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I am currently writing about six teenagers during their senior year at an American high school. I am struggling to write authentic experiences for characters whom I do not share the same identity.

One of my characters is a straight cis poc male who is sexually assaulted while on a sports team. So far, I have drawn on experiences from poc female/non-straight male perspectives that I have had or been told personally. However, I can feel that something is missing. I think my narrative of the character lacks of the societal pressures that come from being a straight cis poc male in the US. Typically, I would interview people who I want to use as inspiration for characters. However, it seems insensitive to have people relive a traumatic experience for a work of fiction that may or may not get published.

So, my more general question is: how do I find the resources to write authentic experiences for characters outside of my own identity?

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This one is a bit generalized, and I might not cover your exact point. But you might find it helpfull nonetheless :)

Creating a base

Humans–although diverse–aren't that diverse. There is a level of similarity between individuals who have a concrete thing or an abstract thing in common. A similar behavior (not completely similar) can be expected from two girls or two men of the same age or two kids who grew up in the same locality. An idea I feel would help would be as follows:-

visualising a pyramid

A pyramid can start from a small detail that's almost common to a network of traits easily distinguishable from other people's .

experience-independent levels

You can start out with levels (traits etc) that are independent of experiences or personality. Like the things you probably fill in boring formal documents. These would include things like gender, age, education, profession, married or not, address , daily routine (it can be independent, maybe) etc. You can go through formal/ semi-fromal documents the get more ideas.

early experience levels

Childhood affects one's entire life. You can now include early experiences that happened in your character's childhood. No special events would mean a normal level that would be similar to many other normal character's. Perhaps the charcters is an orphan and has seen the bad side of the world a bit too early, or a character would be a pushover due to an intimidating older sibling, etc. Your character might not even remember these experiences, but they have a huge impact on their lives as the shape the foundation of their personalty.

personality level

Personality in this case would not just mean ones mannerisms or behaviours, but their reactions, tendancies and many other things. In short- this one is important. This level would have traits that they inherited from their family (parents, siblings, cousins, gaurdian) genetically or by observation. Traits, mannerisms, belief system. Everything. Almost. A prince would behave older than his age, the politician's child might be a spoilt brat or even a political mastermind, and there are many possibilities.

experience level

This is where your question comes in. Now if any kind of trauma had occured after the early years of a person, like the one you mentioned, then it would have a huge impact on every other level. Their belief system is crushed, they are forced to change their behaviour, their whiter personality is changed etc.

Usually this level is quite difficult to write. And yep, it would be quite awkward to ask anyone to share their experiences with us. So the best option would be to

  1. research {but please be carefull, it's not always the best for you to go so deep in things like these. They sometimes mess with your mind}
  2. observe people around you, in movies cinemas. If you need to write about some kind of experience, you can read a few pages of a autobiography/book on someone who has what you need. You can watch a movie to get a better understanding visually {I would do that in dire situations}
  3. try many other methods specialized it experiencing something others did. You can give it a quick Google search.

Hope it helped, and I would love to read your book when it is finished! I'll try to elaborate on the last point a bit later on

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Ask yourself what it is you want to learn

from victims of sexual violence, because you can't unhear their stories. So make sure you are prepared to live with that knowledge before you ask others to share their experiences.

Potential sources can be found in support groups -- both online and in person. You'd want to speak with the organizers first and work with the groups themselves, getting buy in, for your participation before you show up.

You can also volunteer for rape crisis support centers. It would be important to disclose all of your intentions to the staff. They will have the experience to judge whether it is appropriate for you. What I mean is just because you want to write about sexual violence doesn't immediately disqualify you from helping and supporting its victims. Volunteering in that support community -- at any level, after receiving the appropriate and required training -- will help you develop insights to create powerful characterizations. Obviously you couldn't use what you learned directly in your story, but it would help fill in the psychic scenery of the work.

It is immaterial that your story is fiction and that it may never be published. That may certainly influence other decision making process, but that is their business.

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Simple answer is "Google It."

Complicated Answer: Haven't a clue... you haven't told me who this person is. Sure, I can pick him out of a crowd kinda... but that's not why I read stories... I read it for characters who are interesting. I can assure you I've gotten into the mind of a lot of characters who look nothing like me and enjoyed them for who they are. Because when you get down too it, how your character is going to act is about who they are... not what they are... All you've told me is he played sports... okay, lots of people play a sportsball... some for fun... some are competative... some are doing it for a career...

And while his sexuality MIGHT have an effect on his response to the trauma, his skin color will be less determinate (there might be some cultural stigma from his upbringing and home life, which might be determined by his race, but trauma coping is very much colorblind in this sort of situation.).

Interview is still viable, just be upfront and respectful of boundaries before you do it. People deal with trauma differently and some people will talk about it... and those that don't might be persuaded if they knew they could help someone else in this situation. In other situations, it might help because they can distance themselves from their own experience through explaining it via the character development.

Another resource is to search for people who specialize in therapy for this and ask them to discuss it without naming names. You'd be surprised what information experts will give you if you end your ask with "It's for a book."

Finally, as mentioned, I'm not sure racial componants will factor heavily and since male victims of sexual assault are rarer (at least documented by those who come forward) it might be that there hasn't been a significant study on race as a factor to yield conclusive data, especially given that the field is very subjective in general and new. Which means you might have to look beyond skin color to get your answer.

I will leave with this one... what you have described is what your character looks like... but as the old adage goes, "Character is what you are in the dark."

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Talk to people

Of course, your research should never end up hurting or causing trauma, but some people actually process what happened to them by talking about it.

If you sincerely want to understand another person talking to them will usually be met with a positive reaction. Especially if this person feels they are being short-changed because they haven't had the "normal" experience.

As a starting point, I suggest looking into PsychForums.com. (They have some very heavy subjects that may be triggering to some...)

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What writers do, when they write about unfamiliar subject matters, is (ordered by increasing effort and decreasing falsehood):

  • make it all up
  • google it
  • read research on it / view documentaries / read reports by insiders
  • talk to members of the culture / community / group
  • live with them (become an ethnologist)
  • become a member of the group

The last option is not always available.


There are countless questions on this site about writing about something that you aren't familiar with. Many have great answers. In essence, it doesn't matter whether you want to write about a craft, that you don't know (there was a question once about writing about using a bull whip), a culture not your own (American Indian, police force, or outer space alien), or a different gender. The methods are always the same.

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