There Is No Can’t In Writing

I just read part of a thread on Twitter. It was prompted by a writer who saw a FB conversation about whether writers should write stories with a narrator or POV from a gender other than their own.

The writer who started the Twitter thread said that on FB most of the comments were opposed to writers writing in voices other than their own gender “because they usually get it wrong.” This was met with the typical Twitter emotion — outrage. In this instance, however, the outrage is justified.

There is no “can’t” in writing. Or there shouldn’t be.

When I wrote my first real piece of fiction — One Night in Bridgeport — I imagined a scenario I could put myself in. It’s not a situation I’ve ever been in, but I could imagine it. A one night stand followed by an accusation of rape. Putting myself into the main narrator’s head, imagining that it was me in that situation, provided me with the ability to write that story.

Every since then I have done everything I can to write stories from different perspectives, different voices, different characters.

The Marfa Lights — narrated by a teenager who has cerebral palsy and is wheelchair-bound.

Shady Acres — primarily narrated by a 100-year-old man. I’m not quite that old. Yet.

Northville Five and Dime — one of my WIP told in first person from the perspective of three different characters, two of whom are women, one of whom is paralyzed from the waist down.

Spaces After the Period — narrated by a young woman who likes bad boys until she meets a man who is the opposite of everything she imagined was right for her.

This list could go on and on and on. Very few of my stories are told by people who are me, like me. Why?

Because that’s the best part of writing. The challenge and the fun, after that first story, has always been in writing different stories about different people. There would be no challenge, no exploration, no fun in telling stories if the narrator was … well, just me. I’m far too plain vanilla for that.

While I was spending two years first writing and then re-writing Bridgeport I went to a writing conference at a local university. There were two concepts I heard there that have stayed with me ever since.

Dorothy Allison (who is most famous for writing  Bastard Out of South Carolina) gave a speech during the lunch in which she described how authors steal people. She described stopping at a gas station in some small southern town and while she was putting gas in her car, a police officer pulled over on a nearby street, took a hat box out of the back seat of his car, and walked into a store. That officer and that scene went into a story she was writing at the time.

I loved that idea. We steal people.

But the other point was more fundamental. One of the sessions was led by a critically acclaimed author whose name I no longer remember, but I think his first name was Al. During his talk, a woman kept standing up and asking him questions. The one question I remember was that she had heard you can’t switch POVs in the middle of a chapter. That if you switch POV, you need to do it in a new chapter.

With each of her questions, “Al” kept saying the same thing.

There are no rules in writing, except for one. The only rule in writing is to write a good story. If you can do that, nothing else matters.

That has been the guiding “rule” for my writing ever since I heard him utter those words. It is why I enjoy writing (as difficult as it is today). The opportunities and possibilities are boundless.

By the way, during one of the sessions at that conference, we were tasked with writing something. It was then that I wrote my first short story. The story is about an immigrant from Mexico who sells ice cream from a cart, whose wife died when they were crossing the border, and who is struggling with raising his son alone while he mourns the love of his life.

None of those elements mirror any fact or experience of my life. If I can write a story like that, why in hell can’t I write stories with a female POV?


About kingmidget

About the name. I was the youngest of four. Until I got to kindergarten, I didn't have much to say. All I had to do to get what I wanted was to point, and a sibling, or loving parent, would fulfill my request. As a result, my father coined the nickname -- King Midget. At least that's the way the story goes. I am a father, husband, friend, and lover, writer, runner, pizza maker, baker, and many other things. What I am not is my occupation. It is my job that pays the bills and provides for my family. But, it does not define me.
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14 Responses to There Is No Can’t In Writing

  1. Trent Lewin says:

    I totally agree with you. The whole point is to create and unless it’s an autobiography the character isn’t you anyway. I figure it’s awesome to inhabit other characters. Or as you say, steal them.

  2. Sorryless says:

    Agreed. You can write anything you damn well please. There are too many hard rules in life, writing shouldn’t fall victim to them.

  3. I’m in big trouble if it’s not OK to write as someone or something we aren’t. Most of my books have at least one female pov. I’ve used female first person several times, including my upcoming book. And I have one in the pipelines in the pov, among others, of a transgender man. Silly me.

  4. Dale says:

    What a ridiculous “rule”! What is the point of writing if you are not allowed to create? Trying to imagine yourself in your hero or heroine’s shoes is what it’s all about, no?

    • kingmidget says:

      Well, there’s also this. As I said over on Twitter, I’m willing to bet that most of the opposition is to the idea of men writing in women’s voices. To which I say, are they really suggesting there is a universal way that women think and act?

      • Dale says:

        Well, the way I see it is this: Maybe the men writing in women’s voices are actually trying to understand them – and vice-versa.
        Because, no, there is no universal way anyone thinks or acts.

  5. You can’t write fiction unless you imagine yourself into people you aren’t. If you get it wrong, readers will decide.

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