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Dear Writers, What Voices Should You Never Write In?

By 24/05/2016September 10th, 2016writing, writing advice

Writer's Voices and Self-censorshipI recently read this article on writer’s voices: What Happens When Writers Tell Stories That Aren’t Their Own.

An excerpt:

We forget about who isn’t in the room. And sometimes, we forget about who might be. We need to get out of their way. I want us to consider the radical notion that people are already speaking up and showing up for themselves and we have not been looking for those spaces. Or they are in our spaces and we have not been hearing them. Or they have decided we are assholes and we legitimately make speaking in our presence unsafe. Nonetheless, people are already giving testimony.

This has made me think about my writing, because I write and have written in a range of voices, gay and straight, male and female, autistic and schizophrenic, young and old. I’ve written of people from countries I’ve never been to, and races and religions I know of only peripherally, of mothers losing their children, about gay men turning bullies, about prostitutes, miscarriages, rapes, pedophiles.

Writers’ voices can be political, and I get what the author of the article is talking about– it made me question my writing and whether I’ve appropriated a voice I ‘shouldn’t‘ have.

When I write, I mostly take down dictation, not sure why I use a particular voice, whose it is, and why I’m writing it. I have no intention of representing someone, only the restlessness in my body that I must obey, the words that follow one another, cadence. There is no conscious thought. There is a channeling of emotion, and though I’m aware this sounds like a lot of hocus-pocus, that’s exactly how it works when I write stories like this one or another.

The voice is then backed up by research, tons of it. When a voice comes to me that I know nothing about, I read up a lot to try and make up for the lack. I get it read by people who have experience in the culture, situation, mental state I’m writing about. The journey of a short story might take years, and even then, the intention is never to appropriate power or privilege. If it still reads like a dead thing, it stays in one of my folders.

A live story is to be as true to the character as possible, as true to the emotion, the circumstance as I can, and to always, always suspend judgement. Writing is an act of incredible hubris (you create a world and its people) but it is also an act of total humility (you lay yourself vulnerable, you work hard to get your work vetted by those with experience, and you never brag about being able to write about the other. It is a privilege, not a right).

More than anything else, it is about being true to my body, the urge inside of it to bend towards writing. Indeed, it is to use all of my body to write, and to obliterate from the story its teller, to leave as few signs of the artist and the craft as possible, so that the story takes on a life of its own, independent of me. Readers decide who or what it is about once it is out of my hands.

I see my body as an instrument, and mostly, it produces its own voice, and sometimes that voice resonates and becomes the voice of others. At a certain pitch, of love, pain, joy, sorrow, this resonance is universal. One thing I’m sure of is that it is the voice chooses me, and not the other way around. I’ve learned, over the years, to trust and respect this.

It isn’t always easy, and indeed often torturous, but committing to it is the only way open to me, one that creates an oasis of ‘isness,’ amongst all the chaos.

So I’d say, I trust in the universe and the voices that rise from within me as part of that universe. I’ll leave the talk about privilege and lack of it to those who know better. I have to write what chooses me, because I don’t see any other way.

What about you? As a reader have you found a writer striking a false note, or resented a writer for appropriating a voice? As a writer, do you think we should only write what we ‘know’? What is true knowledge? Who has the ‘right’ to speak in a particular voice? Should a writer’s voice be self-censored? When and why?

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Took a great deal of joy in reading this — my characters and stories come to me in a similar manner — and I actually enjoy the chance to see the world from a different perspective — appreciate how you share your story with others and absorb their feedback….

  • The hardest thing is for me to develop a character or understand why they are a certain way and carry them out. It;s much harder. I guess everything is that way.

  • Hm I have never given much thought to the voice I write in and how true it is and such.

  • Thank you for this! I know I’m late and you may never see this comment, but if you do – thank you! I have written with various character voices – even ones I don’t particularly like. I wrote a story from the point of view of a rapist once . . . not a comfortable place to hang out, at all. It was terrible, but it was a story that I felt needed to be written.

