As I’m finishing up my round one edits on Heavyweight I’m rather plagued with worry about whether my main character, a closeted gay teen athlete, will come off as realistic enough to my readers. While no one complains about adults writing for young adults (after all, we all had to go through that awkward age to get where we are today) I do wonder if there are people out there who are going to say “HEY! You’re not male nor gay! How dare you try to assume you know enough to write one without living the life?”
It’s true. I’m neither male (last I checked) nor gay (girls are pretty but just don’t rev my engine) but I have been surrounded by both for much of my life. Obviously, it’s hard not to be surrounded by males (unless one is born in a convent and never leaves perhaps) and between having a brother and boyfriends and a lot of male friends, I think I’ve got that aspect covered well enough. I have gay relatives and over the years several of those male friends have come out and while I obviously couldn’t be inside their heads when that happened, there have been discussions and I like to think I have somewhat of an idea. I hope it’s enough of one that people aren’t going to come back and tell me my ideas are all wrong and that my characters come off as fake or unrealistic.
When writing anything you’re unfamiliar with, research must be done. I don’t think writing characters of different gender, race, religion, sexual preference, etc. is any different. There are many great books out there with real life coming out stories and a good amount of fiction with gay main characters (although there could certainly be more). There are also movies and TV shows that can be used for reference. Plenty of actors will play characters of the opposite orientation and do a fantastically convincing job of it. Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother, Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family and Matt Smith (yes the 11th Doctor) in Christopher and His Kind to name a few.
I don’t think it’s something you should go into just assuming you know enough. You might be right, but you might also end up offending with your take on a certain type of person. I did try to stay away from stereotyping my characters, although I don’t know if that’s 100% possible, but I kept it minimal (at least I think I did!).
Finding beta readers who will be able to relate to your character can be very helpful in making sure you’ve done a good job in portraying a gay male teen or an Asian Buddhist, etc. That being said, I could certainly use more beta readers (just for content, not editing purposes) that will “get” Ian. You don’t need to be an athlete (although that’d be handy) nor a teen anymore, but if you’re gay (male or not) and interested in being a beta reader for me, drop your name and email into the comments!
They say you should write what you know, but if that were truly the case, how would we get fantastical Sci-Fi stories and epic fantasy tales? Writers create and build their own worlds (even contemporary authors) and it may take research and advice, but I think convincing, enjoyable books can be produced. An author can write any type of character as all characters are going to be relatable in someway (Even the aliens and robots folks. They will be relatable because they will be lacking those human qualities and emotions. Does that make sense? It does to me anyhow…) whether it’s experiences or emotions. They will all love and hate and triumph and fall down. It doesn’t matter if they’re black, white, gay, straight, Catholic or Jewish.
It remains to be seen on whether I’ve done a convincing job crafting my characters, but I’m holding on to hope that I have. So far no Juggalos have come to yell at me for my portrayal of one of their own in Tears of a Clown (even though I do poke a bit of fun at them) and hopefully I won’t offend anyone of the GLBT persuasion either. It’s certainly not my intention to do so.
What is your take on authors creating characters that are different from the type of person they are?
Here are some other good articles on the topic: