Non-Traditional Characters

This is one of my “write outside your comfort zone” posts. Non-traditional characters is my own term when I refer to non-white characters. This is not about any social issues or working with my own personal tangent of motives. No. This topic comes from an open need for many different races in the world who do not have access to mainstream or highly available books within their races / cultures.

I saw a post on twitter of an article of how only a small number of books have the lead character to be people of color, Asian, Hispanic, or fill-in-the-blank. Even less books are written by the same groups. I’ve noticed that a lot of agencies are requesting books of the minorities and of the LGBTQ communities.

I’ll go a step further and include characters with disabilities: whether they are physically hindered, emotionally, or mentally. I, myself, am dyslexic. And as a writer, it’s a pain to deal with and I’m sure you, the reader, have noticed several grammar errors that I’ve failed to find.

When writing of different cultures, races, LGBTQ, or disabilities that you are not familiar with, you need to do a LOT of research. You need to actually get to know the culture/people. Cook the food, listen to the music, go to parades, volunteer at camps for special needs, watch you tube videos, find newspapers/articles, interview people, and so forth.

A couple of weeks ago I posted some links to Tedtalks videos. I highly encourage you to watch the last one listed “The Danger of a Single Story”. Chimamanda Adichie is from Africa and she spoke of how her culture has been misrepresented. The best part of the video was when she spoke of her roommate in college who wanted to listen to music from Adichie’s home culture and that the roommate was disappointed when Adichie pulled out a Mariah Carey cd.

I’m not saying you need to stop what you are doing and change everything you write just to include a larger diversified group, but I am saying that you need to consider it. This is a chance for you to grow as a writer and as an individual. Learn and expand your understanding. We are all human. Don’t limit yourself and each other. Your characters are not going to fit inside a neatly wrapped box. We all have different traits that make us unique individuals, so should your characters.

A couple of examples that were successful:

Stephanie Myers with the Twilight Saga brought out the Quileute Nation on the La Push reservation. Jacob Black was one of the main characters was Native American. And then Jacob’s father, Billy, was wheelchair bound. Billy Black was a strong sub character who played several important roles throughout the series. His disabilities did not limit his character, nor should they.

Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Percy Jackson is the main character who has dyslexia, but with a plot twist it’s because he can read/translate Greek. Riordan said that he wrote the character because his own son was dyslexic and wanted a character that could relate to his son.

L. R. Mauck

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What is Your Level of Readability?

write2A few times I’ve heard and read about writers needing to be cautious of their stories “voice” sounding age / education level appropriate of the characters involved. Such as if the story is middle school age children, than the characters should not sound as if they have doctorate degrees in science.

But I’ll take this one step further – your writing in general needs to be readable. You need to keep in mind the age group that you are writing, but need to remember that not all adults have higher levels of education.

For example: if you write a romance novel centering around the medical industry and you try to relate by using medical codes and large terms – you are limiting your audience. Sure, it may sound authentic, but it will discourage more readers who generally will not know or understand the terminology.

I believe I once read that newspapers and the press will write their articles in sixth grade level readability (I can’t find the source now) – which is the level of language most people converse in.  Having a lower level of readability allows the story to expand over a wider audience. However, if you are writing that medical romance – writing it with the same level of grade as Dr. Seuss book would be a little off-putting to adults.

What do I mean by grade levels? The reliable sources for testing writing readability (Flesch Reading Ease, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Gunning Fog Score, SMOG Index, and Coleman-Liau Index) typically goes by the American school grade level. Though, each will tests and search for different words and structure of their own scales, leaving the same material to fall under several different grade levels.

My suggestion to you is try writing your stories a grade or two below what your targeted audience is. Example: If it is for middle school age – typically fifth to eight grades than write third to sixth grade level. Just because kids are in the age range does not mean they have retain every single word from their vocabulary tests. Same way with the young adult group – aim for the middle school age range of writing, and so forth with other targeted ages.

Free web links to test your readability:

L. R. Mauck

 

Writer’s Research

I’ve come to realize that writers are perfectionist because it is demanded of them, physically or metaphorically. So, to write an accurate book that won’t leave the readers questioning your story you need to do research. Researching can fall under many, if not all, genres.

For example, you may need know more about a specific location, historical information, even a trade. Even in fantasy’s, you may need to research different mythical creatures, legends, and warfare.

Where to find your research:

  • Google / internet
    • Search engine – ask very particular questions and click on more than one site.
    • Wikipedia – though, I suggest to click on the source websites near the bottom
    • Check out other blogs. They can offer plenty of insight
    • Youtube
      • view events
      • search for local people to get a feel for their accents and terminology
    • If it is a location – check out that locations webpages
  • Books
    • Go to libraries or book stores – sometimes you don’t know what to search for until you see it
    • Amazon
  • Talking / interviews
    • If it is trade – call up or visit someone in the field
    • Ask others for their opinions or what they would do in a certain situations
  • Travel
    • If the location is near you or a similar event, go and experience it for yourself.
      • If it’s a historical novel – check out Renaissance Fair
  • Personal
    • Sometimes in order to get an accurate detail of knowledge, you need first-hand experience.
      • This can be mentally reliving a close ones death – writing down what you though, felt, and experienced. Or remembering the first time you kiss your significant other.
      • To get a feel of a historical fiction, I sat down at my antique writer’s desk, lit some candles and then used actual parchment, ink, and a quill to write what it felt like to be writing that situation.

I wish you luck in your writing. Keep learning, keep writing.

L. R. Mauck

 

Weekend Challenge #16

Picture writing prompt: goblet

goblet

 

Use this goblet as an idea for a plot key in a story.

Example:

  • Fantasy – this is the goblet that anything poured within it whether wine or water, will allow the drinker a window into their future
  • Romance – this goblet was at an antique store that a woman really wanted it for her museum but the male owner couldn’t part with it because it had been in his family for centuries.
  • Historical – this is the goblet that one of King Author’s knights left behind at the round table.
  • Murder/Mystery – this is the goblet that held the poison that killed the unsuspecting victim.

Have fun with it and get creative.

L. R. Mauck