When people write something about women, multiracial families, Jews, or journalists—all groups I belong to—I expect them to screw it up. I try my best to be hopeful, that the writer will show me a world that makes me nod my head and yell “THAT! YES!”
When they screw up, it hurts. It’s frustrating. And I am deeply angered. How dare they, I vent to a friend. How dare they do this. My anger makes no exceptions in its first flush. Accident, bad informants, didn’t know better, my anger doesn’t care. I don’t care. Because in that moment I feel betrayed. Even when the anger fades, the sting of that betrayal may linger, always.
When you write about someone outside your experience, you’re doing something amazing. You have chosen for whatever reason to step outside your own life, the things you know, and write about the world from someone else’s view. When it comes to people whose story has rarely been told, you have sent up a signal flare. You have said “I will tell you a story about you” and they are watching. Waiting. Hoping that you will do right by them, by other readers, and do as best a job as you can. that you will tell a good story, even if it is painful.
When people get writers wrong, or parents, pet owners, people from your hometown, think about how you feel. That someone who should have known better did so poor a job. The media we consume helps us define the world, even fiction. Especially fiction. All the times a story, novel, comic book, got you wrong, and it hurt. That experience, that a writer got it wrong and hurt people, anyone can feel that. That’s something that happens across lines of race, religion or creed. It goes across all life experiences, ages and economic classes.
It is important to talk with, read stories by, learn about people who are different from you. To widen your worldview as much as it is to make your writing better. To give your words melody and colour, not settling for them to ring gilt edged and hollow. There are countless articles, books and workshops on how to write people who you may consider or see as Other. The thing I’m trying to say is not a how-to. It is a feeling and belief.
Everyone deserves a story, no matter how fictional or fantastic, that feels true. That taps into their experience, their culture, that may even bring tears to their eyes because someone who is from the outside got it right. Someone knew they needed a story where they could see themselves for once.
Everyone deserves to read a story that at least once, makes them say “Yes.”