Wednesday, July 2, 2014

IWSG - Portraying Diverse Characters


Today is another installation of The Insecure Writer's Support Group, which posts on the first Wednesday of every month and is run by our Ninja Captain Alex Cavanaugh. This is a place where writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. This month I am co-hosting with the wonderful Kim Van Sickler, Heather Gardner, and Hart Johnson! I'm a bit nervous to be helping host today - but I'm excited!

 I'm a little insecure about my character, Alanna.

My inspiration for Alanna (Dove Cameron)
Alanna is the main character in my novella, SILENT BEAUTY. She's deaf. Alanna suffers from Meniere's disease and has partial hearing. She’s fairly shy and hides behind her hearing aids, not wanting to be noticed. I love the relationship between Alanna and Atticus, her gay best friend. They are incredibly snarky and have some hilarious lines!

But I’m worried about how I portray Alanna. As someone with hearing, I don’t want to write Alanna in a way that is offense or that is incorrect. I don’t have any deaf friends, but I’ve been doing my research. Along with trying to find out the struggles of the deaf community, I’ve been trying to understand the struggles of those with hearing loss. Alanna does have some hearing, but her hearing aids improve her outlook since they give her a chance to hear. I’m being careful. (I’m also watching Switched at Birth…)

Alanna is a wonderful character and I love her, but I want to tell her story properly. SILENT BEAUTY is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, who is a total geek. I’m very excited about this story, but I’m insecure about messing it up. How do you properly depict a character when you are insecure about how you write them?

Thanks for reading my post and be sure to visit 10 new blogs from the list to help other writers feel encouraged and share our common insecurities! A special thanks to my other co-hosts and to Alex for starting such an amazing community!

61 comments:

  1. I think your insecurities are totally legit. I worry about stuff like that too. But you obviously care and you're doing your homework on the subject, so that's huge. I have no doubt you'll do a fantastic job. The story sounds great. Keep working at it, and keep researching. Maybe you'll even meet someone you can interview. :)

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  2. I can understand your insecurity. All I can suggest is keep doing your homework, and get all the feedback you can. Even if you don't personally know anyone who is deaf, you may be able to find someone online who can give you some helpful insight. As long as you put your best effort into creating your characters, I'm sure you'll be just fine. Good luck!

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  3. I think you are addressing your insecurity in the right direction; research. There are lots of movies/tv shows and books out there for people with hearing disabilities. There are also case studies and personal journals to access online. Not being hearing impaired doesn't mean you cannot portray a character with those difficulties. Its just a character trait to accommodate, not the entire character.

    If you love this character, you'll give her an entire range of strengths, defects, and plot obstacles to overcome. And make her come alive on the page.

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  4. I'm sure if you do your research, you'll find the right way. :) Good luck!

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  5. I considered doing something like for a short a while back. But like you, I fretted over getting things right. Perhaps go to a forum of a big deaf organisation? Run a questionnaire? Or send out a qualitative question paper and see what comes back. And of course, make sure at least 50% of your test-readers are deaf. :)

    Best of luck!

    shahwharton.com

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  6. My daughter was misdiagnosed with Meniere's Disease so I did research. I see you already have some comments giving you all kinds of great info. Research and possibly getting in touch with someone with the disease is essential.

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  7. What an interesting challenge you've set for yourself. Does she employ the use of her hearing aides (somehow) without letting others know? I love your premise for the novella. Thanks for co-hosting this month.

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  8. I'm writing one like that right now. Not deaf, but in a position I have no idea how it would feel.
    Since you are aware of it, I bet you'll take such care to do it right that you do end up doing it right.
    And thanks for co-hosting today!

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  9. The fact that you care so much about getting it right speaks volumes. Like any character, there may end up being people who don't like her or who find fault, but there will be many who are excited to see a diverse character. People will love her, because you love her. :)

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  10. Thanks, Krista, for being a host today! If you don't know anyone who is deaf, look for a school for the deaf (or Gallaudet University) and ask if any students would like to read your ms and offer comments. Best wishes.

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  11. As long as you're doing the research, and you have someone who's either deaf or has hearing loss vet it for you, then you've done the best you can. And if something's wrong, you apologize and try to do better next time.

