Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

Cultural Issues

There’s a thin line between writing about a stereotype and coming across as racist.

I’ve encountered this problem during the writing of my short story (that is, annoyingly, looking like it’ll be a longer-than-short story and is annoying because with length comes my downfall) when describing the main character’s parents. Because the parents are Indian and due to the fact that I want their daughter to straddle both British and Indian sensibilities, I have to make the parents rather traditional.

I found a minor consolation in getting the mother to use the computer to watch dare-devil videos, which also allowed me to further explain who the daughter herself was in the way that she is modern and well-versed in the workings of her peer group’s society. But was that enough? I would’ve had the mother looking at pictures of George Clooney on the Internet if it hadn’t sounded dodgy. It’s something which correlates to real-life and what a lot of older women do – go gaga over the nice younger men – but in a book, without going into crazy detail, it would sound awful. It would’ve sounded less dodgy if I had made it pictures of an Indian celebrity, but that would’ve enforced a stereotype.

What got me thinking about this in the first place, initially, was that I didn’t want to bog myself down, because I’m aware that I’m fond of everything Indian but that my adoration could be seen as undesirable if I weren’t careful. My thoughts went back to Simon Montefiore’s Sashenka where I’d found that some men simply can not and should not make their main character a female when they don’t understand women. They make the character do things a woman would never do. Both schools of thought apply to my fictional Indian family – I know a lot but I am an outsider and so could never assume to know all, and if I include too many traditional aspects I am going to have to make guesses somewhere down the line that may be a million miles away from the truth. Since many people have first-hand experience, indeed are Indian, and would notice the damning flaws in my writing, I cannot let that happen.

Women (and of course men, but that’s for another day) are all too often misunderstood but it’s widespread, been going on since forever, and half the world experience it so if things go on in a novel it’s spurned and that’s generally it. But to misinterpret a different culture is a bigger problem and one that would be more hard-hitting.

In many cases it’s not think before you act, it’s don’t act at all.


Jackie (Farm Lane Books)

September 10, 2010, 11:21 am

Writing about other cultures is hard, but I have known many authors to do it successfully. A lot of research is needed but isn’t that the fun part? Perhaps you could then show your writing to someone with first hand knowledge and they could let you know where you are going right/wrong?

Charlie: That’s a good idea, and one I hadn’t thought of (I’m ashamed to say that!) I think I will definitely need to do some research somewhere down the line if I’m continuing in the same vein, the easy way out is not to continue with it but there’s a lot to learn that yes, would be very fun indeed.

1 Comment


Comments closed