Writing the Other – Part Two

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by Elizabeth A. Schechter

See also: Writing the Other – Part One

In May of 2015, on my Tumblr account, I made a post about transgender superheroes. It was basically me musing on the idea of transgender superheroes, mostly because I’d never heard of one. I included a plot bunny, just a brief idea that seemed to be fun to me, but that I didn’t know if I could competently write because I just don’t know enough.

Now, one of the people who reads my Tumblr is one of my first beta readers. The Mad Gastronomer has been with me since House of Sable Locks, and I trust her implicitly. So when she responds to my post with the equivalent of “No, Liz! Bad Liz! No biscuit!” I listen. Especially since she gave me a list of all the reasons why I should not go anywhere near that plot bunny.

In a nutshell? I was doing it wrong. I really didn’t know enough. I didn’t know anything, and the tropes I’d thrown into that particular plot bunny were wrong, they were caricatures, and if I’d gone through with writing that story, I’d have been guilty of the worst crime possible when you’re writing outside your identity – I’d have been fetishizing a transgender character. MG gave me some good references, and I tucked that plot bunny back into the hole where it had crawled from, and promised not to even attempt to write a transgender character until I had an idea of what I was doing.

Cover for Where the Home LiesFlash forward a year. I’m working on Where Home Lies, and I have this new character that I really can’t get a feel for. I like them. But they’re not sticking to the outline, and I can’t figure out why. The last time a character in this book did this to me, it was Matthias himself. Then, just like Matthias himself, the new character finally revealed why I was having trouble writing them properly. They hadn’t yet told me that they were transgender.

And, just like when Matthias did this to me, everything came to a screeching halt. I remembered that conversation with The Mad Gastronomer, you see. I didn’t want to fall into the same mistakes. If I was going to do this, I needed to do it right. Taking it back and changing the character was not an option – this was the last piece that fell into place for that character’s GMC, and I could finally write them effectively. For anyone who doesn’t know writer speak – GMC is Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Essentially, what the character wants. Why they want it, and what gets in their way. If you can answer those, you’ve got most of your work done.

Notice I said most? I did with this character exactly what I did with Matthias – I went and did research. I didn’t have time to read the books that  The Mad Gastronomer suggested to me – deadlines loomed on the horizon. But my Google-fu is mighty, and I did my reading and carefully crafted my scenes and came up with the terminology for transgender characters in the Rebel Mage universe (which involved polling other writers and being told I was overthinking it. Umm… no. I ended up with three different terms – one from the Underground, one from Haven, and one from the far south and Solomon’s people, who’ve held on to their older knowledge and traditions despite the Elders.)

When all was said and done, and I finally had a manuscript I could hand in, I was completely terrified. Had I done it right? Had I created a character who was a well-rounded person, and not a trope or a caricature? Usually, I go to my beta readers for that sort of feedback, but the readers whose opinions I wanted for this one didn’t have the time to read the manuscript before I had to turn it in. So I sent it in anyway, with a note saying that I was pretty sure it sucked rocks, and it probably needed a lot of work.

Turns out, it needed less work than Haven’s Fall. A little less mustache twirling when we finally get the big reveal. A little more explanation in spots. A little less knock-Matthias-over-the-head (yes, Terrence, I learned!) Absolutely no gryphons made of fire – which was a writer decision, not an editorial decision, and I think got a complaint of “Aw, why not?”

And that one character?

I’ve been assured that I wrote him right. That he’s everything he should be.

I hope you all agree.