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  12. Doing as much research as possible is a great idea. I think I would find several deaf people to beta read the book to make sure the character rings true. Their advice could make you feel more confident.
    Elizabeth Hein - Scribbling in the Storage Room

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  13. I generally have to find a fictional character who best fits the role in my story. Or I find an actor and hire them. For instance Tina Keeper is my Dr. Meshango in Broken But Not Dead. I cut and paste her pic to my monitor and look at her until I can hear her inner voice, then I write the scene. Seems to have worked. She lived in my head for a few years and I got to know her very well. Wasn't like that in the beginning though. Thank God for editing!

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  14. hehe I was going to recommend Switched at Birth, but you're one step ahead. I think you're on the right track with researching, and Elizabeth Hein made a good point: find deaf people to beta read it for you. They'll know better than anyone else. :)

    Thanks for co-hosting!

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  15. Thanks for co-hosting, Krista. I've never written a novel, so I feel weird commenting on writing about character. What I do is listen to my heart for what rings true. My character will let me know if I'm going astray. He or she will often speak to me when I'm washing the dishes. I've learned to listen, because if I don't that character will mutiny!

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  16. Be sure to remember that being partially deaf helped make her who she is, but it doesn't define her. That's for you to do. So try to be true to your feelings when you write about her. But also listen to any suggestions your CPs give you too. Writing about a character like this can be challenging, but the fact that you're taking on the challenge says something about you. Good luck and thanks for co-hosting this month.

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  17. I think research is the only way to grow comfortable with writing things of which you are unfamiliar. If you are in Utah, I suggest you contact the Sanderson Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and make an appointment to talk with one of the counselors over there. You could get a lot of information that way. Here's their website: http://deafservices.utah.gov/

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  18. Silent Beauty sounds like an interesting story.

    I had friends in college who were deaf-mute. What I know is that they are more expressive than others when it comes to showing their emotions (sad, angry or happy); they use sign language but they use a lot of facial expressions. So, when I communicate with them, I feel their every emotion with each gesture--no matter how simple--they make. I hope that helps. :-) Good luck! And thanks for hosting!

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  19. Thank you so much for hosting the IWSG today, Krista.

    I have a deaf cousin so I can kinda relate to this post. I'd never want to offend anyone either. I think as long as you write with your heart and have good intentions, your readers will see and feel that. Best of luck!

    Elsie

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  20. This is a great question. I struggle with that, too, even when I write an article for a magazine. I want to be respectful and honest. I want the person (or character) to be real and not a stereotype or portrayed in a negative way. I watched a play called "Tribes" last year which has characters who are deaf. In one family, one son is the only deaf person. He meets a girl who grew up in a family where everyone was deaf but her. She is now losing her hearing. He doesn't sign very well because his family taught him to lip read. It is a fascinating story. Maybe you can get your hands on a script. Also, reach out to your community. I'm sure you'll find someone who is deaf or works with the deaf who can help you.
    Thanks for co-hosting this month!
    Play off the Page

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  21. Definitely good to be conscientious about it--due diligence is called for, but what an excellent character. People with disabilities aren't seen enough in novels and I think it's great. You may be able to find online chat boards or something to get a better feel and maybe even meet someone from the deaf community willing to do a beta read.

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  22. What a cute picture of your character. I see why she is inspiring. Your story sounds like my kind of read just from hearing your own inspiration. You pose questions I have as well. Looking forward to seeing what you do with it. Best of Luck. I am sure you will do well. You care, so you will make your reader care too.

    Juneta at Writer's Gambit

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  23. First of all, I love that you're conscientious of the issue. Secondly, I say write it, then get a couple beta readers who are deaf, and ask them to set you straight. Seriously. They'd probably be honored by the opportunity, and you'll be that much better off. Do it. =)

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  24. I think every writer is a bit insecure writing about things they haven't actually experienced. If you haven't been to Singapore, how do you put the scene and location into words? Google of course! I'm sure videos or news articles are there somewhere for you also.

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  25. I taught a student for four years who had almost total hearing loss. She was so insecure at first but then she blossomed as she matured. Good luck with your story. I would talk to someone who has a similar hearing loss to get the realistic feel for their lives.

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  26. I think the fact that you're insecure about it will make you that much more meticulous with regards to how you portray it.
    Alanna sounds like such an interesting character.
    Thank you for co-hosting the IWSG today.

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  27. I know how you feel. I'm writing a character whose mother was stricken with Alzheimer's. I have not been a caretaker and I have a no medical training. I do have friends who have taken care of their loved one with this horrendous disease. Research, research, and hopefully a beta reader with someone who has experience with this will keep me on track. I imagine your goal is to make readers aware of Menier's, just like I want more awareness about Alzheimers and dementia. Best wishes!

