This week I wanted to talk about character research. What forms of research do you do for the characters in your story? The first thing I do is go to the good old favourite – the internet search. But lately, I’ve found myself thinking more about one of my characters, which will be part of a collaboration with my writing group. I’ve never collaborated on a writing project before, and so far I’m really enjoying it.
As a reader, I didn’t realise that writer’s make up a character, and that’s it, there they are. You might try and impose your ideas on them, decide how you want them to be, but ultimately you learn that they do exactly what they want! It’s inevitable, just accept it. My character for this story is Hannah who used to be Charles/Charlie at school. I needed a character for this story, and there she was, ready to tell her story.
So, Hannah is transgender, she was born male and transitioned to female after she left school, and very happy she is about it too– thank you very much. She feels happy in the body she realised was her natural place. I have written lesbian characters before. Where did I get my ideas/character traits from? Well, I did research, I have gay friends, watched programmes etc. But how important is it that we portray these as a ‘real’ person as opposed to a ‘fictional’ one? Also after talking to a friend about this subject, she said, “some people say you should only write what you know/what you are. So, I’m white, female, straight. Therefore I shouldn’t write about anyone in the LGBTQ community, black people, males, etc etc ??” But as a writer how boring would that be if I could only write about white females? The important part is I want people to identify with my characters so unless I ’m writing a different genre – say fantasy I think we can write about other people, but we have to do our research? Would you agree?
When forming a character, it isn’t always necessary to go into every detail of the character. The reader doesn’t always need to know everything – well depending on what kind of book you are writing.
So a few questions I have…
It was pointed out to me – what do I know about Transgender people? Good point, what do I know? Well, I like to think I take an interest in people, I’ve socialised with straight and gay people. I’ve been ‘around’ people that have transitioned within the places I have worked, I’ve seen and heard of people that have taken this step. I’ve watched the series when Bruce Jenner transitioned to Caitlyn. So, nothing that makes me an expert… But, do I actually know anyone? No. I recently watched a programme called; Trans Kids – it’s time to talk channel 4 –an interesting programme about when people transition in life and what that can mean for their future. The support and drugs that are available, if they should be allowed to take hormone drugs at a young age. I quickly realised the number of choices a person transitioning needs to make, is staggering.
So this leads me to the question, should I reach out and try and speak to someone that has been through this life change? But, then I thought I write about all sorts of characters and some I research and some I don’t. So, I thought am I being prejudice by even wanting to ask a transgender person about their experience? Then I worried is this even the right terminology? Or should I write it from what I believe would be their thoughts and feelings like I would for some of my ‘characters’ or do I ask? Or am I just doing what millions of writers do when they don’t know something and research it or make it up!? This is what led to me deciding to create this blog this week. I’m sure there must be other writers out there that have these questions; about any kind of character they write. If I were writing about the Bronte sisters – I would research them – that wouldn’t seem rude to ask questions about their life? But then they are not about to ask! The last thing I want to do as a human being, never mind a writer is to offend anyone – unless I actually plan to offend them that is? Some authors like to write controversial stories. So, thought I’d throw the questions out there and see what comes back…
Further to writing this, I did some research on the internet and read a very interesting post on Wattpad called; Tips for writing a transgender character by ashisverymuchonfire. This was really useful and has made me re-think a few things about my character.
I have already developed a fondness for my character Hannah, she’s been through so much in her life, and I want to do right by her? Does that seem silly for a character I have created?? I also feel happy that Hannah will just be a character in a book we’re producing in our writing group. Just another character like all the others, maybe her story is a little different, but then all the characters are different in their own ways, and they have had many life experiences to reach the point in their lives where they all meet up again.
The research I have done so far suggests that there are not many characters from the LGBTQ+ community represented in books, sadly it seems that characters seem to conform to a man and a woman unless it’s specifically an LGBTQ book. Well, can’t a transgender person just be a regular run of the mill character in a book with all the others? Maybe there some books out there and I’ve just missed them – I haven’t read everything! That’s what makes writing so interesting. Telling a story, hopefully making the reader think about things differently, challenging opinions, making people laugh, cry, angry… I could go on.
Okay, so what I would like is for anyone reading this to set me on the right path, tell me what you do to research a character. What terminology do you use? Point me in the right direction. I hope in writing this I haven’t offended anyone, because this is not my intention, it’s to learn and hopefully do Hannah proud – although she’s a pretty strong character and definitely calling the shots in the early stages of the story!
Thanks for reading 😊