  • White Liberal says:

    This rocky road is not paved for us
    I’ll believe in your liberal aid for us
    When I see a white man load a black man’s gun
    [Maya Angelou]

  • Dan Antion says:

    This attention to detail and concern for your characters is one of the reasons I love your writing!

  • As a writer new to sharing my writing with others. I am all of a sudden really conscious of the voice I am writing with. My writing has only ever been for me before, and I find it very interesting how you describe the voice choosing you and not the other way around. I think it is the same for me, only now I am examining that voice for more closely than ever before. I try not to think to much about it. I want my voice to be an organic expression of myself, but it cannot fail, I don’t think, to be influenced now I know other people are hearing that voice too. I am not going to sweat it I don’t think, just be interested in how it develops. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this. Very interesting to read.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      The thing is to write, as far as I’m concerned, as un-selfconsciously as possible. Each of us are on our individual journeys, and the only thing to compare with is our own writing.

      Those beginning to share their voices often have unprecedented success: the Commonwealth Short Story prize this year was won by an author’s first ever short story!

  • celticmama36 says:

    It depends on what is being written. In some things, you don’t worry so much about “voice”. You stick to the facts. It is what it is. But in fiction, I think, for the most part, we must let the stories write themselves, in their own voices. If you try to go against it, it just isn’t going to work. It isn’t going to flow. It isn’t going to mean very much to anyone except for a writing teacher as an example of how not to write.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      True. Stories often write themselves if we master the art of getting out of their way.

  • As a creator, I think it’s important to be true to the story that you’ve chosen and speak in whatever voice tells that story best. To demand that writers only speak with the voice of characters who reflect themselves is like demanding that artists only paint self portraits.

    That being said, I do believe all artists have a responsibility to convey the most honest perception of their characters. An author can unknowingly support a negative or hurtful stereotype if they don’t review their work to the best of their ability.

  • I write about what I know and what I don’t know (in conjunction with research). I believe my job is to write what comes out but I also bear in mind that I’m responsible for my work. I think responsibility is key at the end of the day.

  • Bernadette says:

    A good writer creates a character that the reader can empathize with. This character most likely will be created by a writer who has not experienced the life experience first hand. But, by creating an emphatic character, the writer increases awareness and hopefully sympathy for the problem that is being exposed.

  • What a wonderful conversation! Thank you to ALL who participated.

  • Loved this! As a reader, as long as the characters are fully three dimensional and intriguing, and the author seems to fully inhabit the voice in which s/he speaks, I willingly suspend disbelief, regardless of plot.

    If you are a man who doesn’t understand women, obviously you will never be able to animate a woman who is more than a paper doll, much less speak in her voice – and I find failed attempts annoying. If you are a woman who has only a superficial knowledge of the inner workings of the male psyche, at best, your men will remain little more than props.

    Playwrights come up against that dilemma all the time. Only the best write male and female characters equally well – the most successful write characters they know they can write.

    My first career was acting/directing. For over 20 years I inhabited the skins of many different people with many different voices – successfully, I have been told. In order to do so, I had to get in touch with the parts of myself that resonated with the inner reality of the “skin” I needed to animate. I would never have attempted to play a “typical” man, because it would not have been believable to an audience. I could have, however, played a transvestite or a changeling convincingly.

    While I could easily play a character much younger than myself, I had to do a great deal of character work to play older. Now that I AM older, I can easily see what I missed and what I would approach another way, if I could travel backwards in time to do certain shows again – even though others readily accepted my characters when I did the roles.

    It seems to me that writing fiction in another’s voice is similar. You know, somewhere inside, what you can animate and what you cannot. You craft from there, regardless of what anyone else might say about your “type.” If you are wise, you don’t reach very far outside of the understanding you have funded to date. No matter how beautifully you write your worlds, as you know more you will see what you might have done differently if you had known at the time what you realize now.

    I love to read characters that I can come to know well – which means that the author must know them better than I. There are so many untold stories to tell, it seems foolish – to me – to reach for voices you are not compelled to swallow whole, when there are already so many voices you could bring to life who could easily weave a spell.

