Thursday, 18 October 2012

Controversy: Where To Draw The Line?

Writers have been making people feel uncomfortable since the dawn of time - not in the least because we're the ones most likely to be staring at you intensely from the other side of the bookstore and writing you in as the victim of a murder mystery novel.

From Hardy to Huxley, we've had authors who did things that made other people uncomfortable. And sometimes that got them into a lot of trouble. Hardy stopped writing novels for a reason, and we don't have Banned Book Week for nothing.

When considering putting a book forward for publication, one needs to be aware of the audience you are writing for, and what that will entail. For example, writing for a younger audience, say betweeen ten and twelve, will mean that you will write somewhat differently from the author who aims for sixteen years and up. Certain themes and language are probably more appropriate for certain ages. That, and I doubt you'd have much success marketing your primary-school-age fable about the sentient sock searching for the meaning of life inside a washing machine to a group of grouchy seventeen-year-olds.

However, target audience cannot entirely define what you include in your books.

I, personally, do not like to cause major upset and confrontation, and hence I tend to step away from any incredibly edgy or sensitive topics that I do not consider myself capable of handling competently; such as stories dealing with domestic violence and drug abuse. Furthermore, someone who cleaves to a particular set of morals may prefer not to write about certain events because it goes against their beliefs - whether they be cultural, religious, or otherwise.

So, when does one draw the line over whether or not to include something potentially controversial in a book?

Answer: it really depends on you.

I, for example, am a very liberal person, for the most part. I support gay rights, pro-choice abortion, loathe racism and xenophobia with a vengeance, and my brand of Christianity is very much centred on forgiveness, tolerance and hugs. If people want to write about something, I will not oppose them doing so, and if it upsets me that much, I will simply set it aside and / or voice my objections in a reasoned, fair manner, taking account of any relevant validities of the other side. However, you are very unlikely to find many profanities, explicit material, or anything more controversial than the occasional rant on the intrinsic evil of toasters lurking in most of the things I write.

It's not simply a matter of life experience - it's that I genuinely do not feel comfortable writing about things I have not researched or experienced myself. My view on these things has changed as I have grown up, and I have been a little braver in putting forward certain views, but I will never propound them in such a way as to intentionally upset or offend other people.

But just because I do that doesn't mean you have to.

See, that's the joy of writing - we can decide what we want in our books. And we should respect that right in others. I may have pulled a rather worried face upon hearing about the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, but I would never join in any camp that attacks the author in any way for her decision to write a book on that topic.

What about you lot? Do you have any particular views on themes, topics or language you avoid in your books? Why do you do that? What do you think of books that do contain things you find objectionable? Leave me a comment and let me know!

~ Charley R

16 comments:

  1. I'm certainly a lot like you, Charley. And I find awkward topics creaping into the things I write. there are things I'd much rather note write, but some of my characters are more compliant about letting me do that than others.

    Erotica, for example, is not my thing. I don't read it, and I don't write it, or at least I can't see myself ever publishing anything with erotica in it, despite having a nymphomanica character. Some thing are meant to be private, and to me sex is one of them.

    There are others too, especially now that I'm a Mom, any sort of child abuse is hard to stomach. Which is why I'm having a hard time reading Sugar and Spice. I feel that I ought to finish it beacuse I've started it (and I don't know why Americans can't read the Brittish version, I'm having no trouble understanding anything). But it's about the worst form of child abuse and my stomach curls on many levels.

    And now I really need to stop commenting because I'm taking a test in 13 minutes. :}

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  2. Eee, good luck with the test!

    I totally see where you're coming from. Sensitive issues like that un-nerve me, but often it's things more like religion or culture or race, which are really close to people's hearts and important, that I'm worried about mucking up.

