Good morning, guys! I recently asked a friend if she’d like to do a guest post on my blog. Surprisingly, she said ‘sure’, and here we are. For those of you who’ve never read her blog, check it out: Allison the Writer
I especially recommend her comments on “Grammar Nazis“.
Hi, everyone! My name’s Allison. Before I get started, I’d like to thank this blog’s owner, Michael Gunter, for giving me this guest writing opportunity here. 🙂 (I’ve never done a guest post before, so if I’m an absolute fail at this, you know why….) Instead of writing about Doctor Who or evil hamsters, today, I’ll my topic is portraying “different” characters in story-writing.
Be forewarned, there are a lot of long sentences in here. 😛
In my work-in-progress novelette, Secrets in Seaport, my protagonist, Abby, happens to be a homeschooled girl (well, RV-schooled, but you know what I mean). Although the popularity of homeschooling has risen in the last few decades, I feel that many homeschooled children are still treated by the rest of the world as “different”, the odd ones out, the squadron of black sheep (if you got that reference, you’re cool), the social pariahs. That seems to be happening because of society’s preconceived notions being willed into existence more than anything else. And that’s not fair, right? I, for one, have interacted with several homeschoolers, and they’re definitely not the shy, socially-inept weirdos the world makes them out to be.
In recent years, there have been efforts to improve the portrayals other “different” social groups in mainstream media in hopes that they’ll be accepted better in society. (I’m not going to name any specific parties here.) To be honest, I think that the media is doing a horrible job here.
What mainstream media is failing to grasp is, if you’re trying to prove to the rest of the population that these people really aren’t all that different and that we’re all equally-created humans, calling so much attention to their apparently existing differences is just so counterproductive.
My philosophy is, if a writer wants to portray “different” people in a way that makes them relatable, acceptable, tolerable characters, do not treat them any differently from any other “normal” character. (Please note I’m not being literal when I use the terms normal and different. I’m using them in the context of mainstream society’s perceptions.)
There is no need to preach or devote a majority of a chapter explaining why a character is “different” or instruct your reader to think that this character is also automatically “awesome” or “cool”. It’s important to let the reader draw their own conclusion. Besides, I wouldn’t do that to any other character – that’s just an info dump that any reader is going to hate.
The question is, how will your readers know that your character is a “different” person? Well, you can always drop minor, plot-relevant tidbits of information throughout the story. Describe how your character looks, or have them mention something in their dialogue. But, as I wrote earlier, these details should somehow be relevant to the story. If a detail like a person’s orientation, skin color, or K-12 education is simply not relevant, then it doesn’t need to be mentioned at all.
In Secrets in Seaport, the underlying plot points I was trying to clarify by mentioning some minor details about homeschooling were, a) Abby’s relationship with her certified history teacher mom, and b) how she attends school if she’s living in an RV and constantly on the go. In the process of writing this story, I definitely had the motivation of portraying a homeschooled kid as a healthy, likeable character, but I didn’t make this my primary focus. It was more important to convey the story, and in the process, establish the character, not establish a character and have that establishment monopolize or become the entire story. That simply wouldn’t be fair either.
Keep all of that in mind, and your portrayals of “different” character are sure to be honest and fair. 🙂