Casting Against Type #amwriting

PeggedThe vet who takes care of Mom’s animals, and who took care of my animals when I had animals, was, as we say around here, flabbergasted when he found out I write science fiction. He said, “I always thought science fiction was written by science nerds who like quantum physics and stuff.” I said, “I am a science nerd who likes quantum physics and stuff.”

I gave him a copy of OTHER EARTH, OTHER STARS. I don’t know if he’s read any of it, but I see it in his office. Every once in a while, when I bring an animal in, he shakes his head and says, “I wouldn’t have pegged you for a science fiction writer.”

No, I haven’t asked him why he wouldn’t have pegged me for a science fiction writer, because I’m terrified he would say, “You’re just so stupid! How could such a stupid person write science fiction? It’s amazing!”

ANYWAY, MY POINT IS, sometimes people defy our expectations.

Like, our #4 Daughter, the fantabulous Sara Marian, used to work in a bookstore that ran campaigns where they would ask customers at checkout if they would like to buy a children’s book to donate to a child who wouldn’t otherwise have any books of their own. Nobody would ever ask the motorcycle dudes, but she did. She said they would almost always melt and say SURE! She didn’t impose negative expectations on them because they looked like people nobody ought to be messing with. She wasn’t messing with them; she was treating them like human beings.

It works both ways, of course. Sometimes somebody who seems nice or harmless turns out to be dangerously bad. I’ve known more than one marriage (not, thank God, my own) that seemed like happily-ever-after before the wedding, but….

And sometimes, like with me and what I write, it’s just that people stick you in a certain box and then wrap it all up with expectations for the box, like the sweet little white-haired lady at my church who cracked me up when she said, in her soft little voice, “I was out working in the garden when it started to rain, so I said, ‘Oh, crap!’ and went in.” I didn’t expect that, even though Betty White has made a career of looking sweet and acting salty.

So don’t be afraid to give your character some outside-the-boxishness. It doesn’t have to be like He’s a cold-blooded Ninja assassin — AND AN AID IN A PEDIATRIC CANCER WARD! Just maybe toss in a little something the reader wouldn’t have expected. If you do it properly, it gives the character more reality. You don’t need to ask yourself, “What’s the most unexpected thing there could be about this character?” just, “What’s something a stereotyper wouldn’t expect from this character?”

What’s your favorite expectation-defying example from literature or film/television? Mine is Sawyer on Lost being a reader.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Give one of your characters an unexpected turn or sidelight.




I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Casting Against Type #amwriting

  1. Alice Gerard

    June 27, 2016 at 9:11am

    I love the image of the motorcycle dudes melting at the idea of giving a kid a book. I can visualize it, too. I can even visualize the motorcycle dude reading the a super happy little kid. And the kid loving every moment.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 27, 2016 at 10:25am

      🙂 That’s a scene I’m enjoying in my mind’s eye, Alice. Thanks!

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  2. Jane

    June 27, 2016 at 9:44am

    Good one. I liked that Sawyer read even though he had to tape together TWO different nerd glasses so that he COULD read. Sweet.

    I’ve been reading a number of first books in a series, urban something, and I must say I’d take ANY sort of distinguishing factors for the characters OR the stories. Plus, what I wouldnt give for folks to learn some proofreading skills!

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 27, 2016 at 10:27am

      Life is too short to read bad books. Unless you’re shipwrecked on a deserted island with nothing better to do.

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      • Jane

        June 28, 2016 at 9:46am

        The sort of sad thing is that most of the books (saving a truly dreadful one about fairies) were actually OK. But they mostly didn’t inspire any curiosity about what might happen in subsequent books. The one that did failed to produce in the second book. Sigh.

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        • Author

          Marian Allen

          June 28, 2016 at 12:03pm

          Oh, man, that’s so sad. When I read aloud to Mom, if we don’t care whether the main characters live or die by the end of chapter three, we go on to a new book.

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  3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    June 27, 2016 at 3:17pm

    Yes, but you write a good book, and run a sale, and nobody comes!

    In the same time you could have written 10-20 crappy little books with no editing.

    Heck, I’d give it away (still have review copies which I offer all the time) – and wouldn’t even insist on the review (though it would still be nice) if someone might like it and recommend it.

    Discoverability is a bear – thank goodness, when the readers do come, most of them say lovely things, or I’d be very depressed. As it is, I shrug, keep on writing, and hope for the future.

    Still not a good idea to pull people in who wouldn’t like it (that gets you the 1* and 2* reviews; people seem ANGRY when they get a book for free they don’t like).

    I hope I will be looking back at these days in a few years in a happier mind frame.

    OF COURSE you write SF – why not? I have written a tiny one, read tons, and will write some one of these days to go with the love story and the mysteries. And the play about three women who get into an interesting relationship because of one man who died.

    If you read widely when young (at heart), you will have absorbed what you need for writing widely. Silly vet.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 27, 2016 at 5:57pm

      LOL! When I think of all the sweet and/or jolly people I know who write horror, I can only assume our vet doesn’t know many writers — or doesn’t know that he knows them!

      I know what you mean about discoverability. I wrote a story a day for the month of May, the stories based on books and stories I’d already published, and am waiting to see if the sales for May/June reflect a bump. I’d bet cash money that they don’t, but I can’t find anybody to take the bet.

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  4. Alana

    June 27, 2016 at 6:35pm

    Why couldn’t a cold blooded ninja assassin be an aide in a pediatric AIDS ward by day? Actually, I like that idea, but I’m not a fiction writer. How about this: top executive of Life Insurance company in Nebraska becomes U.S. Poet Laureate. Oh wait, that actually happened. (Ted Kooser) Now I will settle down and be serious. If I ever wrote fiction (outside of NaNoWriMo) I would keep this advice in mind.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 27, 2016 at 6:39pm

      Wow! That’s a good one! There must be something about insurance: one of Charlie’s favorite composers — Charles Ives, I think — was in insurance.

      Sure a ninja could be a pediatric ward, I just mean the surprise doesn’t have to be that jarring. 🙂

      Now, Alana, you take your NaNoWriMo fiction and make it a finished book! Go on! You go first, and then I’ll do mine. ~grin~

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