Should a Writer be the Same Race & Gender as Their Narrator?

Hello Writer Bees!

So, the other day, I was scrolling through Twitter when a post caught my attention. It was a #WritingQ. The question was: Does a writer need to be the same race or gender as their narrator?

As a female writer with a male narrator, I felt the need to dip my toes into these controversial waters. Let’s talk about this for a second.

My Opinion.

Does an author need to be the same gender, race or sexuality as their narrator? In my opinion? No. That’s part of creative writing. We use our imaginations to create realistic characters, even if they’re much different than us. A narrator doesn’t have to be a carbon copy of the writer. And a writer doesn’t have to limit themselves and write only in a box. Don’t be afraid to write out of your comfort zone. When we do create characters outside of our own experience, it’s important to do them justice. Here are some quick tips for writing a character from a different background.

  • Be aware of stereotypes. Step above the stereotypes. If it comes off as cliché, a character will lose their authenticity. Also, if it’s not done properly, a character could come off as offensive.
  • Do your research.  – When a character comes from a different cultural background, research that culture. What names are common in that ethnicity? What are some typical meals? Do they have certain habits, rules, or traditions? Dig deep, you may actually learn something.
  • Be open to writing a character unlike yourself. Challenge yourself and stay open minded. The fun part about writing is stepping into someone else’s shoes – someone else’s brain – and telling their story.

My Experience

As many of you know, I’ve been writing my murder mystery WIP for quite some time. Many times, my main characters have made appearances on this blog. On paper, my narrator and I are completely different.

  • My narrator – Oscar Fitzgerald – is a young Irish man living in the 1920s. He/him pronouns. Attracted to women.
  • I’m a Puerto-Rican-Italian millennial. She/her pronouns. Attracted to… Mister Jabberwocky.

And maybe some readers will be put off by that stark difference. How can a woman writer do a man justice? Impossible!  I can understand why some readers feel that way. I’ve seen some men poorly portray women in fiction. Truth is, choosing a male narrator was barely a thought to me. I honestly thought nothing of it.  When I began crafting my detective duo and their dynamic, both characters being men fell into place naturally. If it works, it works. Why fix it?

How do I go about writing in male perspective? Frankly, I don’t set out to. That’s the secret. When I sit down to write, I don’t go “Okay, let me pretend I’m a dude now.” For me, gender isn’t often considered. Usually, I focus more on the character’s personality more than anything else. I keep our similarities and our differences in mind at all times. That mindset guides me through writing a male narrator. And look, I’m not perfect. I’m sure I’m missing some nuances of being a guy, especially one from the 1920s. But I do my best, that’s all anyone can do.

I want to hear from you. How do you go about writing a character from a different background? How are you similar to your narrator or main character? How are you different? Let me know in the comments.

I understand this can be a touchy, controversial subject for some people. Everyone has their own opinion. Please be respectful in the comments. I’d appreciate it.

Stay safe and keep writing!

— Lady Jabberwocky

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11 thoughts on “Should a Writer be the Same Race & Gender as Their Narrator?

  1. Very thoughtful and well-written post! I agree with what you said. As an author, it can be fun to challenge yourself with writing from viewpoints that are not identical to your own. In a fantasy novel, a viewpoint character might not even be human. – Susan

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is something I struggle with a lot. For reasons I can’t pinpoint I usually want to write female protagonists even though I feel that most male writers are awful at portraying women. I used to comfort myself with the idea that even if I was being unintentionally gross barely anyone reads anything I write anyway but that excuse has started to wear thin lately.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. As a veeeeeery general rule, women are more detail oriented and men are more action oriented. A women describing a scene will point out what people are wearing, how they’re carrying themselves, what the general context of the emotional currents in the area is, etc. etc. A man will point out who did what, where and how. They may not even describe a person’s looks outside of a very basic description (black biker dude. Priest with guns for hands. Clown riding a dinosaur.)
      I read that in a psychology article a few years back. I find it’s generally true, but make of it what you will.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Since I usually write characters that are like me, I haven’t had a whole lot of experience with this. However, I did once write a short story narrated by a female character (with the main male character in the story like me). I haven’t looked at that story in decades, so I don’t know if it came across as authentic…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Let me start out by observing that Agatha Christy was never a Belgian. Nor a policeman. Nor a man, for that matter. Yet she created the iconic character of Hercule Poirot who, years later, still captures our imagination and admiration. Is he a stereotype? Possibly. Is he a memorable character? No question about it.

    That being said, I write stories about young women who love other women. I am not young. Nor am I a woman, although I do have some experience in loving women. I write these stories by creating a female character I care about and could love, then imagining how another woman would care about, and love, her. Do I stereotype. Possibly, but I don’t spend a lot of time and effort thinking about gender. I am more concerned with feelings and emotions and how they are manifested. If I can get that right, then I have written a story I can be proud of.

    On Fri, Sep 10, 2021 at 8:29 AM Lady Jabberwocky wrote:

    > ladyjabberwocky posted: ” Hello Writer Bees! So, the other day, I was > scrolling through Twitter when a post caught my attention. It was a > #WritingQ. The question was: Does a writer need to be the same race or > gender as their narrator? As a female writer with a male narrator” >

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I write from different points of view all the time, I think you do that whenever you start writing. You’re writing about someone who’s not you, so I think everything’s fair game. That said, you have to be respectful, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Write what you know.” Everyone’s familiar with that bit of advice and for years it made me nervous to write female characters or older characters or characters of different races. What mattered to me was being able to do justice to the character’s background. Not every race, age, and gender are alike but despite knowing that I over analyzed my writing to the point of paralysis.
    So, I did what I always do whenever I’m in a pickle and I RESEARCHED and eventually I got over my fear.
    With characters of a different age or living in a different time I lean on my history background and Strauss and Howe’s generational theory. If was writing Mr. Fitzgerald as an example, I try to think of what people in his generation were generally like. If he was born before 1900, he’s part of the Lost generation (nomad archetype) which was their version of Gen X. Rebels with sunglasses and leather jackets and devil may care attitudes cuz fucking WWI, man. Nothing matters… However, if he was born after 1900, then he’s a very young member of the Greatest generation (hero archetype). They are all untested and have yet to endure the Great Depression and World War II, but their generational potential shines through in their can-do attitude and optimism.
    Like I said, not a hard fast rule but it helps to know the ocean my characters are swimming in.
    Anyways, thanks for the thoughtful post! It’s a conversation worth having.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post. Research and avoiding stereotypes is huge but it can definitely be done. “Write what you know” is at odds with the whole “why aren’t there more books and stories for ?”. I’m not gay, or a POC, or physically handicapped. I’m not a telepath either although my work in progress has ALL of these traits on certain characters. I will be honest and concede I am not personally comfortable with writing a story from the perspective of someone suffering under say, the Jim Crow laws of the old South but thats partly a research issue (I don’t feel I know enough to get the character right) and I get that a white person writing a character in a racist situation may not be able to do it justice. In response to “why am I not writing for this audience?” I know my answer is sometimes “I don’t want to screw it up or get yelled at for appropriating the topic”. It’s a tricky line in the sand.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a great post! I’m of the view that this is why beta readers, in particular, those who share lived experience with the characters (including the narrator) is so important. I definitely think people can write characters who are different to themselves but need to be aware that we all have blind spots. After all, writers are only human. But taking steps to do research, and check the authenticity/ethical implications of characters and stories is key (in my opinion) for better representation. While no single beta reader can speak for an entire people group or experience, I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit to allow others to help us pick up on areas where we could do a better job.

    Liked by 1 person

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