Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Write What You Know

You can write 50K words a month like the NaNoWriMo challenge. Even 100K words in two weeks. Then you’re qualified as a hack writer. Potboiler writers write faster than they breathe. John Grisham finishes each of his thriller in six months. However, literary fiction writers average 2-3 years a novel. Pace of a tortoise.

As an Asian, I can identify with a protagonist who’s brown-eyed, yellow-skinned. I read A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler, one that won him the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for literary fiction. In this short-story collection, his protagonist in every story is a Vietnamese, and Robert is white. Well, despite lavish praises from his critics, I could never feel ‘the voice’ in each of his stories, presumably from an Asian.

It takes an extraordinary skill for a writer to write in a voice other than his own, considering his race, his ethnic background, his years spent in the said environment that serves as the locale of his novel.

Writers like Chang-rae Lee, Ha Jin write strictly from their upbringing background through their protagonists. So the Korean voice, the Chinese voice from their works ring true. I take my hat to Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha) who put himself (a white male) in the place of a Japanese female as a geisha and, kudos to him, succeeded where many others have failed. But it took him 12 years to write such a novel, having gone through three major rewrites to change the POV, third to first.

And don’t ask Arthur Golden to knock off 50K words in a month!

1 comment:

  1. It's hard to write 50K in a month. I'm struggling with Nano.

    And you're right about voice. Very hard to get into someone else's skin and make it sound authentic. But some writers do it very well.