1. FrozenLady
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    FrozenLady Member

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    Is it morally correct?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by FrozenLady, May 5, 2015.

    Hi,

    I've been looking through literatures from around the world and noticed that people only write about cultures they belong from. For example, Austen's works are based in England and Tolstoy's in Russia. Are you bound to write about culture from where you belong? I mean if you have an interest in another country's history and you wanted to write a historical novel about it, will it be morally ok? Because people began to point out that you should promote your own culture and should be proud of it and so on. Will I be a traitor to do so? I have also noticed that people who do so don't get recognition like the ones I have mentioned. What do you think? So are you bound to write about your country, your people and language?

    My second question is that I can't post on other parts of this forum as I am new member. When will I be able to? Thanks!
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You can't start threads in the Workshop, but you can post there. To put something up for critique you need to have 20 posts, 2 of which are critiquing others work in the workshop, or pay for a supporter's membership to bypass that requirement.

    As for morals, that's an odd thread title. Write what you know is always a good idea but lots of authors write about places/people/eras that are foreign to them. Just do your homework if you choose to write about an unfamiliar place/time/people.
     
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  3. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    I agree with ginger coffee, the key is to write about what you know, so most authors set stories in their own country, because it is familiar. However as long as you do your research, I'd say you qualify for knowing about another country.

    Personally my novel is set in the UK as it is my home, but I have sections in France, USA, Russia and Norway.
     
  4. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    I see nothing wrong with writing about a different culture unless you misrepresent it. If you aren't part of it, you will need a lot of research to get it even close to right.
     
  5. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    There's nothing in the rulebook to stop you writing about a foreign culture and I certainly disagree with the sentiment that people only write about cultures they belong to.

    Generally in order to write about something you must immerse yourself in it. You have to adopt the culture as your own. Is that what you mean? In which case, yes. Only write about something you fully understand - otherwise you risk offending many people and making yourself look like an idiot.
     
  6. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it would be interesting to see how someone portrays another country other than their own. Robert Burns summed up my feeling about this: "Oh would some power the gift give us, To see ourselves as others see us." So if you wrote a story about the USA for example and it seemed misrepresented to people living here but it was the way we are perceived from another group's viewpoint I think that is an eye opening thing that should be appreciated.

    I copied that from a Wikiquote in case that needs to be stated.
     
  7. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    I don't think racial/cultural stereotypes need to be converted into literature for us to appreciate the concept of prejudice.

    A book that portrays all homosexuals as effeminate nymphomaniacs would hardly be eye-opening, for instance. And a book that portrayed Africans as backwards, uncivilised monsters is hardly going to be appreciated by anyone except troglodyte racists.

    No, writing about another culture with no understanding of it has no upsides in this wolf's opinion. Anyone can write a book about how they perceive something, and it carries with it no meaning. One can hold opinions and prejudices, but one needs to back those up with a thorough understanding of the subject matter - not "that's just how we see it".

    If we want to understand how other people see us (I, for instance, on another forum was treated to some rather rude members who repeatedly told how the French practise bad hygiene) it should be done via surveys - not the publishing of books.
     
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  8. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    What an odd question. The answer is an emphatic "no."

    I'm not sure what you mean by adopting it or immersing yourself in it, but I disagree if you mean it literally. I think you should have to do extensive research, but living there is beyond what's necessary and certainly adopting it is beyond what's necessary.
     
  9. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    Unless you treat that culture with the respect and dignity that you would afford your own, you risk prejudicing that culture with an outside view. You need to know that culture as if it was your own.
     
  10. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Why? Alan Moore wrote Watchmen having only been to the U.S. a handful of times. Same with Gaiman in American Gods. There are hundreds of Bollywood movies that depict life in the states, and anime's of everything from medieval Europe to the Old West.
     
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  11. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I thought it goes without saying to treat the culture with respect and dignity. Once again, I don't know if you're being literal, but it's impossible to truly know a foreign culture as if it were your own without living there for years. I don't think that's necessary.

    As an example, I'm writing a story partially set in Guatemala. I've never been there, so I can't know the culture as if were my own. But I've seen multiple documentaries about life in poor Guatemalan towns that will be very similar to my setting. I've seen news reports, youtube videos, academic papers, Guatemalan-based non-profit websites, government websites, travelling/tourism websites that talk about culture, etc. that all help me understand the culture there. I know about the main ethnic divide (Ladino v. Mayan). I know that recently the socioeconomic divides have become a bit less strict, but some Mayans consider some Ladinos to be traitors (the main difference is language spoken and clothing, not really race, so some are purported to have betrayed their ancestry for economic gain). I have seen how many people live in poor rural areas, both Mayan and Ladino. I know the food they eat. I know the work they do. I know the clothes they wear. I know the challenges of not having a regular and predictable income. Etc., etc.

    But I still can't say I know it as well as my own. And that's fine because: (1) People are different within any culture, and I'm not interested in making a stereotype; and (2) Humans still have a lot more in common than not, so you don't need to know every tiny detail of a culture in order to know the culture.
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    @Jack Asher - And games like GTA that makes up their own version of how a foreign society is like. Just thought I'd throw that in there.

    But I see your point, @AlcoholicWolf and agree. I would treat the other culture with the respect it deserves and that means researching it to the best of my ability. Thankfully for the internet, I have an infinite number of ways of getting the info I need.

    OP, is it morally wrong? Why? You should feel free to write about whatever real-world culture you want, be it your own or someone else's. The only thing you should remember that within the culture you wish to write about are people, not flat stereotypes to fit a preconceived idea.
     
