The good folks over at the SFWA site have uploaded a piece by Nisi Shawl entitled “Transracial Writing for the Sincere” which deals with the challenge–and the necessity–of writing characters of a different ethnic background than that of the author. It’s a very well-reasoned and rational approach to a delicate and difficult part of being a good (in every sense of the word) author. While there is a focus on writing characters who belong to a racial minority, I think the advice is equally applicable to writing any character different from ourselves, whether due to social class, profession, gender or age.
Here’s an excerpt:
When it comes to finding more contemporary material, magazines help. I also strongly recommend shopping trips, night-clubbing and restaurant hopping. Take a walk on the wild side. Do you feel like a tourist? Uncomfortable? Well, you are one, and you need to know what it’s like to be conspicuous. If your character’s a minority, she or he will be quite familiar with the sensation. Bruce Sterling once told me that alienation is an essential part of any science fiction writer’s education, and I agree.