REBLOG: Write Them Real, Write Them True

Irina and I had a good exchange regarding this topic on my previous post. Check out this awesome continuation she posted on her blog.

I think my thoughts on the issue have changed some over the past couple years. This is probably in large part because most of the favorite characters I have written (as a male author) have been women and girls. And I tend to like female characters more in fiction (who knows, maybe this very issue causes people to be more conscious about how they write and create female leads). Of course men can write deep women characters and vice versa. And any hack writer can write shallow characters of any gender.

But I do think there are some things that are inherently foreign from one side to the other, and at a minimum, require a good amount of research before publication. I wouldn’t write a story about a Korean character (I’m pretty white as far as the ethnic spectrum goes) without having a whole lot of either experience or research (I’ve lived in Korea for 11+ years and did my master’s thesis on Korean political history). Women are the same way for me. There are some things I feel confident about because either they should be human universal traits, or because I have enough experience in my relationships to tease them out. But there are plenty of things I wouldn’t try to guess at. Morning sickness, or just the experience of being pregnant. Or the experience of dealing with the heavier burdens of living in a patriarchy. In the end though, I think seeking to understand these differences in perspective makes us better authors, and better people.

Great post, by the way! 😀

De-zombify

There’s a topic that has been nagging me for quite a while, demanding attention and asking that my opinion on it be shared with the world. My usual response has been “Shut up and go sit in the corner, you’re too politicised as it is” but a recent chat with a fellow writer sort of convinced me it was possible to write about it without enraging armies or even your discussion partner. The nagging topic is about men writing female characters and, gasp, women writing male characters.

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7 thoughts on “REBLOG: Write Them Real, Write Them True

  1. Thanks, JM! To me, doing your research in areas you’ve mentioned is what any self-respecting writer should do, just as we research professions or technology we are writing about. Know your limitations, explore them, push them back, repeat, that’s my rule.

    (Pregnancy can be a horror story or a sci-fi story. To me, it was the latter. There was Something Moving in my body. 😀 Speaking of which I’m reminded of how different the same type of experience can be for different individuals, so we can’t trust even that for a generally representative description of this experience. Which could be a blessing in disguise, really. I had no morning sickness at all, so if you want to write a pregnant character who’s been as active as ever until the end of her pregnancy, you would be writing about women like me, totally real, just luckier than others.)

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    1. Very interesting to hear your experience. I agree that research is key, but I’ve picked up quite a few books which, at least for culture and locale, don’t seem to have ever gotten past the lonely planet tourism guides.

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  2. Well said, JM. Even as a woman, we are so diverse, so many cultures, it doesn’t always mean I can create a believable female character. I stick to universal traits (which you alluded to) of strength, honor, hard work, love–that sort, give my characters something odd to set them apart (which I hope forgives any slightly unbelievable character traits), and move on!

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    1. There’s always an aspect of the unbelievable in fiction, especially what I write. The key is getting the reader to accept it for the short time they are reading. Part of this is in relatability. That’s why most aliens in SF who are characters of the story are humanoid. It’s near impossible for a human reader to relate to a sentient shade of blue.

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  3. One thing I like about science fiction is that I’ll be two hundred years dead before any of my characters come along to tell me I didn’t understand them.

    I seem to have no problem with women secondary characters, even very important ones, and your post and Irina Slav’s made me look more closely at that. With secondary characters, I can say what they do, and make that as varied as I want. The reader can then infer their personality with complete confidence. I never have to say how they feel, beyond universals.

    Writing about other ethnic characters is similar. South Asians appear frequently in my writing, but always in a secondary role. I could probably get inside a male Indian head easier than I could a female American head, but I wouldn’t build a book around the effort.

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