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I am writing a story that takes place in a period of heavy political tension. It is a fictional world, but based off reality, especially American history. One of my main characters is a POC who joins a political movement protesting the tyrannical government, specifically focusing on women's rights. The more research I do on the subject, the more I come to realize the role women of color played in the women's suffrage movement.

While, as a white author, I want to be sensitive of telling a story that's not mine to tell, I also want my novel to be historically accurate and representative of all aspects of history. Even if I do all the research I can, I still will never fully understand the pov of a POC in politically heated environments, but I also don't want to "white wash" the women's rights movement.

So my questions would be: Is there a way to approach writing this character's plot line and pov to acknowledge the reality of being a POC in a political movement without writing an experience that isn't mine to write about? Where is the line between writing historically accurate experiences for your MC and telling someone else's story?

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    The Writing Excuses podcast has several episodes that talk about this well. Look for episode titles that start with "Writing the Other" – TMuffin Jun 3 at 15:46
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I think you may be misunderstanding the complaints about "telling someone else's story". Every story is the story of someone other than the author, in whole or in part. The complaints come when:

  • The author takes a writing spot from someone closer to the experience. For example, people would complain if a white writer pitched a story with a black main character to a publishing house that had a limit on how many such stories it would accept in a year. This is less likely to be a problem if the member of a minority is not the main character. You can mitigate this concern by not pitching to places that have limits on diversity, and by publically naming and supporting the authors who are members of a minority group that you read for your research.

  • The author misrepresents the experience, especially in a stereotypical way. You mitigate this by doing your research and by having friends and paid sensitivity readers read your work to find points you missed. (Sensitivity readers are a suggestion from the Writing Excuses podcast.)

  • The author takes credit from members of a minority group. For example, if you took a major accomplishment of a member of a minority and wrote about it, but changed the character to hide their minority status.

So, as long as you do your research it is completely possible and even praise-worthy to tell a story about people different from yourself. As an example, the writer for the movie BIT isn't trans and the movie has a trans lead. Far from angering trans people, he's something of a hero to me and several trans people I know. I've seen similar praise for non-black authors of young adult novels with black protagonists.

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I'm not sure how you can write a person's point of view and plot line without telling their story. Obviously, it will be the story of this fictional character in this fictional world. I get the impression it's a woman. You will focus on her personal life, thoughts, family, details of home, etc. You can bring authenticity to your character by interviewing woman who have lived through racism and racial discrimination. Given the events of the last few years, especially this week, you should have no problem finding such people. Gaining their confidence may be tricky but if you are truly compassionate there must be a way.

That said, I don't live in the USA so I don't know the true realities of the situation. But there are biographies of POC that you can read if nothing else. It really would be best if you could befriend a POC woman who can help you navigate that world, perhaps talk with others. They can read your story and correct misconceptions where you get it wrong.

Honestly, I don't know the answer to your question re "the line between writing historically accurate experiences for your MC and telling someone else's story." It is my opinion that you will have to choose between not using a POC and telling their story at least to some extent. To tell the story, you will have to do an enormous amount of reading, in person research, interviews, etc. to the extent that you feel and think like a black woman. This will probably take years of dedicated research. That is my opinion.

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  1. Talk to people. People are the best source of understanding sensitive topics. Talk to them before you write to get an understanding of the situation and then let them review the work, and suggest changes.
  2. Read other works. How do other, popular, authors write sensitive topics, so they are loved by the majority of their readers? Read them and apply what you see there to your writing.
  3. Realise it won't be perfect. No matter how hard you try someone will find it insulting due to the fact that you weren't there. So, accept that it will not be completely loved.
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