Writing Outside the Box

Having made the decision to write a middle grade novel starring a preteen boy, someone of the opposite sex and generation, I found myself falling into dangerous territory. You know—the territory marked with generalities. “Boys like to do such and such (play sports and videogames, speak one sentence for every eight a girl might utter). Therefore, I can make him do such and such.” This was simply because many of the boys I know (or knew awhile back) did those things.

Horror of horrors, I had written myself into a box. The result was a character as fake as snow in a can.

This

is not this.

How dumb, right? Generalities are not true of all; therefore, you can’t build a good character that way. Only by spending time with boys this age (and those older and younger) did the revelation hit: I needed to stop seeing this character as a stock character—as by-the-numbers as box cake mix—and see him as an individual whose heart and mind I could reveal. (And before you get ready to scream at me, I like many box cake mixes, particularly when someone else does the baking, and adds his or her own touches to make it special. But I digress.)

Case in point, I had to a pick a kid up from school a few times. Both parents were busy, so they asked me if I could pick him up and stay with him until one of them returned home. Now, many people who know this kid are of the belief that he barely talks. Not so. He talked for almost an hour about a Legend of Zelda game. I was the one who barely said a word other than, “Really? . . . Huh. . . . And then what?” He then segued to how much he loved creating music mixes using the software on his computer.

Link from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Other things I discovered: Yes, watching a Barbie video was torture for him, no matter how much his younger sister begged him. And no, he would rather not play baseball or football. Dodge ball? He was the king. Badminton and volleyball? Yup. You could sign him up.

I love this kid! Thanks to him, I felt encouraged to think outside of the box—to avoid relying on generalities—to make my character someone a reader might care about. Someone who seems real.

   

What do you do to go outside of the box as you develop a character? I would appreciate any tips you might have, especially if you’re writing about a character who is very different from you.

Link is from the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild wiki. Duncan Hines cake mix found somewhere on the internet, thanks to bing.com. Other photos by L. Marie. The mini figures are My Mini MixieQs by Mattel. Carrying case also by Mattel.