When I first started writing, I was told, “Write what you know.” It’s good advice, up to a point. For instance, writing what you know allows you to hone your style, sound, etc., while providing you with a ready-made supply of stories – those from your own life.
However, I run out of truly interesting material quickly. Writing what you know works best when what you know is fascinating, or at least exciting, such as crime. I work at a call center.
Thus, I cast my imagination out into unknown waters, and I come up with all manner of ideas, most of which don’t mirror my own life in the slightest. (It helps that I read a lot of horror.) But one of the ideas I have, and am working on, concerns a horrific act that’s never occurred to me, but has to far too many others. Too many in this instance being anyone at all.
I’m talking about rape.
Adrian, the main/POV character in Hunger, when the story begins, is recuperating in a hospital from self-inflicted injuries brought on by his trouble recuperating from being raped by a male acquaintance. Hunger is intended to be his journal of how he got where he is, the struggle he’s had dealing with the aftermath, his dealings with friends and family both before and after.
To me, this has enough danger of veering into “creepy white girl writing slash fanfiction” that I can almost visualize the warning sign.
Thanks to box-in-the-box, Avalon’s Willow, neo-prodigy, and Ami Angelwings, I’ve learned about white privilege and its many forms/permutations, including how it comes across in media. (Recommended: This explanation.) My lack of knowledge about race (and age/gender/sex/ability) issues is profound enough that I know I shouldn’t say anything until I do a tremendous amount of reading and listening – so if you need me, I’ll be at the library, and lurking in forums.
What I found easier to grasp, perhaps because I’m a writer, is the danger and awfulness of appropriating other people’s experiences, especially if your own frame of reference is notably different. Writing about people notably different from yourself, while it can be done (provided research is done, and said characters are treated with respect and honor), it’s very easy to do wrong, and hurt and anger real-life people, which I do not want to do.
Hence my current situation. I want to write Hunger, but I don’t want to hurt others. The quickest solution would be to not write it, but that (to me, anyway) would feel like I was shying away because a) I didn’t want people to be mad at me, and b) I was just lazy and didn’t want to do research and/or talk to any actual, real-life people.
So I pose this question to you, Greater Internet Community: Where’s the line? Where’s the line between expanding your horizons, learning about others, and then writing, and stealing other people’s lives?
What should I do?