Questioning Assumptions

April 20, 2016 by KWills

QThe planning stage is a great place to explore and test the diversity of a novel’s cast. Not to engage in a box-ticking exercise, or insert token extras, but to take a look at some of the automatic assumptions made about the characters at the moment of their creation. Is the cast mainly white, male, able-bodied, young, good-looking, etc? If so, what can be done?

Once I’d stated to get the plot down for Fragments, I found myself facing these questions. Instead of worrying about balancing the percentages, I tried examining the mental images that I had developed for the characters, and asking myself how the story would change if I altered certain features. Would it affect the plot if I changed the colour of Nesh’s hair, skin, or eyes? What if I made Carrick shorter, or gave Ash a speech impediment? Does Volnar have to be male? Does Falerian have to be in her twenties?

So I changed a few details, and let the story simmer. Sometimes, I ended up discovering that the original description was better – but now at least I knew why. Other times, the change affected the story in a positive way; and mostly the changes didn’t make any difference at all. So long as I held on to the two or three adjectives that made the characters fit their role in the story, I could do what I liked with my cast.

Since I’m writing a fantasy, I don’t have to deal with the social norms of our world – but I can exploit reader expectations to illustrate the prejudices and biases of my fictional world. Or I could subvert those expectations, and discover new and interesting character traits along the way.

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