The voice of the other

A portrait of Alice Pung
Alice Pung
20 January 2015
With: 
Alice Pung

Writing from the voice of a character who is not the same gender, race or age as yourself is one of the hardest skills to learn. The trick is not in concentrating on the writing, but on the listening. These characters call for greater authenticity, which means they are going to be more convincing if you don’t make things up about them. Making up, say, ethnic characters out of the blue, may lead to the danger of resorting to cultural stereotypes. Sometimes, writers defiantly go the other way and render these characters so opposite to their “expected” tropes that they become flat and two-dimensional.

But if you base your “other” character on someone you have met, or know well, or have observed well, then they are no longer an “other” in your writing. Take some time out to interview someone of a different age, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity about themselves. Don’t ask them questions about their culture, disability, sexuality, race etc. or whatever makes them different. As them their views on politics and football, or family, or other subjects you’d talk about with your usual peers. Notice how they talk about such subjects, what their focus is on, and their speech patterns. If they will allow you to tape them, even better. Transcribe the conversation and learn to listen between the gaps.

About Alice Pung

Alice Pung is the award-winning Melbourne author of ‘Unpolished Gem’, ‘Her Father’s Daughter’ and ‘Growing Up Asian in Australia’. Her work has been published in ‘The Age’, ‘The Monthly’, ‘Good Weekend’ and ‘The Australian’.