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  28. Oh wow, yes, I can see how that is frustrating. I would do exactly as you are...researching! I would go on Facebook (or Twitter)--whichever social media you have--and send out a plea for help among your friends. Then interview away! I love the sound of your book and I am thoroughly enthralled with the premise. I'd love to see your book getting places! <3

    ♥.•*¨Elizabeth¨*•.♥

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  29. It sounds to me like you're on the right track. You're doing your research and you're being concerned. If you weren't concerned, then perhaps you'd really have something to worry about.
    Thanks for co-hosting today and sharing with us all.

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  30. PS... When I say a plea for help, I mean asking if anyone endures the similar trials as your MC and if so, then I would interview them. <3

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  31. I agree with the recommendation to try to find Deaf readers so they can point out any strengths and weaknesses that need worked on. At the moment, I only have one Deaf character, but I'm planning to someday go back to one of my oldest stories, featuring a girl who loses all five of her senses on the eve of her third birthday. There's no such thing as too much research, even when you're writing about a subject you're already familiar with.

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  32. I absolutely understand the insecurity. Like many of the comments, I think you should definitely write and get input form Deaf readers. No one better to help you out ;)

    Best of luck!

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  33. I'd be doing a lot of research. There must be forums online or a group in your area where you could get input from folks with hearing disabilities.

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  34. I share your anxiety! Like others have said, you're on the right track by doing research and self-checking whether you are casting your character in a realistic light. I would encourage you to seek a hearing impaired reader. Twitter and blogs are a good place to start. I also find personal blogs helpful, which is more personal than a technical article for some of the minutiae. Maybe experiment with Google search terms to find some. Good luck!

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  35. As long as you do plenty of research, you'll be fine. You're never going to fully understand what it's like to be partially deaf, but as long as you do your best, and do as much research as you can, then you should be able to portray the character accurately.

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  36. I think your anxiety is such an important one. I don't think we should shy away from writing about experiences that aren't ours (I'm currently working on historical fiction, and there's no way I can 100% accurately represent living in that era), but I think we have to be respectful.

    I'm not sure how helpful this will be, but Brenda Bruggeman is an academic who does a lot of work on deaf culture and how they are represented (and represent themselves) in the wider community.

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  37. Love the story idea and the character! Thanks for cohosting!

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  38. Stephsco and Laura have great advice. Do your research and it will show in your writing. Thanks for co-hosting.

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  39. One of my daughters is deaf. Many deaf kids tend to fake it and hide their hearing problems, which can be a serious problem in school because they don't want to ask questions if they don't hear something. They can become very good at faking it.

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  40. I'll agree with many other posters when I say that research will be key, but I'd also add that you need to spend some time feeling her. Really get in her head: have all-quiet days; think through the sounds of adolescence and then strip them away to pieces of sound, snippets that can lead to hurt feelings or misunderstandings; deeply imagine her shoes by walking through a day where everything comes in through your eyes, nose, and fingers. I think we are very able to write about people with experiences that we don't know, but in order to do so, we have to get inside and understand. Great question!

    Thanks for co-hosting!

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  41. First off, thanks so much for co-hosting this month's IWSG. I've no doubt you're doing an awesome job! Research is a number one priority for me when it comes to any piece of writing I do, especially when it's on a subject I'm not too familiar with. Good luck! Eva

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  42. This is a great post. I think if you've done your research, you'll portray Alanna just how she was meant to be. Good luck! And thank you for co-hosting today.

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  43. I'd feel the same way if I were writing about a deaf character. As everyone has said, by doing the research your character will be true, and the best thing you can do is find someone with hearing loss who'd be willing to read your story and let you know what works and what doesn't. Thank you for being a co-host!

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  44. Very insightful post and an excellent point! I admire you taking on a character with skills beyond your own - she sees the world differently since she doesn't hear it the way we do. I'd venture to say that your fear at not doing her justice probably means that you are doing an excellent job :). Great post!

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  45. Writing diverse characters can be hard--especially when they see the world from a different point of view. I think you should just push through it, and come back and read over it during editing. Additionally, you can add a note in the front/back stating that the book was not meant to offend anyone.
    Enjoyed your post!
    - Sabrina

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  46. Thanks so much for hosting this month!

    I know how you feel about this...I had the same concerns. I wrote a character who stutters. I did a lot of research, including reading blogs by folks who write about their struggles. I also read books with characters who stutter. It gave me great insight into what they go through.