  13. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    I think you are missing my point. I don't think I made myself very clear. The key is not to know every tiny little detail, but to look at it without a prejudiced eye, which is very difficult. Everything you look at and learn from will have a social, cultural, economic or political bias. When you look at a culture, you have to see it from the perspective of someone who lives there, not an outsider.

    For instance, say you wish to write about life in an extreme religious community from the perspective of a woman who lives there. She will probably have very few rights. It would be insensitive, though, to place your commentary into that situation. "This is a bad thing, she has no rights" would be inappropriate unless you are deliberately making a socio-political comparison. Instead, you would have to focus on that character's struggle in a world where she has no rights. Perhaps she knows no better, and it makes no difference. Perhaps she is a little girl who tries to go to school but gets shot in the head. Did that make more sense?

    Same case. You could go to America only once and gain a strong enough perspective not to prejudice that society with an outside view. If they did do such a prejudice, it is not such a big deal, but it's something to be aware of in my mind.
     
  14. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I understand what you're saying in the above message--and I agree--but I don't see what it has to do with what you said in a former message:

    You don't need to know a culture as if it were your own in order to avoid unintentional "prejudice," as you would say. That was my main point: I wanted to argue against the need to know every little detail of a culture, which that above quote implicitly states.
     
  15. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    I suppose then the correct way to say it would be "treat" the culture as if it was your own. Knowing it does help, though.
     
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  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's certainly no obligation to "promote" your own culture. Also, many novels are far from promoting the culture they're about--many of them communicate strong criticisms of the culture in which they're set.

    But I agree that you need to understand the culture you're writing about, which is a perfectly good reason for most writers to set their books in their own culture.
     
  17. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Robert Graves wrote I, Claudius - a best selling novel set in Ancient Rome. (The answer is yes, it's fine to write about a culture that isn't your own, but you have to really know what you are talking about).
     
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  18. VirtuallyRealistic
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    VirtuallyRealistic Active Member

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    I don't see any issue with writing about a culture that isn't your own. Just make sure you know what you're talking about. Thousands of books have been written in feudalistic societies, but these people have never lived in such a setting. That doesn't mean they shouldn't do it, it just means they need to do their research beforehand.

    If we could only write about the culture or lifestyle we live in we wouldn't have very interesting or diverse stories.
     
  19. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You can write about other cultures too, it's not morally questionable or traitorous. :) Plus, research is fun!

    [tongue-in-cheek]Plus, if said culture has a super low self-esteem, like mine, we're just happy if an outsider includes us into their story, even if it was a horribly inaccurate portrayal :D.[/tongue-in-cheek]
     
  20. Vrisnem
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    Vrisnem Member

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    The word "morally" is throwing me a bit, but I definitely think it's okay. Like others, I do think that as long as you put in the research then there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be writing stories set in other countries.

    When I first started writing I would use my home town as a base to create a fictional location. I thought that no matter how I chose to write it people would just see flaws in it and criticise. Later, as I became more confident with it, I started using real world locations in Scotland and England (I've lived in both) because they are what is most familiar to me. Also, when I went out, the local areas inspired me by putting scenes in to my head that could take place there. When I decided to venture into other cultures I went back to what I had previously done: I created a fictional place and based the culture off of places I wanted to write about but felt as if I couldn't do it justice. Nowadays I will put in however many weeks (or months) of research it takes in order to be able to accurately represent the area I want to write about. Currently, one of the three projects I'm planning is set in Russia (modern day, although it requires me to research back as far as the late 19th century) while the other two are in England (one modern day; the other 1890s).

    With anything you write it should be about knowing the material well enough to convey it in a believable way. Maybe it's just the way I go about it, but I find it a lot more challenging to be able to pull off writing in a different setting or time period - especially if you don't have a huge amount of knowledge on the area/history beforehand.

    The only reason I think there should be to question whether or not you should be writing about it is if you're unprepared to put in the effort to learn about it. If you're prepared to make the effort to learn then there is no reason why you should feel there is anything "wrong" with writing about a culture different from your own. No one will judge you for it - and if they do then they're being ridiculous. Write what you want to write about. For example, if you live in New Zealand and want to write about what it's like to live in Bosnia and Herzegovina then go for it, just make sure to get a solid enough understanding of the area so that you can portray it in a believable manner.

    I'm definitely guilty of this. I don't think anything I've written particularly glorifies the UK. Especially Glasgow. My writing always portrays the city and it's people in an awful light, yet in reality it's my favourite place in all of Scotland.
     
  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Not seeing how this is a moral issue at all. It's a research issue.
     
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  22. FrozenLady
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    FrozenLady Member

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    Thank you everyone for your answers. I have came to a conclusion that there is nothing wrong in writing a novel on a different culture unless you have done well research on it.
     
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  23. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    You mean Finns aren't all tall, thin, unintelligible Modern furniture designers skiing into saunas before going off to America to play college basketball? :supergrin:
     
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  24. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    You write it first, colour in afterwards. You can't agonise about these things before you have even taken a first step. I wrote 'Yorkshire daughter,' a poem, she became Afghan daughter, then returned back to Barnsley, in draft, then dived into my hotmail drive for an eternity in darkness. That's how it goes.
     
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  25. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Haha :D

    Saunas, skiing and furniture does sound accurate, actually!

    Switch basketball to ice hockey and thinness to a significant increse in our national waistline and you're there. :D
     
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