    Telling the story? That can be researched or invented. Take Alice out of Wonderland and she is still Alice. We know her. Breathing life into the voice of another – ah! that’s the magic of great fiction, yes?

    Writing in a manner that allows your reader to slip into the skin of your characters . . . PRICELESS! Or so it seems to me.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

  • cleemckenzie says:

    I like to test out what I know about different cultures and languages. It’s fun to see if I can actually create a character based on what I know from my book knowledge and my travels without ever having met a person that could be a model for that character. If I’m not sure I’ve got it right, I try to find a reader who can help me.

  • cathum says:

    I’m with you, truth is the key. Politics will always come into that, and should, but if we’re going to put our writing into the public domain we have to be prepared for critiques, and willing to look at what they say. Surely that is how we grow?

  • S.T. Rucker says:

    I’ve found that most of the time that only the most privileged writers who don’t fear the power of the pen or consider what they’re putting out into the world sit around believing that writing is a simple artistic process that only involves some research from time to time. You should never be so arrogant as to think you have the “right” to tell a story from someone else’s perspective. I don’t care how many voices the universe sends you or how much research you do. Scoff at the concept of privilege if you like, but it is very real. Maybe you should do some research on that topic.

    This is HUGE problem for me as a Black writer. Very easy example, white writers have used their words and everything else to deliberately tell the world that my race is ugly and stupid and that our lives don’t matter. And people believe them. They can manipulate people’s perceptions of an entire race and its horrible. Particularly in the United States, Black people have been overshadowed by white interests and skewed representation, caught up in a brutal, violent history. The Help is written by a white woman, Django is produced by a non-Black person who has openly stated that he and his movie is the reason why anyone has talked about slavery these days at all; people hail these fictitious productions as the voice of Black people and their experiences but they typically don’t purchase our works or listen to us when we voice our experiences.

    Its easy to say you “trust in the universe” on this topic because it absolves you of whatever damage you might be doing the people whose voice you think you’re writing in. There is no way to erase yourself from your writing because it comes from inside of you. And it comes only fro your INTERPRETATION of your “research” on whoever it is you think you think you’re writing.

    This is what the universe has shown me and I have the experience, not research, to back it up. So I guess that puts me in Camp Tread-Lightly/Don’t-Do-It.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks for stopping by and giving us your perspective. I’m a brown Indian, (from India, not the States) and have written in a variety of voices.

      ‘the Universe’ in my post, it is not an abdication of responsibility: it is a genuine, and absolutely humble (often humiliating) exploration of truth.

      My writing does not pose to represent any community’s voice, or ‘highlight’ a problem. I do not represent the Indian voice, though I was born in India and identify as Indian. I write stories, and the best I can do is write the story that comes to me. To the best of my discernment, I try not to publish anything that doesn’t have the resonance of Truth.

      It is not ‘a little’ research, as you assume. Some of my short stories have taken me up to 4 years to write, and the research has taken years, and readings by dozens of people. Fiction, to me, is not just a political act, it is a deeply empathetic and intuitive one: an intuition that is sometimes the only path to truth.

      Those who have experienced a particular situation very deeply might not be ( and I do not say this slightly, or lightly, or with any arrogance at all) the best equipped to write about it. I’ve experienced (a very few) harrowing things in life but writing about those often comes out as pitiful, self-indulgent whining. I have yet to process it within me, parse the emotions, be able to objectively keep and throw away facts. Facts and Emotions are not Truth, not always.

      In my classes, the kids sometimes point out writing that sounds false: not because the facts of the case stated did not happen, but because the telling of it is stilted, untrue. The sequence of events that appear on paper and the characters that precipitate or are part of these events, are an act of imagination, not propaganda. Those people are not mouthpieces, or vehicles. The attempt is to create people, following an instinct, not logic. The attempt is to mimic reality, to give readers an experience, suspending judgment.

      Fiction is like creating a live frog: knowing where the kidneys and the brains and bones, and nerves and skin and eyes and gut are located can helps us create a dead frog, lying dissected on a table. But that frog is not alive: life is an alchemy that we can create on the page through an act of tremendous hubris and humility at the same moment. Hubris that you can play God in a setting you have created, and the humility to be aware that you can be pathetically, woefully, ridiculously wrong: yet still create.

