Writing Characters That are Unfamiliar
When I started to write Louisiana Catch, I was sure of one thing: I wanted to challenge myself and create main characters that were out of my comfort zone. Different from anything or anyone I had ever known. Be it Ahana’s wealth or Rohan’s biracial background or Jay’s underestimated and over-calculated astuteness. I like the richness that multiculturalism adds to our lives. In my humble opinion, reading diverse books about different ethnic and racial backgrounds can broaden people’s horizon and help fight bigotry. I didn’t know exactly what the characters would like or what they would do (emotionally and professionally) but I knew that I wanted New Orleans, New York, and New Delhi in the book.
Aside from being a writer, I am also a yoga teacher, Ayurveda health counselor, and entrepreneur. This means I have to work with people whose ideologies I might not always agree with or be familiar with. Sometimes, I have to help these people heal. To grow as a professional, I wanted to grow as a person. I also wanted to write at least one character who was the kind of person I couldn’t imagine befriending or even sharing a cup of chai with. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task and that’s why I took my time—six years—to write, edit, develop, and share a character-driven book with the world.
The most challenging part for me as a writer was not allowing my personal beliefs to influence the female protagonist, Ahana, in Louisiana Catch. Early reviewers of the novel have been curious if Ahana, the female protagonist, is anything like me. Well, she is a social issues advocate. I write about women, identity, and multiculturalism. One could say that there is a bit of the socialpreneur aspect in common between the author and the female protagonist. But Ahana is a survivor of marital rape, single child, and grows up in an over-protected environment at home. I grew up across three continents and made my first, solo international trip to Africa when I was in high school. And my husband is my biggest supporter. You get my point, right? Her foray into organizing the largest feminist conference is part of Ahana’s journey to healing and as a result, finding her true identity and power. And I write about women’s rights and social issues to give a voice to those who feel they don’t have the power. We both have Indian roots and that’s the most common thing between the two of us. I have to confess: At times, the way Ahana handles her privileged personal and professional life, I found myself saying, “Girl, you’ve got to stop.” But the beauty of allowing a book to develop over the years is that the characters develop their own voice. You don’t need to force reactions or dialogues. Ahana isn’t me, so her actions won’t be similar to mine.
Rohan Brady was fun and a small bit annoying to write. His playboy persona was rather aggravating for the humanist in me. Some of his jokes and dialogues made me cringe, but I had to get past my discomfort and accept: he is a fictional character. If you delve into Rohan’s psychology—which I do to a certain extent in Louisiana Catch—his complicated childhood and multi-cultural background reveal the nuances of his layered personality.
And to write Jay Dubois—without revealing too much—I interviewed a few psychotherapists because his character is complex in a whole different way. He is extremely bright and understands human emotions. People like him roam amongst us and might be part of our lives and we don’t always realize.
With all three—Ahana, Rohan, and Jay—they don’t fit a stereotype of who they are in the book. Rohan, some parts of his personality, has the slick demeanor that’s expected of people who work in public relations. But Ahana and Jay can’t be profiled against any expected markers. And I wanted that—to allow the readers to engage and understand that sexual abuse, online predators, grieving hearts don’t “look” a certain way and don’t just impact certain kinds of people.
So, why did I want to create such complex, flawed, but strong characters that you end up either hating or rooting for—you’ve got to read the book to figure out who falls in which bucket? To quote Jim Butcher, “The human mind is not a terribly logical or consistent place.”