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