"I have a character who is a young girl and I want to write from her perspective. How do I do that?" The question was asked in class, and people volunteered suggestions to enable the gentleman to observe and interact with the demographic. The advice missed two ingredients: empathy and fearlessness.
The answer came to me while I was reviewing a recent podcast covering Evil A.I. It was our observation that the major perceived flaw (from a human perspective) in a physical manifestation of artificial intelligence is lack of empathy. A walking robot makes people uncomfortable unless it is somehow capable of imparting the illusion of emotions. This was the theme of Ex Machina and empathy is why we love Wall-E.
The trick to understanding and emulating a character's actions is empathy: The ability to step into the character's shoes and imagine what they are experiencing on an emotional level. This means we have to understand what motivates them, likes and dislikes, how likely they are to express an opinion... These things require understanding emotional undercurrents
From where I stand, it's worse not to try. If I don't try to say something meaningful, I never will. Is staying safe really worth missing out on expressing something amazing?
I have no problem writing from the male perspective. I don't have a problem imagining what my characters are motivated by and what they want to accomplish. But I've been sticking primarily to white, middle-class characters. Now I can see I've done a poor job with the diversity that I have introduced. And I want to do better.
It's time to dig into my own pain and take some risks.
I'd rather look like a jerk to the people I know than the world at large. Don't think for one minute I won't be asking for help. I worry about portraying a character respectfully and accurately. I will be willing to ask if I'm doing a decent job.
Have you written outside of your comfort zone? What helped you?