White privilege and writing. Write the best story you can, the one only you can tell.

Lulu Listens Photo of Lulu by Belynda Wilson Thomas

There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.”
—Doris Lessing

“The writing of a novel is taking life as it already exists, not to report it but to make an object, toward the end that the finished work might contain this life inside it and offer it to the reader. The essence will not be, of course, the same thing as the raw material; it is not even of the same family of things. The novel is something that never was before and will not be again.”
—Eudora Welty, WD

Yesterday I read an article about white writers writing about non white characters. The author believes people should tell their own stories. The author mentioned two bestselling books. The Help and Memories of a Geisha both written by white writers.

I think I understand where the author is coming from; she doesn’t like the protagonists of white writers to be people other than white. She doesn’t like using racially mixed people as a way of making our writing more diverse and more inclusive. For many white writers mixed people are in our families, our communities.

It is going to be limiting for writers if women can only write about female protagonists, men can only have male protagonists, and don’t have a gay protagonist if you aren’t gay. White authors should not include Aboriginal, black, Indian and Asian characters. Censorship is something writers have to fight. If writers don’t have free speech. No one has free speech.  Some question the need for limits  to free speech, because they feel not being able to talk about things doesn’t make it better, it makes it worse.  I’m on the fence and I see  where the lines blur.

As a writer, I’ve written a novel and I’m wondering if I have to write out the non white characters. What is the story I should tell as a white woman in multi cultural Canada? My characters set in multi cultural Canada are multi cultural. Each writer has a unique voice and point of view. To fence off certain stories to only be told by certain people I don’t think is the way to go.

Readers want a story, that resonates with them that tells them things they knew, but forgot and tells them things they don’t know. We all read for different reasons at different times. Some readers read a wide array of subjects, genres, authors, is one way better than another?

When white writers hint at stories that aren’t their stories in books. Sometimes that is the first a reader is exposed to that idea, history or practice and they search out an author who wrote that story in depth. I’ve learned many things in books because something was mentioned as a small nugget in a book. It can be an ah ha moment that leads us in a new direction in our reading.

To write about the confused young girl, do you have to have been as confused as your character? Crime fiction is not usually written by criminals. Are war stories only to be written by the warriors that were there? Historical fiction could not exist if this were true.

My book club recently read Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. We also went to the movie, we enjoyed both. I had a black women in my home one day asking if I had any books by black writers she could read. I did, I gave her a book by Mya Angelou. How would it go over if I was in her house asking for a book by a white writer? What about asking do you have a good book I can read.

I thought back in the 80’s we would come together as a society and become individuals of different backgrounds and experiences. It seems we are fragmenting into smaller and smaller groups and subgroups. There is always another group you can divide people into. Until you get down to the smallest denominator, the individual. I’d like to start there.

I hear actors complain there are no parts for them if they aren’t white. Then I hear writers say those are our stories don’t you touch.  I understand in part how authors that aren’t white feel. They feel it’s all yours already, why are you trying to tell the story I have to tell. We aren’t telling the story any other author has to tell. We are telling the story that resonates with us, the story that compels us to put one word on top of another.

When authors looked at The Help written by a white author, they might think they could tell that story, but they didn’t. Is that harsh? Readers are our audience, and readers can read any book they want. It may seem we have it made being a white writer. The challenge all writers face is to write a good book, and get it out in the world into the hands of people who will read it. On the individual level as a writer we are all equal; we are all starting where we are. You can’t look at Danielle Steele and think she represents white female authors.

As writers we shouldn’t worry about what story someone else is writing. How can we make our story the best it can be? What do we need to do to get our story out there? Readers are looking for a good story. Write it, we’ll read it.