Okay, so I couldn’t talk you out of making your main character a writer. But maybe I can talk you out of making your writer character a bad stereotype. So do me a favour and avoid the following character traits seen so often in clichéd fictional versions of ourselves.
*Don’t make your writer someone who only composes in long hand or on a typewriter (unless your story is set in pre-technology times). It’s laborious. It’s pretentious. And it’s hardly ever accurate in depicting how writers write. Almost all writing submissions these days are required in electronic format so someone handwriting on paper or typing on a clunker will just have to transcribe their work into a computer file later on, meaning twice as much work as necessary.
*Don’t make them super rich, super successful megastars. There’s a fairly common IRS statistic that gets trotted out that of all the people in America, less than two hundred list their sole source of income as writing. Most writers have second, and sometimes third, jobs to ensure their financial security.
*Don’t make them broke, desperate losers either. Like I said, most writers have second jobs to ensure their financial security. The starving artist subsisting on love and two-minute noodles is a romantic notion (to some) but it’s also a complete distortion of reality.
*Don’t make them anal retentive spelling and grammar Nazis. While I freely admit to being one myself, I am an exception rather than a rule because the truth is you don’t have to be good at spelling and grammar to come up with a cracking story and write it down. A writer can misspell every single word and still be a terrific writer (with a little – no, make that a lot of – help from an editor). In fact, I’m pretty sure the bestselling novel Trainspotting would fall into this category.
*Don’t give them a god complex. Come on, we’re not doctors or politicians or the president of FIFA. I don’t know of a single writer who actually has a superiority complex. If anything, we’re more likely to have inferiority complexes. And those are hardly specific to writers.
*Don’t make them sad/depressed/melancholy/crazy/reclusive/lonely/shy/broody/angsty – at least not as a general state of being. I will admit to experiencing all these emotions whenever anyone makes me talk about my writing but don’t we all experience these things now and then? Yes, that’s right, now and then. Not all the time.
*Don’t make them wear berets. Just don’t.
*Do make them normal. Most writers are. We graduate high school (or fail), go to university (or learn a trade), get jobs (ones we love and ones we hate), travel on a budget (backpackers in Europe and 4 star in Asia), donate to charities (or blow it all on a big night out), get married (or stay single), have children (or don’t). You get the picture. Writers are people, too.
*Do make them hygienic. I think the unkempt, dirty, smelly writer is a leftover from the starving artist in a garret. And while this stereotype mostly affects male writers, I would like to stand up for all the creative men I know and protest that they are as clean as anyone else.
*Do make them multi-skilled. Just because we can write doesn’t mean we can’t do anything else. I’m quite good at maths, I can juggle, I’m an excellent painter (walls not canvases), I’m the world’s best aunt, I can speak a bit of French and I’m a terrific problem solver.
*Do make them responsible consumers of alcohol. While there are several examples of terrific writers who have struggled with alcohol addiction and sobriety, such as Steven King, there is no greater likelihood that a writer will be an alcoholic as opposed to anyone else.
*Do make them social people. Observation of and interaction with other people is a great source of inspiration for writers. It’s also a great source of respite from the solitary process of writing.
And, finally, a word on coffee. A couple of other stereotypes are the excess consumption of coffee and writing in coffee shops (I think we can blame J.K. Rowling in part for the latter one). These two stereotypes go hand in hand (makes sense – if you drink a lot of coffee, you’re going to need a coffee shop and constantly going to and from the coffee shop would really impact on the amount of time you can devote to writing, so you might as well set up shop (no pun intended) with your laptop). And while they are stereotypes, they can be forgiven. Especially if you live in Melbourne, self-proclaimed coffee capital of the world (also self-proclaimed sports capital of the world, self-proclaimed culture capital of Australia and self-proclaimed capital of Victoria). While I don’t drink coffee myself (take note, writers planning to make your main character a writer), I accept that many, many, many people do so it’s not going to be the perpetuation of a ridiculous stereotype.
So drink on (caffeinated beverages only), fictional writers, drink on (I reiterate, caffeinated beverages only).