    Hence why I decided Scatterank would be as multicultural as possible. So many lovely things to play with, and everybody gets a go! *grins*

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  3. I appreciate your brutal honesty and though I disagree with many of the things you stated, I don't think it is anyone's right to force ideas on anyone else. I also tend to stray from the "cultural" problems of our day in my novels (mostly cause their ancient history and fantasy). Some things are better left to God to take care of. In the end, he will know whether it mattered or not. Here on earth, the only things that are truly important are loving him, loving others, and truly asking for repentence from Christ for our sin.
    So anyway, I think it is also best to leave aside topics like that because people will end up shouting and screaming over the books instead of gleaning the lessons from the moral (be there any) and enjoying the book for its pure purpose. :D

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    1. An excellent point - and a rather good one, must say! Thanks so much for the response! It means a lot to me to know I have such a lovely varied readership :)

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  4. "I, for example, am a very liberal person, for the most part. I support gay rights, pro-choice abortion, loathe racism and xenophobia with a vengeance, and my brand of Christianity is very much centred on forgiveness, tolerance and hugs. If people want to write about something, I will not oppose them doing so, and if it upsets me that much, I will simply set it aside and / or voice my objections in a reasoned, fair manner, taking account of any relevant validities of the other side. However, you are very unlikely to find many profanities, explicit material, or anything more controversial than the occasional rant on the intrinsic evil of toasters lurking in most of the things I write."

    This is me exactly, minus the Christian part. I just feel uncomfortable writing about this stuff - at the moment. It may change.

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    1. Part of it, I think, is life experience. The rest is just giving it time for your opinion to foment. This time two years ago I was very few of those things, par example, haha!

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  5. I think it's good to put slippery themes in novels (although I don't do *modern topics*, like some of the ones you listed, more timeless ones like *fear* or *control* or *violence reprecussions*). Like you said at the very beginning of the post, we have Banned Book Week for a reason. People ban books because they don't *agree with everything* the author says. (Which I think is ridiculous.) But people are NEVER all going to agree.

    An interesting post, Charley, and good for you stating your opinions even though people aren't going to agree with everything you said. (My, we humans are disagreeable creatures, aren't we?!)

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    1. Hehe, we are, but luckily my blog is full of lovely people who are happy to agree to disagree, or put forward their opinion civilly, so I don't mind.

      And hey, don't like it, don't read it ;)

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  6. I tend to avoid things I have absolutely no experience of - for example, I'm unlikely to have a drug addict as a character, because I have no idea what it's like to be on drugs. But I've never experienced most things in my book, so I look for comparisons. Similar things. I've never lost a sister or a best friend, but I lost my grandparents, and I can compare my grief and intensify it to write my characters. I used to self harm - not a lot, just a little bit - and that enables me to understand the mindset my characters would be in if they were self-harming. And I'll make sure I thoroughly research things as much as I do so that I present them accurately, because I wouldn't want someone who'd actually been in a situation saying my presentation was stereotyped or inaccurate. Obviously, everything I write is going to be coloured by my own perception of the world, but at the same time, you have to assert your own views sometimes. The trick is separating yourself from the morals of your characters.

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    1. Absolutamente - very well said there! I've been a little more sheltered than most, I suspect, but hey ho the army's taken me some fun places, and I've met some fun people. Imagining the viewpoints of others is often a good way to learn accuracy of thoughts and actions that aren't like your own.

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  7. My dear Charley, if you said anything more true than this, you might offend someone important. Happily, however, this is so true and so inoffensive that all I can do is agree heartily, and say that I'm glad I didn't mess up in allowing myself to come into contact with you more than twice in my life.

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    1. Thank you! I would have been deeply ashamed of myself if I'd been remotely offensive to anyone - I don't like offending people. And I'm very glad you like it :)

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  8. Hi! I've nominated you for a blogging award! http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/the-very-inspiring-blogger-award/

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  9. I would always avoid writing about things I know nothing about ie I would never write about drug wars between gangs in the streets of Chicago because, fascinating a book as that could be, I no nothing about drug wars, gangs or indeed Chicago. That doesn't mean I wouldn't tackle controversial issues, but I think that it all depends on what light you paint it in - a chilling read about a girl's struggle with say, rape and then the decision about abortion could be great, but some high-school romance where the main character has sex with multiple guys and smokes weed etc etc but it's all alright cause she's only doing it to "find herself" is not good. I am, in general, wary of very explicit books because I think that quite often it's not even necessary.
    Also: toasters aren't evil. They toast things :(

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    1. Toasters ARE evil. I have proof! They're in it with the Furbies and the sock-eating washing machines!

      On a more serious note, I think you're very logical in making that decision. Very mature, and very logical to boot!

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