I do have tips to write well developed characters (see below, point 9 in particular), but in general, when writing about a race, sexual orientation, ideology, affliction, conviction, or religion that I did not experience myself (either directly or through knowing quite well someone resembling my character) I recommend doing tons of research.
1-Read as much as you can. Read books written about whatever trait you are interested in portraying or, even better, by people who have the trait you are portraying.
2-Test you character through beta-readers that have the trait you want to describe. Explain before hand what you tried to do and ask explicitly if they could relate, if they have any insights, or if they found any of your content offensive or cliché
Readers have been complaining about the lack of minority MCs (for example POC or trans) but the truth is that we need more minority writers to nail those characters down. The reason why I could confidently write about growing up in Italy, divorced parents, falling head over heels, traveling, eating disorders, sexual abuse, or teen pregnancies is that I either experienced those things myself, or I am very close to someone who did.
The main character (MC) of a novel is the one single most important thing about your story. The truth is that if the reader can relate and empathize with your MC, they will keep reading, they will want to know what happens next.
1-MCs are not perfect! They make mistakes, have thoughts they shouldn’t, and make mistakes. Did I say they make mistakes?
2-MCs are not dumb. Just like you and me, when they make a mistake they think it’s their best option. The reader should think so too. I don’t mean that all MCs need to be Jacks of all trades. In my life I still have to meet someone that is not good at something. Most people think they are not special because they can’t do math or hate geography, but maybe they are incredibly deep, artistic, or emphatic. I thought I was useless till well past my thirties.
3-Don’t change the feelings of your MC suddenly, just to drive the story forward. When you describe the emotional process within your MC, you are really growing and cultivating feelings within the reader.
4-Be consistent with slang and linguistic affectations. Have you ever noticed how a friend of yours says, “totally” all the time? Or “like”? Or “bazinga”? It does not matter what it is, what matters is that your linguistic weirdness does not permeate the speech of all of your characters. Different characters will have different affectations. Don’t overdo it!
5-Don’t make your characters gorgeous in a stereotypical way. It’s harder to relate to characters who look perfect, since most of us don’t (at least according to arguable TV standards). We all have a charm the way we are, so rather than promote this idea of the superhuman as the only lovable option, make your characters unique and have them shine the way they are. Support your readers! Rainbow Rowell (Carry On, Eleanor & Park etc…) does a terrific job with that, and I love her for it <3 I most definitely try to do the same in my books. Not only my characters are far from perfect, but I try to be as inclusive as possible (with an eye on the historical context, to keep it accurate…)
6-Don’t make your MC whine all the time. Yes, as MCs they are bound to go through some really hard times, but like in real life, no one likes a whiner. We all have meltdowns and that is fine, but don’t let your MC in a rut, wallowing over his/her grief. If you do because it is integral to your story (for example you might be writing about death, rape and such) add a touch of humor. Don’t cringe. If you went through some serious ordeal, you know that humor is a reaction to pain, sometime the only way to survive. Most survivors develop a dark sense of humor. See for reference Jandy Nelson’s books (I’ll Give You the Sun and The Sky is Everywhere) or The Italian Saga.
7-Don’t have your MCs make the same mistakes over and over again! It becomes frustrating and boring. Characters develop! They grow, learn and change, just like this lady here…
9-Don’t have your MC be a stereotype! No one is a stereotype! A stereotype is at best the average of what the majority looks like. At worst is the racist interpretation of what you think someone is like, based on ignorance. If you want your MC to be a specific race, sexual orientation, religion, etc… make sure you do your research on yourself or someone else. Talk to friends who share the trait you want to describe to make sure your character is accurate, yet unique. Use your characters to break stereotypes (Maggie Stiefvater did a great job with that in The Dream Thieves). If you have no friends and no direct experience about whatever trait you want to talk about, guess what? You probably shouldn’t. Put t he pen down. It’s time to get out of the house and meet some really cool people.
10-Love your MC with all of their faults. To write a great MC you have to come to accept that you are not perfect and that’s okay. Only if you manage to embrace the way you are you can come to describe characters who are unique, believable, and relatable. That sense of shame you feel when you write about your most recondite fears, it’s probably what makes your story unique and interesting.
Who am I to give you advice?
I am Gaia B Amman, the author of the Italian Saga (#TIS), a series taking place in gorgeous Italy, and talking about everything I was told is impolite to talk about ;)
You can check out the books here (e-books, paperbacks, audio)
Book 4, Sex-O-S, comes out November 6th!!!
YAY ^_^ PREORDER NOW the Kindle version or the Paperback!
Genre: YA, contemporary, humorous, insightful. Some explicit scenes and language, consider yourselves warned!
Expected release date: November 6th, 2016
Themes: sex and dating, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, friendship, Italy and Italian culture
End word count: 77,670 (404 pages)
Synopsis: Italy, the mid 90s. Bookish, tomboy Leda is dating the bad boy of her dreams. Is it love? Is she ready for her first time? Steamy at times, always emotional, the narration is authentic and gripping, raw and unapologetic in denouncing the hypocrisy of a society that would rather see pregnant teens than have an honest conversation about sex. Funny, moving, brutal, and sexy, this read is recommended to adults and teens alike. Breathtaking Northern Italy, including Padua, Liguria, and the incredible Island of Elba, adds to the charm of this addictive novel.
The books are recommended for ages 13 and above, but most of my readers are adults. (Book 4 has some steamy scene, all the books have some language, although most swearwords are in Italian).
Like my advice?
The Indie Author Guide, collecting all of my advice, is available on Amazon for $2.99, but Tumblr folks can get it for free here :)