Friday, August 05, 2005

How To Write A Character You Don't Understand?

The simple answer - don't.
If you don't know your own character and can't get into its head, heart and soul, I doubt you should bother.

Booksquare posted this most hilarious article from The Onion: First-Time Novelist Constantly Asking Wife What's It Like To Be A Woman.

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and literary critic John Updike agrees.
"Someone should have thought of asking these questions earlier," Updike said. "If only Tolstoy had thought of this, Anna Karenina might have been a more memorable novel."

Despite the hilarity of the piece, it is a problem many beginning writers struggle with. They wonder if their portrayal of a character from the opposite gender, a different religion, different cultural background etc. is accurate or realistic. To that I say that authors must trust their own individual understanding of humanity. Just like humanity is diverse, so are writers and their writing.
Of course , it's always beneficial for writers to be able to see, hear and feel the people around them. Writers should be as sensitive to people as they are to their surroundings. And sometimes, especially when it comes to cultures and religions, some research can be most beneficial.

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8 comments:

Jean said...

What an odd piece.

Melly said...

Yeah, I though it was pretty funny.

Carter said...

I've read The Onion for years. It appeals to my admittedly warped sense of the strangeness of human nature.

I agree with you as far as characters go. If you don't know them, you can't writer them. I think I have been reasonably successful at writing female characters. I've lived with women my entire life, after all. I think I have at least a vague grasp on the idea.

Melly said...

Warped is a good word for it.

I'm sure you have nothing to worry about. Many of my most beloved female characters were written by male authors.
Even some of my really liked alien/vampire/monster characters were actually written by human authors, believe it or not.

Jean said...

I can't wait to go to the zoo or the Arctic to ask the polar bears if I'm faithfully representing their species in my writing. Good point on the vampires/monsters/etc.

Periodically, I do ask hubby a "guy reaction" type question, but I'll make a note never to pull out a notebook and stare at him while waiting for his answer.

Melly said...

Jean, I always knew you could speak "bear" :)

Runners_high said...

Good advice about not writing about a character you don't understand. I have bookmarked your blog. It's a good one.

Melly said...

Hey runners_high, welcome, and thank you very much :)