My brother, who is a great guy, has always loved performing and after our mother died he started taking classes and seriously throwing himself into acting. It was roughly the same time I started writing seriously.
When he talks about the craft of acting he often brings up “truth” or “honesty” in reference to a performance. It got on my nerves until I understood that he was talking about authenticity or making a character feel like a real person. (My English teacher would say three dimensional.) It’s a concept that brought his acting from talented but hammy to truly good. He’s been getting better with every project by always keep that idea in his mind.
Writing and Authenticity
In writing it’s just as important to make your characters authentic and relatable. As a writer (I’ve written 5 books, fifty plus short stories, and over 200 blog posts. I’ll call myself that and if this guy has a problem with that I’ll gladly challenge him to a write off.) Sorry… As a writer, I concentrate as much as I can on characters. My favourite scenes are usually domestic ones, how someone eats, cleans etc. tells me more about a character than all the clever quips in the world. (I like those too though)
The problem with being authentic is trying to understand and represent characters that are completely different than me. Let’s face it, I’m a 30 year old white, middle class, male, who rates a 2 on the Kinsey scale. I am what 90% of books, movies, and television portray as the norm.
This makes me worry that I’m not being authentic in my writing. If I’m not the best case is that that characters come off as unbelievable, at worst they come off as sad stereotypes. I don’t want to misrepresent my characters or my (eventual) readers.
Why Does Diversity Matter
I’ve heard the old saying of, “Write What You Know” it is a platitude handed down from the gods of writing years ago. It’s also wrong. It’s an attitude that says only aged, world weary, grizzled writers should write.
So why do I want to write about characters who don’t resemble me? Why is it important? It just is. As a kid I had hundreds and thousands of characters that looked and thought like me, that I could relate too. I want that level of relatability for everyone. I want a world where you can pick up a book and see a character that you fully understand and a whole bunch that teach you that as humans we are all fundamentally the same.
Learning about other sexes, cultures, religions, nationalities, sexualities, sexual preferences, and disabilities helps make them more understandable and breaks the “Us vs Them” mentality.
It’s also more interesting.
I haven’t lived as a Polynesian girl with anorexia, or a transgendered boy raised by a conservative family but I have written about them.
In Parasomnia, (AKA the book that is taking me way too long to edit) I tried my best to be authentic and to make each character feel real. I hope I succeeded but I’ll only know by finding beta readers who can call me out on anything that is wrong or stereotypical.
What’s your opinion on diversity in books?