"Writing Accurate Representation": An Interview with O.D.
Today's interview is with a writer from Wattpad, who goes by the name O.D. I was happy to have the opportunity to ask him some questions about his work, because we've been connected on Wattpad for quite a while and I was curious about what goes into what he writes! We had a great conversation about LGBT+ representation, working on new projects, and succeeding online. He isn't on social media, but make sure to check out @OptimisticDragonfly on Wattpad!
L: First things first, please tell us a bit about yourself!
O: I’m 16 years old, I live in the United States, I’m gay, and my dream is to be an actor. But having a full-length published novel would also be amazing!! My favorite music genre is musical theatre, because I’m THAT gay, my favorite book genre is fantasy, and my favorite musical is Les Miserables (of course). I also love to bake - I make mean meringues and killer cakes.
L: Were there any books or authors that made you want to write?
O:That’s a complex question… in terms of first starting out, I don’t remember a specific book or author. I first started taking writing seriously, however, when I was 12 after reading The Wings of Fire series. Those books really inspired a young me. As anyone can readily see, my writing has shifted very far from those original ideas, and have been influenced by authors like Sarah J Maas, CJ Redwine, Curtis Jobling, Neal Shusterman, and Marissa Meyer.
L: You're an active writer on Wattpad. Can you tell us what you're working on over there?
O:I ’m currently editing my first piece of work, a gay romance-fantasy story called Forbidden. It’s about a servant named Ethan who falls in love with Prince Gaven. The only issue is, homosexuality is outlawed and punished by death. I’m also writing its sequel entitled Rising, and a Snow White retelling separate from the Forbidden duology called As Sharp as Snow. In that, the Evil Queen is the protagonist while Snow White is the antagonist. Finally, I'm just starting out a possible idea for a retelling of Alice in Wonderland called Four of a Kind, in which each person's entire life is based on a birthmark (a sword for a soldier, a crown for a king, etc.) That's still in very early development, but I might flesh it out if I get the chance!
L: Wow, you certainly are keeping busy! What project are you most excited about?
O: I’m so excited to flesh out some new ideas in Rising, but I’m absolutely thrilled to be working on As Sharp as Snow! It’s so much fun to toy with a whole new world full of magic (yes, magic), new characters, and a completely new culture. I love to make up worlds, and ASaS definitely satisfies that.
L: For you, how does writing a sequel differ from writing the first book?
O: It’s a lot more work to start! I’m not very far into it, but I’ve taken an extremely long time just trying to figure out how to even begin Rising. I have to make it both make sense in terms of where the last book ended, but not make it occur right after the ending. It’s kinda difficult to handle! On the flip side of that, I can create a whole different setting, with new characters, new challenges, and new relationships. It’s super exciting!
L: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Or maybe a mix of both?
O: I’m definitely more of a pantser. I’ve tried to plan out my ideas before, and they’ve almost always crashed and burned. Some of my best ideas for books often occur out of thin air - for example, almost every character or event in Forbidden. The only planned parts of my writing are the beginning, ending, and some key events. Other than that, I just let the story and characters take me where they want. I think it makes the process more natural and exciting, and it gives me a chance to change things up halfway through if I’m getting bored!
L: What advice would you give to new writers on Wattpad?
O: First, don’t ever give up! It might take some hard work, but if you have a good idea, pursue it to the ends of the Earth. Second, listen to feedback. Get reviews, ask for criticism, read your comments. They often have wonderful advice. And third (and this is a personal annoyance of mine), don’t ask other writers on their message boards to read your story. It can get very irritating. Instead, just become friends with the authors. Read their books, private message them praise about their work, talk with them. Don’t come in with an agenda, and your experience as a whole will be much better. I’ve met some amazing people on the app this way.
L: What are some of your goals in writing?
O: My main goal right now is to finish the first draft of the Forbidden duology. I also want to write more of As Sharp as Snow before I put it onto Wattpad. My long term goal in writing would be to eventually publish my work - that would be the greatest thing on the planet.
L: Can you discuss the role/importance of queer characters in your writing?
O: At least in Forbidden and Rising, queer characters in my writing play a vital role in the entire story. The entire plot is based on gay love and oppression towards such love. Having gay protagonists in this world sets up these really interesting dynamics between different characters and really sets the entire story in motion. They aren’t all just gay either - one protagonist is bisexual, and in Rising, I’m going to introduce many more characters who represent different aspects of the LGBTQ+ community. They all play a role in developing and moving the story forward.
L: Why is LGBT+ representation important to see in writing?
O: The world isn’t entirely straight. That’s what my thoughts on this boil down to. That’s why I rejoice in seeing LGBTQ+ representation, and really all minority representation, in writing and film. Not everyone is male, white, and straight, and literature should reflect that, Additionally, writing good, well thought out LGBTQ+ characters shows people that being in that community is okay. The world has taken strides towards total acceptance, but we still aren’t there yet. Writing these characters helps show people that being a part of the community isn’t wrong or something to be afraid of.
L: What can we do to further advance LGBT+ representation in writing?
O: The representation has to be balanced. On one hand, don’t make being gay or bi or whatever an entire character’s personality. That’s not true to life, and it’s doing a disservice to the representation you may be trying to achieve. Make them actual characters. At the same time, don’t brush off their sexualities or make them, in essence, straight. That totally makes your efforts useless. What I’m trying to say is: treat your queer characters like you would any other character. If your straight character would typically have a girlfriend, give a gay character a boyfriend. Treat it like a normal thing, and not something that needs to be handled. We don’t need an entire book where one character’s entire personality is “lesbian.” We don’t want a one-dimensional token gay character. We just want such characters to be treated normally, with the same weight you would treat straight characters.
L: What are some LGBT+ books or media that you can recommend?
O: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black is a fantastic example of what I was talking about in the previous question - normal queer characters. In terms of gender, Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy (mostly the third book) does a wonderful job in creating a gender-fluid protagonist. A super interesting quick read about LGBTQ+ history is The Queeriotic Table by Harriet Dyer. And because I’m still a basic teenager, I have a soft spot for Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. And in terms of media, I mostly watch TV shows. Glee, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Schitt’s Creek, The Society, and One Day at a Time are some of my favorite TV shows that deal with LGBTQ+ characters and plotlines.
L: For you, what is the most rewarding aspect of writing?
O: Writing a twist, a villain, or a new character that I’m proud of and watching readers gush over it. It’s just the best feeling in the world, and it totally validates the late nights, the long hours, and the headaches trying to think of new ideas. Reading comments about my work is just a wonderful thing to do.
L: Any final thoughts?
O: Never give up! If you want to change the world, don’t wait for someone else to do it - do it yourself!