The novel I started for NaNoWriMo this year is one of the most adult pieces of fiction I’ve ever written, and though it does, that’s not intended as code for ‘contains sex’. But yes, it does.
It’s a complicated beast, though the essence of the story is simple. How people, characters, react to impending doom. It presents a future Earth that is a horrible place to live, filled with flawed individuals that sometimes do horrible things, and if I had to be honest, has the study of morality at its core. There are prejudiced attitudes against some characters, hopefully some non-cliche approaches to sensitive subjects, and if I’m lucky, a decent level of representation through characters that do not share a lot of common identifiers with me.
Earlier this year, I wrote an entry here titled Our Responsibility as Writers. Some agreed with what I was saying, and others thought any change to the demographics of characters required plot justification for their sex, sexuality, gender, race or beliefs. It was a compromise of artistic integrity for anything less than the initial concept of a character to be used, especially if it was done for the purposes of being inclusive. I don’t agree with that statement. Editing isn’t a compromise of integrity. Nobody requires justification for a character being a white man. Plot holes are not an essential part of the narrative. Having a realistic world is not a compromise of principles.
It wasn’t a demand given to writers, artists or other creative people, but a statement that collectively we should be more open to characters outside our own immediate experiences. Not having killed somebody is no barrier to writing about murder, and being utterly human hasn’t stopped artists from drawing superheroes, gods or cats.
If you’re writing, your plot should be strong enough that the change of supporting character Greg to supporting character Grace shouldn’t make it all unbelievable. You can make it work. Take on the challenge from Geena Davis’ recent article and make your cast realistic.
The interesting thing about being open to these sorts of changes is that it opens up the creative process to these elements emerging naturally. Making the decision changes the ideas that come to us and influences the paths our inspirations take.
When I started planning the NaNoWriMo novel, I thought I’d have three main characters. I had some clear concepts of what the characters were like. Through writing it, I found myself giving preference to one character over the others, to the point that I now have a main character. She’s an astronaut, and she’s not white. There are some male characters still, some white, and a lot that don’t fit everything else. Not every character is heterosexual. That’s just how the characters began in my mind, and I believe it’s because I made a choice to be more open to who my characters could be.
Is it all-encompassing? No. I can’t see that happening. I can’t guarantee that every prospective reader will be able to identify with one of my characters, but I hope the percentage of those that do rises.
It’s really not about succumbing to a liberal agenda, or taking up banners for a cause. It’s just a matter of telling yourself that you’re open to anyone your imagination wants to add to your story, and alright, giving it a few hints that it can look beyond the mirror for inspiration.