I started there. One of my earliest manuscripts featured an actor and a singer/dancer working in New York. Because of my background in theater, it was easy for me to picture these characters. I’d even lived in New York, so the sights and sounds, the smells, the whole urban feel was a natural.
What didn’t work so well in the early draft of that manuscript (it’s never been published) was my hero. He was, frankly, too feminine to be a real romantic hero. That’s because he was too much like me. I was writing what I knew. It wasn’t until three manuscripts later, when I set myself free and decided to blatantly write about things I did NOT know that I began to get a handle on male characters.
Think about it—if we all ever just visited places we’d seen before, we’d never go any place new. I think it’s natural to want to explore new places and things and experiences—sort of like playing dress up (even if it’s not Halloween!) It’s one way we learn. If I’d stuck forever with only writing what I knew, I would never have gotten published.
- I’m not a man, so should I not write male characters?
- I didn’t live in Regency England, so should I not write about that time period?
- I’ve never given birth, so should I not write characters who are mothers?
- I’ve never been a magician, a jewelry designer or an undercover cop. So, are those characters off-limits to me?
For generations, authors have written quite successfully about things they couldn’t possibly have known first-hand. Futuristic science fiction, vampires or animal protagonists—we accept all of those.
But, as a reader, where do you draw the line? Should writers of Westerns live out West? Should authors of African-American stories be African-American? Should writers who feature gay or lesbian couples be gay or lesbian themselves? Does it matter?
I ask because I worry about the authenticity factor. (Okay, frankly, I worry about everything with my writing!) But one of my current works-in-progress features a half-Latina heroine and her neighbors are this great gay couple. My goal is to write them as people first and hopefully avoid any stereotyping. Am I worrying needlessly?
Your turn: Are there books you’ve read where the author has created an engaging, memorable character that was obviously drawn from elements the author didn’t know? I’m looking for titles and authors (it’s time for me to stock up on summer reading material!).
Oh, and for those who saw my previous post two weeks ago, I just wanted to say Thank You for all the feedback on author websites. I relaunched a new version of mine yesterday. Check out the new design.