      I’ve written lesbian characters though I identify as straight, mothers when I’m not one, men, when I identify as a woman. I’ve written white characters, snakes. I’ve written characters with autism, characters aged 90. To narrow my cast of characters to my immediate sphere of knowledge would be to cripple my writing. I’m completely open to being told that some of my characters ring false, and doing my best to rewrite them so they sound true. As a writer, I’m only too aware of my privilege: my writing is made possible because I don’t have to worry about the bills, or be responsible for the lives of tiny humans. I have tremendous respect for those who beat financial odds, social stigma, and the challenges of motherhood in order to write. I know I couldn’t.

      Writing fiction is not only about expressing my personal experience, nor appropriating that of others. I agree that many do this while writing history: it is written by those in the positions of power. But I’m not chronicling history, I’m telling stories, and making it as reflective of Truth as I understand it.

      The way for all voices to rise equally is not to smother some: diversity in writing needs to be encouraged (after a recent month spent in London in salons and workshops made entirely of white writers, where I was the only writer of colour, has made me only too aware of this) : but by giving space to all writing, all voices, black, white and brown. It is to be achieved by speaking louder, not through self-censorship on the part of writers.

      If, as a black writer, you find that certain voices do not reflect the Truth, you have to fight the odds (they’re undeniably high) and present the Truth that you see. Though I’m brown, I don’t call myself a brown writer. I’m just a writer: brown-ness is a part of who I am, not the whole of me.

      Should the truth of your condition be limited to the fact that you’re Black, or also and equally, that you’re human, that you’re a living, sentient being?

      • That is a great response. I also refuse to box myself in as a writer… namely because I find myself intensely dull and I don’t like navel-gazing.

        For me, it goes far deeper than the surface skin color/ age. I want to know what lies underneath the superficial, what makes that particular soul tick. I don’t think it is immoral, any more than when a painter wants to explore different mediums or art forms. It takes research and work and humility and time and respect.

  • I think authors believe they write truthfully but they don’t evaluate the seriousness of accuracy.

  • Your post made me remember a quote from “to kill a mocking bird” where it is said that one cannot understand a person until one climb inside of his/ her skin and walk around in it. Whenever I write, I do deceive my reality for sometime by wearing a character’s skin and those little moments are the real treasure of the entire writing process. Even if impersonating someone in writing were to be immoral, I would be happy being immoral for the sake of those moments.

  • aj vosse says:

    I like the idea of dead stories and alive stories. I’m wondering if dead stories could be resurrected… or, on occasions, why not transplant a few of the body parts into another ailing story to give it life!? 😉

  • Glynis Jolly says:

    I don’t judge authors for the characters they create for their stories. There’s a point to each and every one of them. Howbeit, I may not understand that point though. For example, I’ve see too many people associate money with someone Jewish, yet I’ve know enough people of this religion/culture who struggle financially. Mind you, this is just a simple example and there are many that are complex. Still, an authors desire for a character to be a certain way can only have its own merit.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Glynis, I agree. Stereotypical characters are mere vehicles of plot, not the drivers of plot. I cannot abide by characters who have no real, and often contradictory, motivations and emotions.

  • davezart says:

    One cannot always write about what one has experienced; and one writes about one that one hasn’t experienced. As a youth worker I was constantly asked how i knew what a drug addict has gone through if I myself have not abused drugs. Well, I cant. But I can be around addicts long enough to find common points in their stories. I don’t need to shoot up to know that heroin is bad. I can empathise. I never say “I know what you are going through”, because I don’t. Just as someone who has never experienced severe depression can know what you are going through. Those who don’t know, will say something like… “Oh I think we all get depressed sometimes”. No! most people have sad times, they don’t know about depression. If one is going to write from the perspective of another, good research is paramount, then passing it by some of those you are writing about. When I write about homeless people, I pass it by to ensure authenticity.
    Love your t-shirt btw.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yes, writing about an experience that is entirely foreign is always a fraught situation.

