Should I “Write the Other”?
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling with an idea. Being completely new to the industry from the content-provider’s side of things, it’s only recently that I’ve paid any attention to SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, a professional organization for authors). I’ve been seeing a lot about the need for diversity in the genre (specifically, via the Twitter hashtag #DiversityinSFF), which got me thinking about my own work in progress (WIP).
As is stands, my WIP has a main character (MC) who is a straight, white, cisgendered, abled, educated, young American woman. In other words, she’s very much like me (with the possible exception of the “young” descriptor, since she’s 10-15 years my junior). So I’ve been wondering: does she have to be all of those things? Is there any reason not to change one or more of those descriptors?
More importantly, is there any reason to change one?
Because I am a brand, spankin’ new writer, working on my first-ever novel, it’s only natural—comfortable—that I would choose to write from the POV of someone very like myself. Writing is hard enough without throwing in something with which I have zero personal experience. “Write what you know,” and all that.
But as I analyzed the story I hope to tell with this character after my current WIP is done (or as “done” as it’s likely to get), it dawned on me that there is a fairly compelling reason to consider changing her ethnic background for the next book. Obviously, that means I’d need to change it now. Is it worth it?
I brought this conundrum to my CPs for advice. We talked about the pros and cons, and in the way I’m developing my particular “near Earth” world for the future of my character. We talked about the dangers of “getting it wrong” (which, let’s be honest, boil down to whether or not I do my research), and how it would serve the upcoming story if I did change my MC.
Oddly, it turned out changing my MC to someone with a different background from mine might actually enhance the tension in my current WIP, too. There’s nothing specifically that hinges on her being a POC—which makes sense, since that’s not how I first wrote her—but certain relationships and situations would, of necessity, affect her differently, coming from an alternate perspective.
My original intention was to challenge my own tendencies to write someone almost exactly like myself, try writing outside my comfort zone, and maybe help add a bit of diversity to the body of work in the genre. If I can do my MC justice as a woman of color, I really think this WIP will be richer for it.
I just hope I hope I don’t screw up.