We continue with the second part of the guest post “Write what you know” by author Nathalie Andrews. Do make sure to check out her social media links and her current book! Read Part One.
“Write What You Know” (part 2)
By Nathalie Andrews
“You’ll find it really hard to stay away from stereotypes.”
This is true. There is almost always a stereotype to fall into somewhere.
Women are emotional; men are strong! If these are stereotypes, should I only write weak men and emotionally-repressed women?
The secret is to realise that, at the individual level of a character, there are no stereotypes, just bad writing.
The truth is, we can probably all think of a stereotype that we fall into. And yet we are real people.
Your characters too can have stereotypical qualities, as long as that is not all that they are. They need to be many things, not just one. They need to be complex. They need to be self-aware. (As a woman, I know of very few who haven’t ramped up the ‘damsel in distress’ to get what they want at one time or another. Sorry dudes). Don’t be afraid of making your characters aware of the very stereotypes they are living/fighting against.
“It doesn’t matter who you offend; your artistic integrity is the most important thing.”
While I think it is important to write what inspires you, it is also just as important not to be an asshat.
Very few of us start a novel with the intention of filling it with offensive stereotypes or a terrifying lack of diversity, and yet these things can seep in.
One very important thing to remember is that, while you may not be to blame for unconscious prejudices and the writing that results from them, it IS your responsibility to look out for them.
If you spot something that you are not comfortable with, perhaps because it plays too heavily into an existing trope or cliché, ask why your story needs it. Tropes and cliches exist because they make for good narratives.
For want of a better one, let’s take “damsel in distress.” Should you cut out every example, in your writing, of a woman being saved by a man because it might offend the feminists? Short answer: no.
Long answer: if at the end of your manuscript, you read it back and realise that a heavy emphasis has been placed on how helpless and useless women are, you have a problem. You may not know it yet, but on some level, that’s probably an idea you’ve internalised.
You can either cut the offending scenes or you can balance them out so that the emphasis is returned to the rest of your plot.
If your plot itself is encouraging people towards prejudice, ask whether the world really needs your story.
“It’s just one character; he’s not meant to represent everyone from that minority.”
True. But he does.
That doesn’t mean he can’t be flawed. It may even mean that you, as an author, are going to have to keep reminding people that he wasn’t intended as a figurehead. But it is a risk you take when writing a minority.
It’s the same as when you are the only woman in a class or the only black guy in an office. It’s not fair, but, in such situations, we do the best we can while staying true to ourselves.
Your character will need to do the best he can, to represent his community while still staying true to himself. Again, that doesn’t mean you have to change him so that he is perfect. It simply means being aware and prepared.
“You are culturally appropriating and invalidating someone’s identity.
Be aware that it is easier to tweet something shocktastic and angry in 140 characters than it is to debate the complexity of any given situation and, if people are sensitive, it is often because they’ve suffered long years of discrimination
However, terms like ‘appropriation’, ‘identity’ and ‘personhood’ are not without nuances. In fact, people have written about them for centuries.
There is a fine line between a writer describing another culture and a writer trying to define another culture.
There is a fine line between enjoying a culture and appropriating it. Arguably, that line is called respect. The trouble is, it is largely an invisible line, so we, as authors, may need to work a little harder to make sure that people see it.
I hope that you have come away from this feeling more able to write diverse characters. At the end of the day, we all have empathy and can use it to understand our fellow human beings, even if they live very different lives from us.
If there comes a point when we truly believe that we cannot know each other at all, then I think we will have lost something very precious.
Some links that may help:
The Thief of Red Mountain
Connect with Nathalie
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Hope you enjoyed the second part of the article and once again a big thanks to Nathalie for giving up her busy time to share this. Do check out her social media pages and her books.
I’ll be back on Friday (with an on-time post!) really?? Yes, because it’s already written! huzzah! 😀
NB: Picture supplied by guest poster