      I stay terrified I didn’t get it right. While writing I’m brave and confident because otherwise I’d never write a first draft, but while editing, the second-guessing becomes obsessive and completely crippling. As you say, research and getting it double-triple-quadruple-ad-infinitum-checked is the only way to get at a semblance of reality. But that can’t stop us from writing characters we do not know.

  • ccyager says:

    Ooooooh, Damyanti! I love this post of yours. I’m already planning to use it as a basis for one of my Anatomy of Perceval posts. Thank you!

    Occasionally I’ve read a writer whose voice sounded unauthentic to me as far as how the character has been presented. I love, love, love it when an author takes risks with voice like David Mitchell did with “Cloud Atlas.” I learn so much from reading that kind of writing.

    Since I believe that we are all connected by the collective unconscious, I don’t think any “voice” is off limits, and in fact, can be a wonderful way to promote empathy by writing in voices other than one’s own tribe. For me, it’s the character who decides who he is, not me. Each character, no matter whether she’s in the story for one page or 400, decides and tells me. My job is to be as true as possible to that voice. I, too, have done extensive research in order to understand a character. But I don’t think writers need to limit themselves in any way when we’re writing in a market that seeks to limit us in other ways.


  • jazzfeathers says:

    I really like how you feel about it. I too think that we may write whatever character we think will make most justice to the story, whoever that character may be. But we own to that character, to us and to whoever that character might rappresent to be faithful. Besides, what’s the purpose of rappresenting someone different from us, if then we make them just like us?

    I often read on forum people (writers) say you’d better don’t write in a culture (or a race) you don’t belong to. I disagree. Telling stories it’s sharing experiences, and if it’s true that you may share what and who you are, it’s also true that you may learn what and who you aren’t. But you have to be fair and try to give the most faithful rappresentation, whatever situation you might find yourself in.

    Because, you know? You can misrappresent your own people and culture as well, even if you have belonged to them your entire life.

    • I don’t feel as writers that we have any responsibility to create fictional characters fairly. I mean, I want to present them as they come to me but I don’t censor or wonder if I’m appropriating anything–I don’t even believe in being affronted by cultural appropriation. As a writer my only goal is telling a compelling story. Fiction is dead if we have to constantly worry about offending people.

      • jazzfeathers says:

        Well, personally, I don’t see how offending people may enhence anyone’s creativity, so as a rule, I avoid doing it.
        I believe that telling stories is about sharing, and there’s very little to share in offence.

        • I guess it depends on what offends people. Some people are sensitive to valid but differing opinions. I never go out of my way to offend but some people are offended by truth and I refuse to lower my standards because someone doesn’t understand them or agree with them. I wish we all just got along, but evil and misunderstandings exist in the world and for me to write my characters realistically I have to let them speak as they see fit. I’m a great believer in 100% free speech. Evil doers don’t follow the rules and have no problem offending people so I think avoiding speaking truth (or good) in order to keep the peace has never worked to stop evil. People pleasers end up lowering their own moral standards and to me that’s a sad thing. But then some people find standards offensive! 🙂

  • pjlazos says:

    I, too, get carried away by the voices in my head. It’s sometimes hard to stop them!

  • G.B. Miller says:

    I usually write almost exclusively in a strong female/weak male voice, which if you think about it, is kind of odd.

    While I do write what I know, most of what I “know” has been gleaned from keen observation of what my friends/co-workers do. Makes my stories that much more interesting.

  • Susan Scott says:

    Hi Damyanti – thanks, fascinating reading and the comments also …

    As a writer, I have to dig inside myself in order to be honest with with both myself and the reader. It is hard but not impossible. I may not have personally had the experiences I’ve write about, but as sure as eggs I’ve read widely and relate even if vicariously to what I read if it grips me. It may represent a different voice, and this is what is broadening and deepening. And from which I learn ‘knowledge’ even if at second base. Different voices of different writers speak to me in different ways – and if this is ‘knowledge’, it sits well with me.

  • Deb Palmer says:

    Great, thought provoking article. Laugh if you like–my favorite voice to write in is “dog.” I think I master it, but may never know.

