Political Correctness In Publishing: What's My Story To Tell?

A few days ago I saw a tweet that made me stop and think. It was something along the lines of:

If you aren't black/disabled/gay etc don't try and tell that story. Include those characters but your protagonist can't be like that. It's not your story to tell.

On the surface level, it brought up some important issues that I strongly agree with. Of course, this is an industry that needs more diversity, from the authors writing books, to those publishing them. I definitely want to see more disabled authors sharing their experiences in fiction. I would love to read more from a trans perspective. I recently read Angie Thomas' Black Lives Matter novel The Hate U Give and it was an incredibly moving and eye-opening experience. It's always important to hear from a diverse set of voices and I want everyone to feel welcome in this industry.

However, I found a huge problem with the tweet. It left me feeling so annoyed. I am a white, straight, able-bodied, cisgendered female. Does that mean I am only allowed to write that story? According to the logic of the tweet, my current WIP from a male perspective is a waste of time and disrespectful for me to attempt. Apparently I can't write another's perspective authentically. It got me thinking about some of the books I've enjoyed over the years and whether this line of thinking is really worthwhile.

I realised:
  • JK Rowing is not an adolescent boy or a wizard.
  • Paula Hawkins is not a murderer.
  • E L James is probably not into all that 50 Shades stuff.

Any author knows that when you write fiction, you don't write your life story. You create a character with a different identity to your own and you create their story. 

I have written from the perspective of a widowed grandfather, a divorced mother, a single man in his twenties, and more. Lots of the things they have experienced, I haven't. Yes, they are mostly white and all able-bodied and straight. But that's because I haven't done the research or invested enough time in listening to and learning from disabled and LGBT friends. I can't even attempt those perspectives yet if I want to do so respectfully. However, I am comfortable writing from a male perspective because many of my close friends are guys and I've listened to them over the years and I can turn to them when I'm writing and ask them questions. But, not every man is the same and not every disabled person is the same and so on. This brings me back to the whole it's a character thing. Just because I have experienced what it's like to be a white British girl, it doesn't mean I know every experience of it. Everyone is coming at a story and a character with their own angle. To me, all that matters is that they listen, take criticism and have an open-mind if they  are called out for depicting someone in a problematic way. 

Hopefully that makes sense. I want to reiterate that of course I encourage own voices and I want to see more Angie Thomases. But I also don't want to see this 'political correctness' turn dark. This industry is for everyone and opening our minds to others' experiences is a key part of it.

Love, Jess


  1. Hey Jess,

    Consider this from Wiki:

    "The Red Badge of Courage is a war novel by American author Stephen Crane (1871–1900). Taking place during the American Civil War, the story is about a young private of the Union Army, Henry Fleming, who flees from the field of battle."

    Now look at Crane's birthday. 1871. He wasn't even born until six years after the Civil War ended, yet his book is synonymous with what it was like to have fought.

    So to your point, I'd agree you need not have experienced it yourself as a writer in order to write effectively about it.

    David Liscio
    --- author Deadly Fare, which is about a serial killer and now an Amazon bestseller. (And I'm not a serial killer).

    1. Thank you David! Your point is so true. If we were all to write about our own perspectives, historical fiction wouldn't even exist!


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