Writing Outside Your Own Personal Experience

by Pepper on July 27, 2011

It wasn’t that long ago that someone could say “I’m reading a romance,” and we’d all pretty much know what kind of book that was. But as the romance genre matures, it seems like more and more permutations — or “niches” — are defined.  Not just “historical” and “contemporary”, but “erotic”, “paranormal”, “futuristic”, “menage”, BDSM, and “male/male” to name a few. There are all kinds of combinations of those too, as you might imagine. I recently wrote a historical BDSM short story for the MASTER OF MINE anthology, and an erotic paranormal story for the upcoming Halloween antho, MIDNIGHT SEDUCTIONS. 

Though I primarily write what’s referred to as “contemporary erotic romance”, it’s a fun adventure to be able to stretch myself and try new things. I think most authors would agree that trying new sub-genres and story lines are what helps make writing a joyful enterprise. So I was feeling pretty good about trying my hand at writing in the  sub-genre commonly called either “Multicultural” or “Interracial”. It didn’t worry me that I am not myself in an interracial relationship. I had read quite a few example stories presenting an array of characters and attitudes, and I joined a forum of authors writing in that sub-genre. I knew my story would be respectful and interesting and readable.  Besides, there are lots of white authors writing “Interracial” stories. Just as there are plenty of female authors writing male/male romances, it didn’t seem like much of an issue to me.  As writers, we get to use our imaginations. We get to invent love as we see it in our heads.  Let the story stand or fall on its own merits.

So I was shocked and disheartened to be criticized by another author for writing in the “interracial” sub-genre. This author felt I should not be allowed to write something I hadn’t experienced myself. I would have to ask her where this leaves all the authors who write about romances between humans and werewolves, vampires and demons. Or for that matter, how she might be allowed to write from the point-of-view of a white male in her “interracial” romances.

What do you think, readers? Should authors be confined only to writing from their own perspective on their own personal experience? Or should a story stand or fall on its own merits?

~ Pepper

“Let’s read something spicy!”

 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kaylie Newell July 27, 2011 at 7:29 pm

I think books would get pretty darn boring, awfully fast, if writers had to be limited to only drawing from personal experience. Where would we be if authors couldn’t step into the shoes of their characters and tell their story? We certainly wouldn’t have any vampire, werewolf or shapeshifter books, that’s for sure. Personally, I want to read books by people with great imaginations. And the more they put them to use, the better!!

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Anon July 28, 2011 at 7:12 am

There are two sides to every story and that’s all I am going to say about this post.

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Pepper July 28, 2011 at 8:49 am

Hello Anon: I approved this comment because you are right, there ARE always more than one viewpoint. Thanks for commenting.

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hales July 28, 2011 at 9:19 am

That is a great question. However you can’t really compare writing paranormal fantasy to writing an actual race or story with multifaceted differences. Sure we use our creativity when we world build or create species we have more free reign to do as we wish with those. For any Contemporary we’re tied down to more rules. You have to understand Multicultural and InterRacial are two separate genres one deals with cultural norms, religion, family practices, societal values, norms, differences and the other simply are any two different races mixed together or coming together out of attraction and the need to find out if there can be more. In many ways they’ll have to overcome personal biases, hurdles, family protests, friends protesting and decide if what they have is worth weathering any type of storm. The external and internal issues are more layered depending unless the couple is lucky and both families are open to out of race dating. You have to know the statistics and how they affect communities, how they affect a woman’s self esteem. Black Men vs Black Women. Readers love these stories because in reality less than 3% of black men marry in their race. BW/BM gives a happy ending and is pleasing to read. That factor raises a lot of angst especially with the good men. The ones with college degrees and careers who want to be family men. There’s more but it’s not shared with everyone it’s known.

There’s nothing wrong with stepping out of your norm but you have to be respectful and research the backgrounds as if you were reasearching mabye writing a time period piece and asking a ton of questions. The differences in lingo, body language and customs not only for the race but in their surroundings, urban, sub burbs, inner city, job classification, even down to the parents and their beliefs and the grandparents who for many ethnic groups have more influence in the family than the parents. All of these things can’t be winged. It’s inherent.
The inter family dynamics are different as well. There’s only so much you can research. Basically you can’t just sit down and decide oh I’m going to write this. Unless you want to write a story that’s a facade and doesn’t hold an ounce of realism.
You can’t go by politics or a race card either, the story is either good or its crap and the moment a woman of that race picks up the book and reads it they’ll know if they want to purchase from you again or not.
I happen to be biracial so I have a lot of insight into both worlds and many others since I lived in a poor neighborhood in NY as a young adult parent.

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