Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blog Chain - Differences

Sandra picked our topic for this round on the chain gang - she gave us a choice of topics, but I went with her first question, which was:

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?

I have characters that are completely unlike me, especially the male jock characters or, of course, the supernatural characters. But when it comes to my female MCs, I generally try to actively make them different from me in some way. I make them more edgy, more courageous, more feisty, smarter, funnier, tougher.

Lately, with my new MC, I find myself giving her qualities and quirks that are completely alien to me. The way she responds to circumstances are the exact opposite of how I would act.

Though, making my characters different from me seems to be a recent development. My first MC was very similar to me in a lot of respects. She acted the way I would act. But as I've written more, I find it sort of liberating to explore aspects of human nature that are alien to me. I find myself wanting to branch out into uncharted territories. Specifically, I've thought a lot about writing about people from different ethnic or religious backgrounds, explore areas I don't know much about. I love to learn - and writing about something or someone who is so different from me is a great way to do this.

For research, I mostly people watch. Observe how people act. Ask questions. Especially when it comes to male characters. Having people read my manuscripts helps a great deal, especially my target audience. Also, when I write historicals, I do quite a bit of research into the attitudes, actions, personality traits, and characteristics that were in vogue and popular during whatever time period I am writing about. Actions that are acceptable in 2010 were probably scandalous in 1810 - stuff like that requires some research time. And if I ever delve into a character who is from an ethnic or religious background that I don't know about (and even if I do know something) I'll research those areas also.

Bottom line, I want my characters to be authentic and believable. The more I know about every aspect of their personality the more "real" they'll be. And I'll research, ask, watch, and experience any and everything I need to in order to make that happen.

Don't forget to check out Laura's blog for her answer to this question, and stop by Shaun's blog tomorrow to find out his thoughts :)

20 comments:

Matthew Rush said...

Great post Michelle, thanks for sharing.

I've only written one novel, so I'm not the most informed about this, but my guess is that it's pretty common for writers to write an MC who is at least somewhat similar to them in their first book.

Several of the supporting characters are very different from me and it is definitely fun to research things that help make their characterization realistic.

MissV said...

Excellent points!

My character started out with some similarities to me, but she's evolving as I write - leaving the nest!

I might make one decent character, but if all my characters were based on ME, it would be one mightily boring book. Although, I wonder if there's a comedic angle worth exploring if everyone were the same? I have trouble making decisions, so all the characters would be sitting around hemming & hawing. tee hee

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I think research is very important in making characters seem real. And I think it's good to stretch yourself and try to write about people who are different from you.

Mandy said...

Great post, Michelle! The female in my first book was a lot like me as well. By my third book, the female MC was as far from me as possible. She was the hidden me, the things I say in my mind that I wish I could say outloud. The woman of action that I wish I was. ;) It's great therapy to write those completely different characters, and sometimes you learn something about yourself.

Christine Fonseca said...

Great post Michelle! And I love writing unique characters...so fun!

Tracy said...

Strangely enough, the male MC in my book is probably a closer representation of my personality than the female MC.

I'm pretty much a pantser from beginning to end. I don't ever research or pre-plan anything. It has it's positive and negative effects, I guess.

Carolyn V. said...

Great post and so true. The characters have to be different and...themselves. It makes the reading more fun and real.

Cynthia Reese said...

The character I pulled my hair out the most over was a woman from Oregon (I'm from the south.) Luckily I had a CP from Oregon who could tie me in with Oregonian beta readers -- unluckily, I had no idea at the start how hard it would be for a southern author to write about a character from another place.

The mindset was completely different, and I had to work and work and work to get that authenticity you talked about. Loved it when it was done and published, but thought I would go INSANE during the writing of it!

Eric said...

Great post, Michelle. Isn't it funny how many of us writers are people-watchers? Your ideas about using quirks to differentiate a character from yourself is a good one. I'll have to try that. I like your ideas on being authentic too. That's a must in any writing.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

I'm totally a people watcher too. I love eavesdropping :) The things people say when they think no one's listening are gold.

lbdiamond said...

Certainly, you can learn about someone by watching their actions. Great point.

Fantastic post! :D

Michelle H. said...

Authentic characters... that's what makes or breaks a story. Great post!

Jemi Fraser said...

I enjoy writing characters who are different from me. It's a challenge, but I find it more comfortable than having someone similar to myself :)

nomadshan said...

It's interesting that while many of us inadvertantly write characters different from us, you make a deliberate decision to do so, and for good reasons.

Kat Harris said...

It's been so long since I began writing, but I don't remember freaking out about the amount of research it takes to perfect a character.

I think if I'd have known, I might have screamed and run the other way. :-)

B.J. Anderson said...

Great post! Don't you just doing research? It's one of my all-time favorite things in the world.

Theresa Milstein said...

I've written a number of characters different from me in race and gender. Sometimes, that's just how it comes out. I live in a city, teach diverse students, and just feel comfortable stepping into different shoes.

When I was an assistant in Social Studies, I always did an exercise where I listed all of our ethnicities to compare our diversity with the American colonists' "diversity". Out of 20 people, 42 countries were represented. The funny thing is that I'm half Irish and Italian. A girl who looks African American was Irish, Italian, along with another ethnicity. Then a girl with pale skin and blue eyes was also Irish and Italian. We all looked completely different but had more in common than it appeared on the surface.

My point is that we share a common humanity. We just have to make sure not to stereotype anyone. And if we don't know something, we need to do research.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Like you, the heroine from my first novel had a lot in common with me. I think as we grow more confident in our writing we are less afraid to branch out more.

Cole Gibsen said...

I people watch, too! I find it's a great way to get character ideas. Great post!

Sarah Bromley said...

Excellent post! I agree that people watching is a fantastic way to develop characters. Sometimes you notice a quirk and you just have to use it.