see where it takes you. I’m pretty sure the neighbors won’t call the police…

All right, that is it for now…

I hope that everyone is having a great week!

‘Till next time (it will be very, very soon)!

Writing with LGBT+ Characters Pt. 2

Whew, it’s been a busy week!

Today’s topic is about myths; those pesky little stereotypes that are best avoided.

Myths are incredibly prevalent in our society, whether they are classical or contemporary, and they often find their way into books. (Okay, more then often. They’re like a giant weasel burrowing admix everything. Or maybe that is just my plot holes talking…)

As you can see by the title of this post, this is the second half of my whole thing about writing with LGBT+ characters. Let me be entirely honest for a moment; this is a post that I thought would be far easier to write than it actually was. For one, there are thousands of different ways to approach this topic. There are also a lot of questions.

When writing about ‘minority’ groups, it is easy to say that all humans are humans and they should be treated as such. However, there are always certain things to avoid. That is where stereotypes come in.

Yup, those.

Everyone knows that it’s frustrating when someone stereotypes you; no matter who you are. One of the problems with LGBT+ characters in media and books is the number of stereotypes that are repeatedly used again and again. I think at least a few of the more recent queer characters that are starting to show up are finally avoiding many of these stereotypes, but they can still be a problem. Stereotypes have a way of sticking around.

On the heels of that, let’s get into the actual discussion…

Before I get into my over-passionate list of a few stereotypes, let’s go over some basic stuff:

According to the New Oxford English Dictionary (third edition), sexuality is defined as: a “capacity for sexual feelings,” or, “a person’s sexual orientation or preference.”

So… what are the most commonly used sexualities?

Lesbian: A woman who can experience romantic and/or sexual attraction to another woman. (Gay is also an appropriate term in some areas. It mostly seems to be based on personal preference.)

Gay: A man who can experience romantic and/or sexual attraction to another man.

Bisexual: Someone who can experience romantic and/or sexual attraction to two or more different genders.

Transgender: Someone whose gender is something other than what they were assigned at birth. (While trans is not exactly a sexuality, it is certainly a valid LGBT+ identity.)

Pansexual: Someone who can experience romantic and/or sexual attraction to multiple different genders. (While this may seem very similar to bisexuality (and it is), pansexuality is an entirely separate identity. Pan and bi can occasionally be used interchangeably, but it is entirely based on personal opinion and there is a debate about whether or not they should be, most people seem to stick with whichever one they feel more comfortable with.)

Asexual: Someone who does not necessarily experience sexual attraction. Most people who identify with asexuality experience romantic attraction,

All right, now that that is out of the way: what are some of the basic stereotypes to avoid?

Note: these are based off of things that I have run into around the net, and they are undoubtedly influenced by my own opinions. There are probably some mistakes as well, please let me know if you find any. I will be happy to read your comments.

The butch and girly-girl lesbian relationship. Surprised? I know, they’re cute. But it’s just one version of a relationship involving two girls. It is true that there are many lesbians who fit the butch stereotypes, but everyone else needs representation too. To be clear, this is not on the list because it is a bad one, it is here simply because it seems easy to fall into.

The sex craving gay/lesbian/bi/pan etc. While physicality can have a major place in many written relationships (just think about a lot of the popular books out there right now), relationships are about the emotional not the physical. To be honest, this is something that can easily be overdone with straight relationships as well, but I think it can be a major problem with LGBT+ relationships, especially since there is some phobia out there about LGBT+ people being attracted to everyone they meet: entirely not true! Simply put: if you are not writing in a genre that asks for a ton of sexual stuff, this is something that I highly recommend avoiding.

The feminine/stylish gay man. This is very similar to the first one I mentioned; not all gay men wear flamboyant clothes, talk in high voices, or giggle. While there are some gay men who may fit this stereotype, there is also a large majority that does not. Let’s mix it up a bit shall we?

The greedy bisexual/pansexual. Bi and pan people have the capacity to be attracted to multiple genders, it is certainly not a mark of greed. It is an ability. Bi and pan people are not attracted to everyone they meet, and being bi or pan does not mean that they wish to be in multiple relationships at once.

The confused bisexual/pansexual. This one mostly seems to stem from a lack of understanding that bi and pan are both valid sexualities. While some people might be confused, the chances are that someone who is identifying with any of the LGBT+ terms probably knows whether or not the term fits them. To be clear: writing a character who is questioning their sexuality is an entirely different (and absolutely appropriate) thing!

The tragic death. Okay, this is probably the worst one of all. It is tempting to kill off one half of a relationship for drama and *ahem* mental torture (I am guilty of falling into this plot trap). However, this is entirely overdone in LGBT+ relationships. There are very few (but more than there used to be!) LGBT+ characters who get a happy ending, and I think that this is stereotype that should be broken. Do you remember what I said about books showing people the world in my last post? Everyone should be able to read about characters in relationships that they identify with who get to have happy endings!

