Over the last 5 years of steady writing, I find that I’m most comfortable writing from the first person perspective. That can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the kind of story I’m telling. I always sound like “me” when I write in first person. I try very hard to adapt to my vision of the character, but inevitably that character is some version of my own self. Maybe not exactly, but I guarantee that anyone who knows me well would recognize aspects of my personality shining brightly through.
Ok, so that’s fine if I’m telling a contemporary story about a white, educated, married but childless, female who lives in the Northeastern United States. But what do I do if I want to write from the perspective of a male character, or an elderly person or someone from a different race or culture? There are those who feel that everyone should stay in their own cultural lane but that’s a much bigger discussion so let’s just set it aside for a moment.
When we find ourselves developing a character very different from ourselves, often we can only use information we have either read or observed. This is unfortunately, an aspect of writing where things can go horribly wrong. I think the writer needs to tread carefully and do more than guess or assume how it feels to be someone else. Be humble enough to ask for help. Interview people of that group to ask what their experiences are. And if you don’t know anyone of a particular group well enough to ask for feedback then you probably shouldn’t be trying to write from that point of view. Let’s assume you do. Have someone like your character read a little of the story and comment on what you got right and what you got wrong. Make changes based on their feedback.
As for keeping your writing within your own cultural boundaries, I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, I think it’s wonderful to include characters from different backgrounds in your stories, especially if that is part of your real life experience. We are creators after all, meant to be using our imaginations. On the other hand, if you get this wrong, your writing can be offensive to the people you are writing about. Now I realize that in today’s world everyone seems to be hypersensitive about everything, so it can be intimidating to write about another culture. But having a purposefully diverse cast of characters can also end up seeming patronizing. If it’s not happening naturally, don’t force it.
I think it is one of the wonderful aspects of writing: pretending to be someone else. We create whole new worlds and people them with characters developed from our creative minds. These characters deserve to be the best, most authentic versions of themselves and not stereotypes or caricatures. Which is why we, their creators, need to be certain of their perspectives.
*Header image via Pixabay