Two years ago I got serious about writing. I began to read books considered by many to be great literary works and I applied what I learned from those books to my own writing, and I tried to do it every day. I very quickly churned out a lot of crap. But that did not bother me – I was improving with every piece of writing. Almost immediately after completing my first not-entirely-awful piece of work, I sent it out to magazines for publication and it was unanimously rejected. While I believed I was ready to unleash my talents upon the world, the world believed something other.
Two years later, the world has agreed that my writing is not-entirely-awful and has published one of my stories. Funnily enough, it is one of the first I wrote, and seeing it now side by side with my newer writing, given the stamp of magazine approval, I see that I have come a long way. When writing this story, I made a mistake, but from writing this story, I have learned something very valuable.
One of the most important skills a writer needs is to understand perspective. Perspective is when you see something from a particular viewpoint. For example, Jack and Jill went up the hill, but neither Jack nor Jill knew that Jack would later fall down the hill and crack open his skull, or that Jill would soon follow. Because we read the story from the perspective of Jack and Jill, that is information that we also do not know. The narrator could have told us beforehand to expect a tragic outcome to this otherwise innocent tale, but that would have destroyed the perspective and the impact of the tragedy.
My story, titled “The Necklace” and published by The Legendary magazine, is a story about a psychopathic woman who plots to murder her husband for the sake of a necklace. I presented the story in the first person, from the woman’s perspective, so the reader knows only what the character knows. However, I wanted to add an element of irony and I wanted the reader to know more than the character without the character providing information she would not in reality have access to. For the most part I succeeded, but that is not what I learned not to do.
My mistake was this:
My mistake was writing from the perspective of a psychopathic woman.
What I learned was this:
I have since learned not to put myself into the shoes of somebody I cannot understand, and since I am not a woman, or a psychopath, I cannot understand them to the level needed to make the characters real.
That is not to say that men should not write female characters or that sane people should not have psychopaths in their stories. It is fine to have these characters, but these characteristics should not be the reason they are there. I do not understand what it is like to be a woman because I have never been a woman, nor do I understand what it is like to be a psychopath because I have never been a psychopath.
Late one night in a bar a friend and I were talking about writing from certain perspectives and I told him, among many other alcohol-fuelled wisdoms, my belief that a person should only write what he or she understands. He said it sounded very limiting and I agreed, but I disagreed that it was a bad thing. From what I have learned through my own writing, I will never have a gay black female parent as my main character, because I do not know what it means to be a gay black female parent and therefore I cannot accurately represent her. I do not know what such a character thinks about on a daily basis, what is important to her or how she views the world. This character I leave to the gay black female parent writers, who will make her alive in a way I cannot. As my friend pointed out, I am limiting myself to writing about white men. He is right, but it is not limiting. I believe that in doing so, I will be able to write better and to have characters that are real and not stereotypes, and that is what I have done with my second published story, “The Exhibits.”
Now that I have written a story from the perspective of a woman psychopath, I will never do it again.
This blog post was not very funny, so here is a picture of Mrs Coulter in a bag.