The Artistry of Façade: Writing Literature from Abstraction
Does literary merit hinge on authenticity? Does writing behind a mask fold into broken promises? Does an author have to hold themselves and their characters to a higher morality?
Is an author allowed to write characters completely unlike themselves? The most recent example out in the general public have is originally-a-novel-now-an-Oscar-nominated-film Call Me By Your Name. Sticky sweet with queerness, CMBYN is praised as an artistic, well-done rendition of what a gay romance is. Surprisingly, CMBYN was written by a straight author; and perhaps that is what makes it so enchanting—that it is not a troped, sorrowful gay romance where everyone dies. CMBYN, instead, is a love story that happens to be two men in love. But does that give André Aciman any authority to write it?
Often, when authors write characters that are foreign to themselves, it is glaringly obvious that they do not actually understand their own character’s backgrounds. Take most young adult fiction novels: The Perks of Being a Wallflower or perhaps anything from John Green’s repertoire. You have adults trying to mask themselves and imitate the teenage experience. And more often than not, the teenage readership can see right through it. The attempts at being relevant, whether in text lingo or slang usage or hyper-dramatized settings, is overtly out of place. This same sentiment translates to white authors writing characters of color, cisgender authors writing transgender characters, straight authors writing queer characters. When done well (i.e. thoroughly researched character studies), the characters read authentically; a person from the community would be able to relate. When done poorly, however, it reads fraudulently and is plainly offensive.
However, if in theory we are to limit authors to only writing characters akin to themselves, do we not pigeonhole literature into a bland, homogenous text? The diversity in characters—the differences between them and conversations that arise out of those differences—is what makes writing into artistry. And part of fiction is the suspension of disbelief; to read fiction is to willingly enter someone else’s landscape. Therefore, we can’t restrict authors in such a manner. However, what we can do is hold them accountable to crafting an authentic experience. Rather than letting them get away with bad renderings of minority experiences, we must let them know that the audience will not stand for it. The authors must engage people of the community that they are writing and understand their lifestyles. They must have their works reviewed by people of the community they’re writing and compensate them appropriately. Diversity should not be tokenized, it should be done properly and precisely. For that is what art is: authenticity.