A comment on my review of Katherine Applegate’s Home of the Brave really made me think. Kathy Teufel said, “I haven’t seen any criticisms of this book about a Sudanese immigrant child/family being written by a caucasian.”
Why would she? Why should an author have to experience something to write about it? If that were the case, we’d never get to enjoy historical fiction or paranormal stories or fantasy or sci-fi. Also, why is it specifically mentioned that she’s caucasian? No, she’s not a Sudanese immigrant–but neither is an African-American woman who has lived in America all her life.
I’m not picking on Kathy, just sharing my thoughts. That, in my opinion, is the beauty of fiction–that writers can use their imaginations. They don’t have to write about things they’ve experienced. A middle-aged Chinese woman in 2004, with some research, imagination, and writing talent, could write a wonderful book about a twelve-year-old British boy in 1914, if she so chose! I don’t think that we, as writers, are limited by our experience. Or, at least, we shouldn’t be. We can and should draw upon our own experiences, but if that’s all we did, well, most people don’t lead particularly interesting lives. And those who do may not be able to write well! Good writers can put themselves in the minds of any characters, in any time or place.
There’s also the fact that we are all fundamentally the same. Our differences are wonderful and interesting, but we are all people. We all have the same types of emotions, even if they are triggered by different experiences, and authors can use that to write about people in different times or places. That, as I said before, is the beauty of fiction! We can all put ourselves in the places of all sorts of different people, helped along by great authors, by reading wonderful novels of far-off places and long-ago times.
That’s my opinion, but, if you disagree, I’d love to hear from you.