Writing Unfamiliar Experiences

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Should There be Limitations on Writing Experiences We Do Not Know Ourselves?

Something valuable about a writer is their ability to tell complex, unique stories, some of which involve horrific plots, traumatic events, etc. Is there ever a point when writing an experience an author does not know becomes insensitive, doing that experience injustice? For example, take the book Little Bee. A white man wrote about a Black girl immigrating to England all on her own. The story was beautifully told, but was it his to tell? How does one define what makes it okay and what doesn’t? If he told the story accurately enough, in terms of the experience of being an immigrant, is it okay? Or does the fact that he is a white man automatically make the story less valuable, as it did not come from someone who knows the experience? On the other hand, many authors include smaller, less important plot points, such as a parents’ divorce, or a death in the family. If the author has never experienced those things, does the story feel less genuine? Does the emotion seem dull? Does it do that experience justice? Does a lack of experience make a story worse or insensitive? Consider where these limitations may lie, if any. Many authors do face backlash for writing about topics they have no experience with, but is that also not one of the most important parts of writing- to explore the unfamiliar?

  • Now, this is a highly interesting and complex question. You raise some great points. I'd add, however, that when we talk about whether there should be "limitations" on writing certain experiences, we skirt the line of censorship. I'd like to see a section of the article that talks about how writers and readers can avoid this, particularly considering the amount of censorship we're seeing in literary fields right now. – Stephanie M. 2 years ago
  • This is a topic called 'Ethics of Representation', and if we were to seriously stop writers writing experiences they "don't know" then what music, comics, games, books and films would remain? I enjoy the film 'Schindler's List' and enjoy reading the book 'My Brilliant Career'. If you were to write an article about this, then please say "No, we shouldn't stop writers." If we did stop them, the world would be boring. – heath 2 years ago