When it comes to writing the Other (AKA anyone with an identity that doesn’t match my own), I’ll shamefully admit I’m a latecomer to the whole thing. I spent a long time not even thinking about it, having grown up with mostly fantasy stories written by mostly men featuring mostly male heroes, villains, and secondary characters. The few female characters I was reading were often solely love interests and mothers (mostly relegated to mothers and other matronly folk, written only to serve the narrative for a scene or three, with low odds of surviving through the book, or even being seen again). So it should come as no surprise, then, that my own female characters, for quite some time, mirrored those archetypes. You write what you read, after all.
What changed my thinking about writing the Other, then? Simple: good advice from better friends! Aside from generally good recommendations for stories, comics, movies, and games (because, again, you write what you read,) they passed along, both explicitly and by example, two important pieces of advice that I take to heart any time I write any character.
The first, from Murderer in Chief Adrean Messmer, is almost profound in its simplicity: focus on writing someone who is real. The second, from Storyteller, time traveler, and flash fiction dynamo Mac Boyle, was a matter of fact answer he gave when he revealed he had changed a male character in an early draft into a female character in the final ones (with no degradation in their narrative importance or addition as a love interest): there’s no reason a character can’t be the Other.
This advice is echoed in a series of quotes by George R.R. Martin about writing the Other: “I’ve never been an eight year old girl, but I’ve also never been an exiled princess, or a dwarf or bastard. What I have been is human. I just write human characters,” he explained in a 2013 interview with the Telegraph, and in another interview on the Canadian Broadcast Network’s Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, when asked how he writes female characters authentically, he replied, “You know I’ve always considered women to be people.” (That link is to the direct question and answer, but the whole interview is worth a listen!) The message in Messmer’s, Boyle’s, and Martin’s words is clear: write real characters, with all the care that you would take in writing yourself.
CJ Miles IV