Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

What You Don’t Know September 1, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 2:51 PM

When writing, you’re likely to come across something sensitive. It’s impossible not to, honestly, unless you’re setting out to write the most wholesome, politically correct, boring story in the history of mankind. Touchy issues like race, sexuality, illness, culture, religion, etc., are going to rear their heads. How we deal with them shapes our writing for better or for worse.

I am a white, asexual girl with (currently) no mental health problems. Does this mean I shouldn’t write in the perspective of other races, other sexualities, or individuals with mental health disorders? I haven’t experienced any of those (and hopefully never will). Including them opens me up to the possibility of accusations of poor writing, falsehood, appropriation, misinformation. It’s enough to make anyone hide their head in the sand ostrich-style and turn out a line of safe, avatar-like protagonists.

But that’s boring. I don’t want to constantly write about the adventures of asexual white girls. No one wants to constantly read about them either. I want to be able to look inside the head and walk around in the shoes of people from different cultures, different worlds, different lives. That’s part of the lure of being an author. You can live as a different person for a while, experience the good and bad, and then retreat back into yourself. It’s an adventure.

If I’m going to do this – create a person so different from myself – I want to do it right. I think a lot of complaints come from poorly drawn characters ‘other’ than the author. Racial stereotypes, inappropriately diagnosed mental disorders (no, individuals with bipolar disorder do not switch between emotions every few hours), and more have jaded readers. Authors too. We’re afraid to screw up, because other people have – spectacularly. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

The trick to doing this is research. Look things up. Learn. Talk to people like the characters you’re writing. Find out what their lives are like, how they live, and how they see the world. It’s work, I’ll admit. If you can’t find a person in real life to interview, find a blog or a site by someone who fits. Ask around. Look around. Just don’t try to write about something serious without knowing anything about it. That’s when things go wrong. Writing is supposed to hold up a mirror to the real world. The images may be reversed, but they shouldn’t be distorted. If you can portray a life unlike your own accurately, it will show that you’re a writer worth reading.


2 Responses to “What You Don’t Know”

  1. diannegray Says:

    It can be a bit tricky. You don’t want to write about being a something you’re not for fear that people will get offended. I think this happened a few years back with a fifty something woman who wrote about being a homeless boy and appeared on Oprah. I didn’t see it – just heard about it

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