by Cary Christopher and Lisanne Harrington
This month marks the last column that we’ll be writing for The Creaky Hinge, at least for the foreseeable future. We’ve had a lot of fun writing these and have discovered just how interesting it can be to collaborate with another writer. At the same time, we started looking at what we really wanted to do if given the chance to collaborate and stumbled on an opportunity to really test ourselves.
See what we did there? This month’s theme is “test” and so for our final column, we’d like to talk about the importance of testing yourself and your abilities as a writer.
Write What You Know?
There’s an old writers’ cliche that’s often passed down as advice to those who are just starting out: Write what you know.
The problem is, if you only write what you know in the way you’re most comfortable writing, you’ll never grow as an author. Even if you never push the boundaries to the point of writing a novel in another genre, just playing around with different genres or character types will help you flex your imaginative muscles.
Let’s say you’re a male author, from a middle-class background, and you write horror. It’s probably well within your comfort zone to create a male protagonist who has many of the same characteristics as you or members of your family. However, what if you wrote him differently? What if you made him a different ethnicity? What if you made him a different sexual orientation or just gave him qualities that were more feminine/masculine than yourself?
Now, how would you write him without making him stereotypical?
Well, you won’t know unless you try it and that’s what testing yourself is all about – trying new things. Writing a character who is uncomfortable to you takes determination, practice and some guts. You’ll have to be empathetic. You’ll need to do some research. You’ll need to spend WAY more time figuring out what this character likes or dislikes than you have in the past.
How Do You Approach The Unknown Other?
Cary’s suggestion is that you should start by just writing it. Write the way you think the character should be. Write what you think they should think. How would they approach a problem? How would they approach life? What do they have in their pockets? Once you have that down, figure out their voice, just as you would any other character. How will they speak? Do they talk with their hands? Are they sarcastic? Do they mumble when unsure about what they are saying? Snap easily or burn slowly then erupt?
Next, comes the testing part. Since you don’t know how well you’ve captured the character, you’ll need to reach out to people who can give you a clear and honest opinion. Network with other authors who have characters similar to the one you’re trying to create. Have them read what you’ve done and ask them for tips on how to make the character better.
Here’s the most important part of this step: You need to listen to what they have to say. Don’t be defensive. Just take it in. Use what you can, what you think is most important to your character, and file the rest away for possible future use. (Like all constructive criticism!)
In the novel Cary is currently wrapping up, he has a budding romance between two characters. While his previous novel had a romantic element in it, it wasn’t played up to the degree he’s developing it in this one. He is in unknown territory! So, he wrote scenes between the two that he then passed to friends who are romance writers. They quickly spotted things they thought would make the scene resonate more. Testing himself by incorporating romance into a paranormal fiction book, Cary was able to pick up some great feedback, which helped him grow as an author.
In Lisanne’s current WIP, the protagonist is a male sheriff. His second in command is also male, and Vietnamese. Not only was she writing a different gender, but a far different nationality from her own as well. Throw in legal procedures, and she just about drove herself crazy! But it was also a lot of fun researching both legal practices and Vietnamese culture as well as writing with a male voice for the first time. Sure, she’s had male characters before, but never as main characters.
Always up for a challenge, it was a good way to test herself and expand her writing toolbox.
Always Be Testing
It is so important to test yourself as a writer with each and every novel or short story you write. Stretch those writing muscles as much as you can, for that is the only way to grow your abilities. And if you don’t grow, then your writing will become stale and boring, and readers will be reaching for the TV remote instead of reading your story.
So go on, write those things you don’t know, create characters you’ve never created before, use as many unknown voices as you can.
If you do, you’re pretty much guaranteed an “A” on your next test!
Cary Christopher was born and raised in Florida and Georgia but has called Southern California home now for almost 20 years. He’s written extensively about music, movies and pop culture online and for various publications around SoCal. Now he primarily writes for his blog (www.carychristopher.com). His new novel The Wash is available on Amazon.
Link to my Amazon Authors Page:https://www.amazon.com/Cary-Christoper
After sixteen years as a paralegal, I staged a coup and left the straight-laced corporate world behind forever. I now pander to my muse, a sarcastic little so-and-so who delights in getting the voices in my head to either all speak at once in a cacophony of noise or to remain completely silent. Only copious amounts of Diet Cherry Dr. Peppers and hamburgers will ensure their complicity in filling my head with stories of serial killers, werewolves, and the things that live under your bed.
I live in SoCal, in the small town I fashioned Moonspell’s Wolf Creek after, with my beloved husband and persistently rowdy, always-has-to-have-the-last-word Miniature Pinscher, Fiona.
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