Permission to write the other

Permission to write the other

This post is to support your efforts to write something other than you. I want to support your effort to expand your repertoire.

Lately there has been a vocal movement to expand diversity in literature. There are fantastic social benefits from diversity. Fiction is a great tool for understanding other beliefs, actions, or capabilities.

I contend that having heroes, secondary characters, and villains that are not all the same race, or ethnicity, or religion, etc, works to expand our understanding of the world. The wonderful part of having different categorizations (some may call this groups, but I prefer categorizations) is that we start to see that while we superficially are different — and there are some wonderful differences — that what matters is the person and how they act.

Like any good idea there is also a push to control what that means. Whether it’s trying to define diversity by race, sex, politics, believe in snow faeries — you name it and there are people trying to control how diversity is presented. This is as sad as it is pervasive.  “Only people from Toledo may describe it in a book. How dare you discuss bread when there are no Jewish bakers in your heritage? How dare you have someone whose native language isn’t yours — you can’t understand them.” I liken this to the belief in cooking prowess: Have you ever heard anyone express disappointment that the “Chinese Food” they are eating was made by someone not from China? (I hope you haven’t — but I have).

Some vocal people are horribly offended whenever someone from another “group” presents someone from “their” group. Outrage is a powerful shaming tool. Horrible in its misuse, but effective. This is the mechanism of control. Where guns failed to control us, shame and social convention win.

The purpose of this piece is to say it’s okay for authors to write about something they are not. However you wish to divide up humanity, it’s still okay for us to have characters who in other groups.

An African American woman may write about gay Asian men. That topic is not the exclusive purview of Asian men. Etc. Think of one group — and you may write about it.

As writers we try to be accurate with whatever we write. That’s all the more reason why our characters from “other groups” don’t have to be perfect. Not everyone in any group is a great person, and not everyone is a villain. In other words: people are people.

If your story works with having characters from different categorizations — then give it a try. The worst you can do is write it and the character does not work.

Once done, have beta readers make sure you aren’t being accidentally offensive. That way, you have have the freedom to give it a try.

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