I am rather hubristically writing one of the POV’s in my new novel from the POV of a South African woman. This at times feels really challenging and thought provoking, and at other times feels extremely and utterly foolish. After all, what do I know about South Africa, about what it means to be black, about what it means to be a woman? Am I going to be hanging myself out to dry when others read this, failing to portray a real person and instead revealing all my prejudices, assumptions and biases?
Perhaps. But writing is about pushing yourself, it’s about trying to imagine what’s going inside other people’s head spaces, and I’m taking a stab at it. Several stabs. Which is why I found Justine Musk’s essay on writing from different POV’s so fascinating-here’s an excerpt, but you should definitely go read the essay in its entirety:
When Richard Steinberg suggested we collaborate on a two-part essay about writing from the viewpoint of the opposite gender, I thought of something Zadie Smith said when I went to hear her read and give an interview at UCLA. The interviewer remarked on her ability to write from the viewpoints of characters of different ethnicities. Zadie more or less shrugged off the question, saying that the purpose of fiction is to enlarge human consciousness, not to slice it down into labels and categories, not to act as if people are utterly alien to each other, all trapped as we are in this human condition. In any case, she thought the greatest difference lay not between different races, but the different genders.
Crossing that bridge involves understanding the other gender in a way that also means understanding ourselves. It means developing an eye that is deeply empathic and coldly objective at the same time. It means knowing how to seduce – even as we ourselves are seduced, with all the thrills and pleasure that involves….and also, maybe, the lies. But behind every lie is the truth, and as writers — and observers of the human condition — it’s our job to get at it.