  • mcclellanelias says:

    Passages of David Foster Wallace and all of Henry James read like precious contrivances to me. And don’t get me started on Philip Roth. His “prose” are like George Lucas dialogue–or pots and pans hitting the floor.

  • Birgit says:

    I think one needs to write something that just feels …right. We may not understand it but we can educate ourselves but if we, inherently, do not agree with a certain philosophy or simply do not understand something, then the writing will ring false.

  • Interesting post. Yes, I have read books where the author has missed my perception of reality by a mile and in those cases I often put down the book. But I don’t think the problem is that the author hasn’t experienced the trauma, for example, but that the author hasn’t taken the time to reside in the character’s mind/body/heart. People experience the world through different lenses, but I think we are more alike than we are different and experiences are transferable. Besides all that, we have to be able to write experiences and voices that we haven’t had and aren’t, otherwise our books would all be memoirs! And in my case that would be boring. 🙂

  • danaethinks says:

    Yes, yes and yes! I write what I “know” and I know how to be a human. The rest can be fixed/revised in editing, but the instincts are rarely wrong.

  • ” I have to write what chooses me, because I don’t see any other way.”
    Your statement describes perfectly why I write.

  • I’m always aware when a man writes as a woman, but the voice is a man’s, and the reverse when a woman narrates from a man’s point of view. Some writers can do it well, not all. For me, it detracts from a book, even though the plot might be good, and the writing, otherwise, great.

  • wernerbjorn says:

    I enjoyed your post. I have the difficulty to find the voice with some of my characters. In my head they sound amazing, but when I write them out, they sound all the same. Like I am playing each one of them. Then I have to go back and remember, people don’t talk like me. I talk like me. They have their own voice, personality, and thoughts. Reading classical literature really helps me out. The voices are so distinct, established, and personal. The other thing I struggle with is if I end up offending someone who reads my work. Then I remember, its a made up book with no political/social standings, so get over it. haha.

  • I just write I my own voice concentrating on expressing what is on my mind.
    The recent AtoZ helped me learn that I can write from different POV.

    I love this post. 🙂

  • Excellent post. For myself this person’s excerpt of writing in voices that aren’t your own sounds suspiciously like ‘you ONLY have the right to write what you yourself know and have experienced personally’ . An extremely narrow minded way of looking at things.

    I write to learn and experience the things I can’t experience. I research, meet new people and talk to them to learn more than just my point of view and write about it, thus going a sense of my own part in the great diversity of the world we live in.

    After all if every writer in history wrote only what they experienced, we would not have Gone with the Wind, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Lord of the Rings.

    Thanks for posting this! Great topic for debate!

  • I’m still exploring different voices. It’s all about evolving as a writer. A thought provoking post. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • piyukamath says:

    You’ve raised a pertinent point. I believe if the writer believes in what he/she writes, that’s all that matters.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      If the writer lives what he or she writes, the voice is real. Not easy, that, though.

  • Sha'Tara says:

    In reader mode, I couldn’t care less what a “writer” writes. If I agree, I agree. If I disagree, I don’t have to keep reading – close the article, book, delete or throw in the garbage: done.

    As a writer, the world is my onion. I can do whatever I want with it; I can make it say whatever I want it to say, and no one, absolutely no one, can gainsay me. If someone tries, it’s a waste of effort: I’m not a listener, I’m a writer. I’m not a journalist; I’m not a reporter; I’m not writing a gossip column or interviews: I’m writing. I’m creating. What that is based on, well if I were to try to explain, get ready to read a very, very boring shopping list. What was that line from some poet back when I barely remember? “I write what I see.”

    The point is to write what one sees. How one sees, with what one uses to see. Physical eyes are fine for short sighted writing, but we have many “eyes” that aren’t physical. We see mentally, spiritually, with memory, with creativity. There are no limits to sight. A writer is someone with an ability and the tools to put down what that “seeing” is, and that seeing will always be a personal thing. The “complete” writer is the one who works from self-empowerment, not the one who defends, begs, whines, complains, boasts or boosts.

