There’s been a growing sentiment within the fiction writing community that has been bothering me for some time now, and that’s the idea that you should only write within your own sandbox of experience. It’s uncouth to write other races, cultures, gender, sex, religions, etc without someone, somewhere shouting a combination of the following: “cultural appropriation!, sexist!, racist!, etc.” Unsurprisingly the next thing that spews out is the notion that you, X writer, shouldn’t write about those things because you can never portray these things with 100% accuracy, and frankly, that’s horseshit. People fear writing the other (whatever it is) because of this, and it stagnates creativity.
Writing outside of your experience is possibly the healthiest thing you can do as a writer. It forces you to confront something not your own, empathize with it, and cultivate a relationship with it. You want to write characters, not caricatures. You want them to be as real as flesh and blood. As a writer who wants to accomplish this, you look for those people, you cultivate a relationship with them, you research their culture, with its norms, customs, and nuances. You find understanding. You will never, truly portray another’s experience with 100% accuracy (or close to it), and that’s okay. No one ever can, not even the people immersed in it themselves. It’s largely an impossible task, just by a numbers game. No one person has the say-so to what is a true experience, and what isn’t. There are generalities, certainly, and you can absolutely write those things, whatever they may be.
Another sentiment that has bothered me within the writing community is that a writer can’t present ugly ideas in their work without someone immediately attributing it to them. You’re a white writer and you want to write a white supremacist character in your story/novella/novel? You must have those sentiments lodged somewhere in your brain, you must be a racist asshole, you must be a sexist, etc. I’ve never seen a more reductive, and frankly, moronic idea, ever. Do we live in a world of absolutes? It seems like we do, the more I see this come across as fact without any context to the person, the authors intention, etc.
No, you are not beholden to ugly ideas, and sentiments presented in your work of fiction. It isn’t a political pamphlet, an essay on gender politics, a decree against a certain race, etc. There’s a fundamental difference between having ugly, inflammatory ideas in your work of fiction, creating characters or plots to showcase those things and presenting them intelligently, to having those ideas and sentiments being the core values a person carries, and it’s dangerous to confuse the two.
I can understand when it’s someone like Orson Scott Card who is an open homophobe, racist, lobbies against same sex marriage, etc. His hatred is out in the open, and if I’m assuming correctly is now directly tied into his recent works of fiction. And who can ever forget this piece of shit? You want OVERT racism with no way to slice it? That’s a prime example right there, even the promotional videos for that slop was actors in black face. Was it truly the authors intention? Maybe, or maybe not, but it was presented in such a way that a thinking person can’t argue that it wasn’t done sloppily, and without any real thought.
I want to say this: as a writer I want to create fearlessly, without boundaries, guidelines, or divides to my imagination. Should I stifle my creativity because I might fail, or somehow offend someone? Absolutely not. Writing fiction is coming to terms with yourself, using your experience and the vast world around you at your disposal. Its ugliness, beauty, culture, race, violence, sexism, homophobia, and everything in between is a tool for the story you want to express. Don’t ever get stuck in a sandbox. Create cities, worlds, planets. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do this or that. Show them, even if you fail. Don’t regret the stories you felt like you couldn’t tell.