Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blog Chain: I'm a Boring White Guy

Welcome back to another awesome Blog Chain.  Before I get to the question, I just want to say that all the writers on this chain are awesome, so if you haven't already, you should definitely run through the chain and check them all out.  They're a brilliant group of people.

So anyway.  Sandra's up with a really intriguing question:

Have you ever created a character different from yourself in some significant way, such as (but not limited to) different gender, race, ethnic group, religion, or sexual orientation? If so, what, if any, research did you do to portray these differences? Was this character a main character, secondary character, or walk-on? Did these differences have an impact on the story?

Strangely enough, it wasn't until I wrote The Deathday Letter that I began writing these realistic teen male protagonists.  My protags have been girls obsessed with quantum physics, twins living in the dust bowl during the depression, an old German man, etc. And even still, I don't think any of my characters as like me.  Most of them are funnier than I could ever be.  They're more daring, more active.  I'm kind of lazy and lazy protags tend to bore readers.  

I tend to take a dim view though of authors writing across gender/race/sexuality/ethnic lines who rely on stereotypes.  I'm a white Anglo male, but that doesn't mean I should only write white Anglo male characters.  In fact, because we live in a varied world, I think we have a responsibility to accurately reflect that world.  When I wrote Ollie's best-friend Shane, I thought back to a young African-American man I worked with at the GAP when I was 16.  I can't remember his name, but he was so preppy and so shy and SO smart.  We got along great.  So I didn't do any research when I wrote Shane.  When I think of Shane, I think of him as this brainy, bad driver who loves pizza and happens to also be African-American.  

Stereotypes exist for a reason, but I think people who rely on them are lazy.  I think that if you're going to use a stereotype (like say a poor, overweight white person who lives in a trailer home) then you'd better have a darn good reason for using it.  And if have a good reason, then research would be helpful.  

Did I go off topic?  LOL.  So, my answer is that yes, I do write characters significantly different from myself.  As I should, because no one wants to read a bunch of books by a boring white guy about a bunch of boring white guys.

I highly suggest that you check out Michelle, who's quite a character herself, and who answered this before me, and then tomorrow you'll definitely want to read the amazing and awesome Abby's take.


  1. I agree. Stereotypes are the result of laziness. bleh.

    It's a great idea to model certain characters after real people in our lives. I think that's a good way to realistically portrait someone that differs greatly from yourself.

  2. Great post! It's important for writers to portray real people, not stereotypes. While I sometimes take inspiration from people I know, I generally change gender or ethnic group to make the character more distinct from the person he/she was modeled from.

    I'd love to read about girls obsessed with quantum physics, BTW.

  3. This is a ggreat post Shaun...and yeah, the whole authenticity thingy keeps coming up. So true!

  4. Wow... my WV is "psych." Huh.

    I agree that stereotypes for MC are lazy. Sometimes, throwing in secondary characters that have stereotypical personalities helps populate without smothering, though... in my opinion. (The geeks or mean popular kids...) It's rare, but I do use them for background characters.

  5. Great post! I think a lot of my characters come from people I've met. I just hope they don't recognize themselves, or I may get beat up.

  6. Great post! I think it was an awesome idea to model characters from real people. You already have the research ready, and only need a bit more interesting circumstances to make the character's unique personality shine through to your readers.

  7. Sometimes I worry I've stereotyped without knowing it -- my beta readers will have to clue me in if that happens.

    Will we ever get to read about the characters you mentioned? Are they simmering in a digital drawer?

  8. Interesting post, Shaun. I haven't ever modeled my characters after people, but maybe I should try that. I do like that you seem to choose people from all walks. I honestly haven't ever written an African American character, and I probably should give it a go. Anyway, I'm rambling but I like your answer.

  9. Kat: I really like to start off with characteristics of real people and grow the character from that.

    Sandra: Im hoping she'll pop up in a future idea.

    Christine: it does seem to come a lot, right? I think that it's so important, especially in YA

    Wendy: stereotypes do exist, I just get upset when people use them as a crutch.

    B.J. : I feel the same way!

    Michelle: Especially when I'm working in unfamiliar territory, I find that having a starting place is helpful.

    Shannon: my quantum physics loving girl may show up in a story that's simmering.

    Eric: I frequently ramble, it's all good here. I just like my stories to represent the world I see.

  10. I think stereotypes are funny in spoof/comedy type movies. Otherwise, they're not very interesting.

    Great post!

  11. Great points! I agree with you on the stereotypes. As writers, we should definitely avoid them. I think, however, the reason they come up is not because of ignorance (ok, in some cases yes), but because writers want to include diverse characters but are not sure how. So, they either stereotype or avoid any kind of diversity completely--both poor options.

  12. I agree stereotypes suck - but it can be fun to use them as something you can twist and play with so that people look at a character in a new way.

  13. Excellent comment about stereotypes and I couldn't agree more. Also, your title makes me want to sing,

    "I'm not old or new I'm middle school fifth grade like junior high..."

  14. Totally with you on the stereotype comment. It's laziness on the writers' part. I'll use certain archetypes, but to keep it from being a stereotype I find a way to make it my own. Great job, Shaun!

  15. I agree 100%. Stereotypes suck!


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