    There is no honesty in this world; there are no facts. Just impressions. Most of those are “pushed” upon people by established forces and powers people are so used to they don’t get how they are being manipulated. It’s up to the S/E writer to expose that manipulation. How? By whatever means allowed by one’s grasp of the written language used and how trained the mind is. By the inner courage of that writer to “write what s/he sees… and never, ever, apologize.

    Writing isn’t about political correctness, nor about whether someone’s “facts” are being messed with, or someone’s feelings are being abraded. Too bad.

    I write what I see… not what you see: that’s for you to write.

  • I admit that the except confused me. Unless we want to be one hit wonders, we have to write indifferent voices. I believe it works when there is authenticity to the voice, not from having live it personally, but having empathy.

  • I suppose Anis subscribes to the maxim “Write what you know”–at it’s most basic–and I don’t mean that to be good or bad. It’s a good idea and not so good, too. Many writers believe done respectfully, with lots of research and care (kind of like you do it), we can write about experiences we’ve never had. Of course, those narratives wouldn’t be pedantic or authoritarian, merely a sharing of knowledge.

    I think most writers agree with the latter (though I may be wrong). It would be such a narrow range of experiences available, not to mention too autobiographical and memoir-ish, otherwise. And then there are topics like my paleo-historic novel, set 1.8 million years ago. Who could tell this noble saga of this fearless family if not someone lie me who has never lived it?

  • Some people can do that well – write in a voice radically different than their own.
    I stay within what I know in general terms. I’m writing science fiction, so I already have to stretch it and go beyond what I know. None of my characters are me, but through my experiences with those I’ve met over the years, I know what they sound like. And I write them.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Each writer has his or her own writing process: you do complete justice to the voices you write, Alex.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti … you’ve certainly tried different approaches to your voice – the one you want to use to write … fascinating to read – I think I’ll stick to the simple life and not tell stories! But it’s great you can set your stall out this way … cheers and good luck – Hilary

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks, Hilary. I feel fortunate to be able to write stories as and when I want!

  • Dan Antion says:

    For me to write something, I think I have to have some personal experience. Maybe I don’t have to have lived it, but I have to have been close enough to make a good guess. On the other hand, if you can take the place of “that person” perhaps you can give a voice to someone who will never find their own voice or who may never get the chance. I think I would choose to write as an observer, but I think that’s because of limits of mine.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I never choose to give a voice to someone who doesn’t have one– I’m not sure I’m capable of it. What I do is articulate the voice that chooses me. Some characters want to speak and wouldn’t let go, so I have to give the their time in the sun, sometimes despite myself.

  • Candy says:

    Great writers have always written in other voices. Gustave Flaubert wrote in a woman’s (Emma Bovary). Milne wrote in a bear’s. (Winnie the Pooh). Saint-Exupery wrote as a prince on another planet. Where would all the great crime fiction, mysteries, sci-fi and fantasy be without imagining what it’s like to be someone else? Your post was excellent and I agree with you on writing in whatever voice makes sense to you.

  • dweezer19 says:

    I am not sure about what “rights” someone has to speak in a voice not heir own because this is a free world and I consider it in many ways a practice in empathy to put oneself in another’s shoes for expression. Bit if it is completely foreign I think it would require a lot of research. I had a Creative Writing teacher in High School who told us that our best work would always be those things which we have experienced. I have found this to be true for me.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I’ve written in settings foreign to me, where I’ve stayed for various spells, and it has definitely required a lot of research! I don’t know what my best work is, but my latest work is very far removed from my own daily experience.

  • Opher says:

    We have to use our imagination and experience to empathise with characters. Variety is good.

  • StuHN says:

    You have to have a variety of voices, or every character will just sound the same. A lot, as you said, is done with research: reading, watching, listening, and then, in editing, beta readers, and such. If we were to only write what we know, how would we have a Tolkein’s Hobbit or Elf?

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yes, one of my biggest focus elements is to go inside each of the characters– this is why I write, becuase I’m not me when I’m the character, and I get to try on so many different skins and clothes.