Wally Lamb, author of “She’s Come Undone,” writes from the perspective of Dolores, an obese, isolated young woman who attempts suicide during her first semester in college and spends seven years in a mental institution.
There’s a lot more to the book but my point is that Wally is a man, writing from a woman’s perspective about rape, eating disorders, a ticking biological clock and more. Not once when I was reading the book did I think, “This is a guy trying to sound like a woman.” Dolores’ voice rang true throughout.
This brings me to the assumption that writers write what they know. Many beginning writers do because it’s easier to draw from personal experiences when first trying to craft a story. Many start with memoirs because they’ve been comfortable journaling for a large part of their lives – and let’s face it, our childhoods provide a lot of material.
But writers also step into the lives of people completely unlike themselves and tell rich, complex stories from the viewpoint of another sex, race, sexual orientation, age, or species!
One of my novels is about Cissy, a 16-year-old girl in South Mississippi in the late 1960s who shoots her father five times in the back for sexually abusing her for 10 years. I’ve never been to Biloxi. My father didn’t sexually assault me. I’ve never been institutionalized in a state mental hospital.
I hear Cissy’s voice in my head, clearer than most of the voices in my head (kidding). Seriously though, my goal is that Cissy will speak to my readers, that her story will stand on its own and that my contribution is providing a vehicle for her voice.