The power of representation
Whether I have one reader or 100,000 readers, I take the power of representation seriously. As authors, we have the opportunity to create characters, who in the best of circumstances can introduce readers to someone unlike a person they’ve ever met in real life, and in the worst case scenario, we create characters who reveal our own biases.
Here’s an example. If you’re a fan of the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, you may have heard about the recent backlash involving words like “she-male” and “tranny.” Some members in the transgender community are offended by these words.
Because I am not transgender, I believe that I don’t get a say in what transgender individuals should be called. What I mean is that I believe that a group has the right to refer to themselves any way they wish, and I should try to abide by that. The same way I’d rather be called “gay” than “fag.” But, representation goes beyond our chosen and imposed labels.
When I or any other writer begins to create characters, we have a responsibility to try to create characters who escape stereotype. Stereotypical characters are flat and they don’t fully represent reality.
In the following, I focus primarily on the importance of queer characters. I use queer to try to encompass the multiplicity of sexual expression: bisexual, lesbian, gay, questioning, transgender, genderqueer and so on. And within each of those expressions are individuals. For example, if you have a character who is a gay circuit boy, do you explore all that has happened to him to lead him where he is, or just create a flat character who likes to party? Also, when creating queer characters, do we think about other intersections? Often, when someone says a “gay man” we immediately picture a middle class, white, gay man, and not a gay man with a different race and/or class background.
If, as a writer, you try to tackle an expression beyond your own, you should try to make that character as sympathetic and well-rounded as possible.
So, when tackling characters, here’s a short checklist I use:
1. Have I thought about my own biases? We all have them. Being aware of them makes us better writers (and better people, I think). If I have a bias against drag queens because one read me up and down, maybe I should try to create a beloved drag queen character to stretch my writing muscles.
2. Do I have only one character of a particular race/gender/sexual expression? If so, do I try to avoid the pratfall that this character represents everyone within that social category?
3. Is my character well developed enough to ‘run the gauntlet’? By run the gauntlet, I mean do I know enough about my character to put the character through a series of tests to see what he or she would do in any given circumstances/scenes (even if the scene doesn’t make it into the story).
4. Am I trying too hard? Let’s not work too hard to “other” our characters. In other words, being gay does not define every choice a character makes. Whether your character is straight/gay/black/white/male/female is not a defining trait in whether s/he runs from a werewolf.
5. What do my characters talk about? Have you ever heard of the Bechdel test? Basically, the test is whether female characters are fully developed or whether they only exist around men. I think the same can go for queer characters. What characters talk about is a powerful way to develop them. Dialogue is a strong tool to show interests, political persuasion, background—any host of topics. How a character talks about topics (word choice, grammar) is equally important. This can tell a reader such traits as class background.
6. How do other characters see a character? Identity is how we see ourselves and how others see us. Seeing your gay character through other characters’ eyes can tell a reader much about him or her. One character may think that your gay character is so wonderful he hung the moon while another may hate his guts. Maybe they’re both right. This can help address an important aspect of character development. Sometimes our identities are a performance. If a gay man wants to be seen by others as butch, he pulls on ripped jeans and a leather harness.
- Am I using societal bias for my own gain? Ouch. This question is a tough one, because it’s an easy trap to fall into. Have you ever seen any long list of movies from Psycho to Sleep Away Camp to Insidious 2 where the killers are men in dresses? That storyline is so played out, and gender nonconformity is portrayed as a dysfunction rather than an authentic expression. And in a society with very few positive representations, it is also pernicious. So, for instance, if you have a character like this, stop and ask yourself whether it’s fair.
This checklist is a reference tool—a guideline. Do I always succeed? Of course not. But I think that by opening the dialogue (with myself and with others), I’m taking an important first step in creating queer and other characters who are multi-dimensional.
As a gay man, I want positive representations of everyone in the queer community. And, I guess, the first place to start with those is in my own writing.
Adrian W. Lilly is the author of the novels The Devil You Know, Red Haze, The Wolf at His Door: Book One of The Runes Trilogy and The Wolf in His Arms: Book Two of The Runes Trilogy. His short fiction and poetry have been published in Hello Horror, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Nervehouse and The Weekly among other publications.
He is a fan of Gothic suspense movies and novels, which greatly influence his writing. Adrian’s writing focuses on strong character development and the nuances of fear that build toward horror. The mansion in his first novel, The Devil You Know, was inspired by the grand mansions in the Victorian neighborhood where he lives.
Adrian writes novels, short stories, and poetry and has spent many years as a copywriter in the advertising industry. In addition, Adrian has directed two short films and co-directed a feature-length sci-fi comedy.
My website: www.adrianlilly.com
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+AdrianLilly
ON SALE FOR 99 CENTS!
Twenty-one-year-old Alec Rune is annoyed when his older sister, Lucy, ambushes him with a blind date with her friend, Jared. But Alec is immediately attracted to the intriguing, intelligent young man.
But the past has claws…
Ilene Rune nearly collapses when she meets her son’s new boyfriend. His black hair and startling green eyes are the same as a man she knew years ago—an evil, violent man with strange powers.
The present has teeth…
Investigating a string of missing persons cases leads Detective Carmen Salazar into the dark world of fairy tales and fantasy—and shakes her belief in what is possible or imagined.
And the future is filled with blood…
Alec awakes from a coma with no recollection of the night his twin brother was torn to pieces. As a madman closes in on him and his family, can Alec learn the werewolves’ plan before his entire family is destroyed?
This “multi-layered and unpredictable” (Christine Coretti) novel builds to “an absolutely epic ending” (thegayUK.com).
Ten months have passed since werewolves changed Alec Rune’s life forever. As he and his family pick up the pieces, the mastermind behind the werewolves is revealed, and he kicks the werewolf plan into motion.
Meanwhile, Alec Rune and Jared Kincaid work to find the other members of the pack, but with limited clues they are stalled. Alec’s sister, Lucy, is wounded—and vengeful—and is sculpting her will and body to be ready for the chance to exact justice. Ilene, Alec’s mother, is battling depression after the losses she suffered at the hands of the werewolves. She unwittingly stumbles upon an 80-year-old mystery and finds herself at battle with the werewolves once again. Her husband, Jason, feels in the dark and isolated from the family that is keeping secrets from him. So he begins his own investigation.
As the werewolves come closer to realizing their plan, the family is not the only ones in the path of destruction. Millions of lives hang in the balance.
And as the werewolves close in again, Alec and Jared will realize the price of great love, sometimes, is great loss.