All right, there it is in its mess and confusion. I know that I strayed off of the path of strictly talking about writing characters at a few points, but hopefully that did not occur too much.

Again, if you have any comments or corrections, please let me know!

Until next time!

(And a cute puppy gif, because that was pretty intense):

puppy tennis

Writing with LGBT+ Representation Pt.1

With the legalization of queer marriage last year, it seems like equality is far closer in this country than it has been for centuries. But there is still a ton of work to be done.

Why am I bringing this up now, and in a post about writing of all things? Because LGBT+ representation is still extremely scarce, both in film and books.

Of course, there are many different ways to approach representation of anything, and I cannot possibly cover everything in one post. Nor do I know everything. But one of my goals for June is to talk a bit about including ignored sections of society in books.

When speaking about any group that is not traditionally considered a majority (at least in modern times), there is always a lot of debate. I think it is common knowledge that people are afraid of things that they do not understand; no matter what it is.

Part of what books do is help to create understanding around topics that might not necessarily be talked about around a dinner table. This is not the case for all books, nor should it be, but, whether the author intends it or not, books often carry messages.

The topic of this post is a tiny splinter of a much larger one, and it is only part of one side, but I believe that it is an important thing to talk about. I have run into many things around the internet about how some people see a ‘queer or gay-agenda’ being shoved in their faces; I find this ridiculous. But I’ll talk more about that in a separate post.

While I could easily go on a very long rant about my own views, I am simply going to harp on the fact that it is still hard to find good representation of minority groups in film and books.

It is true that there are far more LGBT+ characters in TV nowadays, and the number in books is rising as well; however, it is still quite hard to find books with good queer role models.

Yes, the rising amount of representation is extraordinary and wonderful, but there is a difference between the what media sees as ‘queer’ and the actual diversity of the term.

In my cloistered little world, I may not know very much, but I hope that I can at least recognize a few of the major questions relating to dealing with queer characters.

I know that a lot of people who have not written many queer characters often wonder where they should start:

How is writing queer relationships different from heterosexual ones?

How should they go about defining who has which role in a partnership?

How can they avoid offending people, including the LGBT+ community?

To start with an overview of each:

1. Queer people are still people; in short, it is a pretty safe bet to start writing their relationships just like you would any relationship. It has highs and lows, understanding and confusion, just go with it.

2. Who says there should be roles at all? Not everything needs to be defined in black and white or male and female.

3. Try to become at least slightly familiar with the typical stereotypes that you should stay away from. Do a bit of research. There is a ton of material available.

Clearly, there is much more to say about each of those, but I am going to start with a few general questions before really getting into the more nitty-gritty stuff…

First off: why include representation anyway? This is pretty self-explanatory, but I’m going to talk a bit about it anyway.

A bit of a personal story: One of the first fantasy books that I remember reading more than once is Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series. I started reading at a late age, but I quickly started searching for chapter books; the Song of the Lioness series was one that I absolutely fell in love with. The main character, Alanna, is fierce as hell and just as strong. She follows her own heart and passions despite what society expects her to do, and she manages to grow stronger with each mistake she makes. She is also incredibly stubborn. Reading a book with such a strong female main character was, and still is, a major inspiration.

What does this have to do with LGBT+ representation?

Representation is all about showing people that something is possible. Every community and group of people needs its heroes and heroines. Including diverse characters in anything is a way of showing the people who are different that it is okay to be them. Having an entire world with strictly hetero-cis-white representation would be extremely diminishing to everyone who does not fit those confines.

While this world is not one with strictly white-hetero representation, it is the majority of what people see in media (film or books).

Now, clearly this conversation could reach straight into equality as a general concept, but I’m going to try to bring it back to books.

My view in this post is mostly focused on America since it is the country that I am the most familiar with. The book that I started in April for Camp NaNoWriMo has very few straight characters; this was not an accident.

Over the past month or so, I have been occasionally searching for books with LGBT+ characters to add to my to-be-read list. The number of books that I am finding with characters who are something other than gay/lesbian is pitifully small.

I very rarely read anything that is solely (or even mostly) romantic, and that undoubtedly makes the number of books even thinner. But, even when including romance, there are still very few.

For a world, and a country, with a large number of people who identify on the queer spectrum (whether it is gay/lesbian, pan, bi, trans, asexual etc.) this is something that I find sad.

Now, I know that my approach in this post may be slightly heavy handed to one side, and I have not even gotten into the writing part of the discussion yet, I think that there is very little that should be skipped over.

Because I am trying to keep each of my posts on this topic relatively small, I am going to end here for now. I hope to tackle an question that better pertains to actually writing next time.

Hopefully you will bear with me through my plethora of posts regarding representation… and I will try to keep my personal rants out of the way and to a minimum.

Until next time…

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