Updates sporadically.

Friday, March 14, 2014

But am I allowed to write that?

As writers, we have power over who is represented in literature. Not enough leading women? Not enough healthy relationships? Not enough diversity?* As a writer, you have the chance to change that and to create the representations that you want to see in literature.

But then there's the other question: not can you, but should you?

I'm not trying to be all "politically correct" here -- I'm trying to be acute and sensitive. Which is what political correctness was supposed to be, I think, but it's since gotten warped into something evil and wrong. I raise this question because, as a white woman, I need to be thinking about what it means for me to write a cast of racially diverse characters.

I, for one, think it's a crock of crap to say that I can't write these characters. If authors are limited to writing with characters who look like them and live like them then they are basically limited to the autobiographical. I'm sorry Lena Dunham -- it's not good enough.**

It goes back to writing what you don't know. You can't just box yourself in because of fear -- fear of offense, fear of what you don't know. We need to work to educate ourselves, attempt to understand, and be prepared to accept that we may sometimes get it wrong -- and that's okay. The important thing is to attempt understanding, to acknowledge what we don't know, to try to get better, and not to repeat the same mistakes twice.

So the answer is yes -- you are allowed to write that. You are allowed to write things that are out of your experience, for characters who are different than you. But only if you make sure that you are approaching as someone who has tried to rid herself or ignorance. Only if you make sure that you are attempting to understand that truth and are not just reifying stereotypes.

Preaching over.

Here's the take away: you have the power to bring the unseen or un-/under-represented into view. Don't take that responsibility lightly.***

*I'm going to talk about racial diversity, but that's not all I mean. I mean race, ability, mental health, sexuality, gender, class, education, social status, etc. etc. etc.

**Confession: I'm not a big fan. I don't particularly like her as the feminist voice box of my generation. I read what she had to say about Girls' whiteness, and again -- I don't think her explanation was good enough. 

***"You know, this post wasn't very funny." I know, readers. Sometimes I gotta get all serious on you. I promise a post devoted to butts soon.****

****No, not really.


  1. I wouldn't be comfortable writing a main character from a culture I didn't know well. For me it helps that as a teacher I know lots and lots of kids from a variety of cultures and have gotten to know these cultures on a basic level. This gives me a healthy starting point and research can help a lot with more. Armed with that knowledge I'm comfortable writing 2ndary characters from cultures other than my own. Eventually I may use this with a main character but I'm not ready yet :)

    1. I think it's important to acknowledge your own discomfort before attempting something like this. I also think it's great that you're able to draw on your experience as a teacher as a source of understanding -- that's a great tool for a writer to have.

      I am having an easier time with my cast of characters because, as of now, race is not a particularly important part of the fantasy world I have built. That said, it will be eventually and I want to prepare myself as much as possible when that happens.