If I wrote a story and everyone in it was just like me, it would be um… boring. Even to me.
Writers know this, being the smart and savvy readers we are.
Instead, we write stories populated with individuals who are not only different from us, but different from each other. We work to understand their multi-dimensional personalities and to portray the most interesting bits of them in our fiction.
Male authors write female characters and female authors create male characters. Timothy Hallinan perfectly captures a ten-year old girl in his Poke Rafferty series. If Arthur Golden’s name wasn’t so prominently displayed on the cover of Memoirs of a Geisha, I would’ve sworn a woman had penned it.
Still, I’m sure there are plenty of examples of writers getting it wrong.
Interestingly, Hallinan’s series is set in Thailand, and Golden’s world was Japan. These two authors not only jumped gender and generational attitudes, but cultural and ethnic ones as well.
There’s some debate about whether that’s a wise thing for an author to do. Should a white woman even attempt to write about someone of color? Curiously, the negative assumptions seem to be directed toward white authors, not the other way around. Or maybe, it’s just where my attention is naturally pulled.
To me, it comes down to one word: Sensitivity. Promoting stereotypes is worse than using clichés. To me, it falls into the racist, or homophobic, or just plain ignorant category.
It’s also important to get input from people who are intimately familiar with the culture, the race, the sexual orientation, of a character you’re creating.
Having said that, I probably won’t ask for any input from White Supremecists about the characters I’m creating. But then, I’m not sure the word “sensitivity” is part of their world. Is that wrong of me?
Where do you fall in this debate? Does it matter? Do you care?