Part 3: Capturing Your Characters
In the last two posts on Writing LGBTQ+ Characters, we looked at brainstorming characters and how to build well-rounded people while avoiding lazy and/or offensive stereotyping. You might be sitting here now with a pretty awesome character in your head. They have a name, a hometown, they like documentaries and peanut butter milkshakes. They are transgender, funny and wear interesting clothes. Great, so should you introduce that character to the reader by having them look in the mirror (Ha Ha), describe their cool clothes and ‘super blue eyes’ to us, while drinking a peanut butter milkshake and watching The Internet’s Own Boy and wondering if anyone can tell they are transitioning? No. It’s bad writing and please stop having characters look in mirrors.
How the hell do you make the reader like your character then? How will they understand how vulnerable and relate-able and cool they are? What if the whole peanut butter milkshake fan-club fails to buy your book, because it wasn’t obvious enough that this character flippin’ loves peanut butter milkshakes?! OK, I’ll stop now. The way to do it is to drip feed the info. BUT HOW!?
Do your friends/mum/partner ever look at you like you’re a total mystery to them? That’s because it is impossible and illogical for people to know EVERYTHING about another person. If anybody knows all your things, you are probably a total over-sharer and should reassess your choices in life. Keep that in mind for your characters. You should know more than your readers do. Sometimes it’s just not relevant to the plot to know that someone’s favourite song is ‘Big Poppa’. But what may be important is that your character loves documentaries, because in your novel, they meet their dream-girl while filming a documentary about Sydney Mardi Gras. A lot of the character info you have been developing since Parts 1 and 2 may never make it into your final manuscript, but it’s still important to know.
You’ve probably heard the old ‘make every word count’ spiel about writing. When considering which of your character’s traits to include in the story, make sure they all have a purpose. In terms of their Queer traits (their politics, or fashion or anything else related to the formation of a Queer identity) I say more is more. Don’t shy away from revealing your character’s whole Queer identity, even if it’s not directly linked to the plot. I get that this sounds slightly contradictory, but my reasoning for this is that Queer identities have historically been ‘toned down’ in literature to appease some faceless power-hungry ‘majority’. The time has come to not hide any more. If your character likes things because they create a sense of Queer community/identity, then throw it in there. Just make sure if flows on well. No need to interrupt an action scene to monologue about how great RuPaul’s Drag Race is.
A few basic guidelines to follow if you’re struggling:
Don’t info-dump. Instead, reveal things one by one throughout the novel. Perfect places to do this are when characters are talking to each other. Rather than making someone sit down and describe their meal to us, have someone by like, ‘Wanna grab a pizza? These guys do the best in the city.’ Then when they walk in everyone can go, ‘Our favourite customer! Your usual?’ etc. (Someone give me a Pulitzer for that stellar example.)
Most things only need to be mentioned once. Trust that your readers are smart enough to remember that your character has red hair, without having to remind them every time that character appears. Over mentioning things is super annoying. If they don’t remember that your character has red hair, then they probably don’t care and will figure it out when the movie version is released.
If you’re running out of cool things to include, try including some things you personally hate. Like make one of your characters mad for mayonnaise. It will open your brain up to the possibility that not everyone is like you or likes the same things as you (shocking as it may be).
If you can remove the info from a scene and the scene still makes sense AND doesn’t censor your characters Queer identity in the process, then leave it out. If you remove it and the scene feels flat and boring and heteronormative, then put some character info in. You know that meme with the person sprinkling salt on a piece of meat? Your plot is the meat, your character traits are the salt and you are the person.
This is the last of this set of posts covering the basics of character development. I hope it was vaguely useful.
Who is your favourite AusQueerYA character?