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  47. Thank you for co-hosting ISWG for July! You have an interesting character in Alanna. One of my recurring characters is an older male in a wheelchair, the protagonist's boss. Her relationship with him partially mirrors my friendship with a person in a similar situation, with comfort and a bit of humor. I hope no one takes offense.

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  48. I think that's a double-edged sword - I've even read male writers saying they don't include more female characters because they don't know how to write women, while Star Trek has never had a gay character in 700+ episodes and 12 films, with several writers saying there was no place in the story they were writing for a 'gay character'.

    I think the trick has to be to treat them as a rounded character who isn't totally defined by their 'difference', but learning enough to realistically represent what that difference is like.

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  49. I can understand you not wanting to offend anyone deaf with the way you portray your character. Perhaps there's an organisation or charity in your area which helps deaf people who you could approach for advice? They might welcome the chance for the condition to be described accurately.

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  50. Hi Krista! Lots of research! And trying to replicate portions of your character's journey. A healthy interest in your character and having lots of questions is a great thing. Finding someone who is an expert or familiar with those issues that concern you reviewing your work or being a sounding board for you is also invaluable. Your deaf/gay character sounds fascinating! My latest book also involves a gay character, something I've never written before and have no first-hand experience with. But boy do I love her! She found me and I was powerless to resist her charm.

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  51. Thank you for co hosting this month, Krista. It is so important that your characters are "right." Don't feel insecure. Without my hearing aids, I still hear enough to talk to people, with a lot of "Um, what did you say?" replies to them. I turn the TV up high and hear the shows just fine. With the hearing aids, people are much easier to understand. :) You can do it.

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  52. Thanks for Co-Hosting Krista :) My main character is a 17 year old boy, so I asked a couple of boys that age to read it and see whether they felt he really would speak and act the way I had written him. Maybe do a shout-out on your blog for beta-readers, but especially those who are hearing impaired?
    Suzanne @ Suzannes-Tribe
    x

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  53. I have a grandson who is partially deaf and a sister-in-law with minieres. The grandson hates any shrill noises. (fire sirens etc.) He loves loud, very loud music and singing. Our whole family even his little cousins learned to sign but he refuses to sign. (He does at school just not at home:)
    The SIL has dizzy episodes where she needs to lie in a very quiet dark room until it passes.
    I think it is awesome that you are writing this character...
    Thanks for hosting too.
    doreenmcgettigan.com

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  54. My nephew has partial hearing in one ear, but he's only 3 so I doubt that would be much help since he's mostly interested in Spiderman. ^_^ I'd say you are doing your research and trying your best to portray her correctly, so what more can you do? Either way, it's great you have a character like that. I'm sure it will touch someone with the same hearing loss.

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  55. You're doing all the right things, and I agree with everyone who said to get test readers who are deaf or hearing impaired. I did that chapter by chapter with my middle grade at a middle school, so you don't necessarily have to wait until the book is complete. Thanks for co-hosting!

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  56. I think the research is great but trying to make contact with some folks online who actually suffer from hearing loss would be best- getting them as test readers (if they're willing) seems like it'd be your best bet.

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  57. Your insecurity is a good one, and one that I think a lot of writers share, whether about someone who may be deaf, someone who lives in a different country or is a different race, or writing a different gender. We need more diversity in writing, but it's a scary thing to tackle, writing something that we don't know from personal experience. I think you're doing exactly what you need to be doing. Is there a group anywhere in your area for those suffering from hearing loss or deafness? Perhaps you could find a beta reader by contacting them?

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  58. Your insecurity is what will make this character blossom into a realistic and convincing person for your readers. Research is of course a definite must but really, you know human relationships and just because one is deaf doesn't make that part any different. I think you'll do just fine, and you can always get trusted readers to give feedback on her before you actually finish... Good luck, and thanks for co-hosting this month! And for visiting my blog and commenting!

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  59. Delayed response! Sorry. Granted it looks like all is covered! I simply suggest trying to seek out someone who may work with children with hearing disabilities. Schools can usually help and generally if you mention you write people jump to help. :-) Good luck.

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  60. Your fear of giving this character justice and depth will mean that you will do well as you are tuned into what is needed and not the stereotype. You could always go to an information centre in your area and inquire if there are any deaf schools or places so you can have a Q & A period

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  61. My mother suffers from Meniere's and no one has a clue when I mention what it is. She only lost hearing in one ear. Started losing hearing in the other at about 50 yo. It's interesting to see what feels like a rarely shown disease in story.

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