#Screenwriting: Should You Write Outside Your “Lane”?

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As a screenwriter, probably my favorite aspect of it is that, as with any other form of art, with the exception of format, structure and in some cases, proper grammar and spelling, there aren’t many “right” or “wrong” answers. There are also many ways it can be done. For those of us who are writers or partake in any other form of art, this opens up a HUGE world for us. This immeasurable freedom is a big reason I love the escape.

However, is there such a thing as writing “outside your lane”?

Here is what I mean by that. These days, society tends to feel that we are all only “allowed” to be involve ourselves with what they feel we are most familiar with. In other words, have you ever heard a black person tell a white person, “You’re not black. You could never understand the hood/projects” or “You don’t deal with racism every like we do, so you can’t speak about it”? That’s what I mean. Whether the white person actually has experienced this or not (and there is absolutely nothing that says they haven’t), the belief is that only black people experience racism or growing up in the inner city. So there is resistance toward anyone believed to never have gone through this to talk about it.

Same for women. A man tries to speak about women’s issues or sexism toward women and many times, it is met with “You’re not a woman. You couldn’t possibly know, so don’t speak on it.”

Most of the time, this happens when there is a disagreement. As long as you’re saying all the right things, you can speak on any topic you want. But the moment you say something that doesn’t jive with the self-proclaimed “experts” on the topic(s), you’re shut down. Nothing is to say that folks cannot do research in what way or another. In many ways, even those who call themselves the “authority” on whatever it is can and have been wrong, many times.

But there are just certain areas many are societally restricted from entering, for one reason or another.

How about for us as writers? Should this be the same here?

I read an article a few weeks ago that basically said that yes…we should only write within our “lane.” White people cannot write black characters (of course, without consultation), men cannot write women characters and so on.

This may seem a bit silly, because I’m sure many of you reading can think of MANY examples that buck this. So it obviously does happen.

I recently asked a professional screenwriter friend of mine if she has noticed this in the business and she said, in so many words, that she has. The belief is that it’s easier to “sell” ourselves when we write as what we are believed to be the “experts” on. In other words, as I am a black man and in the military, writing about black people, men or the military are potentially my safest bets. We’re sort of pigeonholed at times. I can see the thought process from Hollywood here. I don’t have to agree with it, but I get it.

My friend also mentioned J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series, stating that of course, Rowling isn’t a wizard (at least in the fantasy sense, but a “wizard” in her brilliance to have created this world. I certainly cannot disagree there). Some of you may have thought the same thing.

However, with all due respect to my lovely, brilliant friend, I don’t feel that is quite the same thing. Here’s why.

The Harry Potter series is so radically unrealistic that I feel it would be viewed as “fair game” to whoever would want to write something within that genre. What takes place isn’t something we can reach out and touch. So it hasn’t really been “assigned” to one group or another, if that makes sense. It’s not something we can look outside and see every day.

However, women’s inequality or other issues, we see every day. Racial issues, we see every day. These are areas we can, unfortunately, reach out and touch. And we all know how it is when we can all put our hands into the pot…then when too many hands get in there. Someone eventually decides that only certain people are allowed to have this piece or that piece.

Now, I know that there are some writers who would say, “Just write what whatever you want.” Obviously, that is the “right” answer. But this isn’t a bad discussion to have, especially considering that some of those saying that may have the same viewpoint(s) in thinking that only certain writers can or should write in this area or that area.

As a viewer of a television show or movie, would folks be quick to admit that they’d have a bias against watching a show about the inner city if it were created, written and/or directed by a white man? How about a show about women from a 100% heterosexual man? (Spoiler alert…that’s something I’m working on right now and I have a passion to write screenplays and teleplays with female leads.) If you as a viewer knew this ahead of time, or let’s say, there are two similar shows about women, and you knew a man is largely responsible for one with a woman being responsible for the other, would that “steer” your decision at all?

I mention screenwriting because that’s what I aspire to be, but this can really go for ANY kind of writing, so my author friends as well, what do you think? Would you feel comfortable writing what is “outside your lane”? Do you feel that as writers, we shouldn’t do this? Again, this doesn’t include the radically fantasy worlds just because I feel they aren’t quite the same thing and so far out of the realm of reality.

To think about it now, this could apply to the art form of music also, so if you’re a musician, I’d love to hear your thoughts also. ANY kind of art form where this could come into play, feel free to chime in.

This has nothing to do with “political correctness,” so let’s not even go there. This isn’t about that. That phrase is so overblown and many times, used in the wrong manner. This is not about how each group is addressed. This is simply about the feelings of writers and viewers in terms of whether they feel certain things are or should be “off limits.” In some cases, even if more than adequate research is done.

FYI, this isn’t a case of me asking for “approval” of any kind. Many of my fellow writers seem to think that any time a writer asks a question, it’s for validation. No. I stated above as to what my passion is and that’s where I’m staying until I choose to do otherwise or if a professional writing assignment in the future dictates that I do this as well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so feel free to comment either here or on my Facebook and/or Twitter pages in response to this blog post.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

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