Currently, mostly for better, sometimes for worse, we have more opportunity for self-expression. The ‘worse’ aspect is the amount of filth, hatred, lies and self-righteous indignation being spouted out on social media displaying hideous levels of ignorance, even by those who claim to espouse enlightened views. Give me a regular bigot over an intolerant liberal any day at least with the former you can get straight down to the argument and not have to wade through distractions on the grounds of alleged ethics, contradictory bombast, fashionable buzz-words, and painfully obvious self-righteous indignation. With free expression should come responsibility….a word these days which it seems should only be applied to others.
Anyway as usual I have digressed, but only slightly, sort of. Because this post does walk hesitantly on the borderlines between the justifiable, the questionable, the excessive and the downright hypocritical.
Trouble with those borders, they are prone to shifting, as do the myriads of factors which make up the weather. And like the weather too much of one sort can be harmful to our survival, although in this case the survival would be artistic.
Currently as the fourth paragraph takes shape I am wondering whether I am in the process of producing an erudite opening statement or simple procrastinating. Ah me, thusways without anymore endeavours at rhetoric time to step in.
A Walk Through The Minefields of Writing Fiction.
Gender. Race. Religion. Politics. Social Groupings. Humour. Violence. Sex (didn’t want to disappoint some of the readership there).
Any of those by themselves contain enough combustible material to illuminate a social media site to nova proportions, even when the hapless author was writing with the very best of intentions. Here and now we may as well ALL admit it; we all contain a capacity to be not just be offended but to seek out reasons to be offended. If you have yours under control and just rage at the most obvious injustices, bigotry and hate then I salute your maturity; otherwise, c’mon guys, you and me know the guilty secret, we all get a kick out of it.
Meanwhile for the innocent and well-meaning fiction writer there is a charge which will get levelled at you straight away.
The charge will be because you are not one of the ‘whoever/whatever’ you are writing about you are stereotyping. As with most reasonable criticisms there is an element of truth buried deep within. AND to be fair this is something the writer has to grapple with. HOWEVER when taken to excess this would limit me to writing about retired married Caucasian males in their late 60s resident in the North East of Wales (UK). I hasten to add there is probably a wealth of material in such a theme and some very good books could arise….But not from me. I write Fantasy Fiction and am wont to throw lots of elements into the mix, for me writing anything else would be, to say the least…not very good, and meandering.
This initial accusation can give birth to portrayals being ‘demeaning’ ‘offensive’ or ‘typical view from a….’ (fill in the character-type and then the ‘type’ of the writer, you’ll get the idea).
Should the writer be trying to avoid this and miss a step they can be accused of ‘pandering’ by creating an ‘alpha’ or ‘saintly’ or ‘magician’ or ‘too perfect’ Annnnddd if they try and balance they risk getting slammed from both sides.
I tell ya folks…
You can’t please everybody and since you are an ordinary human being, whereas you might get a hundred ‘likes’ and ‘favourables’ those three or four ‘dislikes’ ‘angrys’ and ‘kritiks’ (sic) will really sting you off of your game.
Like most good causes, subjects which started off with nobles aims and clear projections get side-tracks and distortions added in because of The Human Factor in its multitude of forms.
Somebody somewhere will not like something you have written on some sort of grounds other than your style of writing.
Down in The Shelter Prior to Starting.
OK, you and I are probably never going to create works whose portrayals will be argued over in the columns of prestigious newspaper or causing massive flurries through the Social Media-verse. And yet, fragile creatures that most writers are, being aware of these controversies can hamper, stifle and even frighten a writer into not producing their very best.
So what are we going to do about it? I say ‘we’ because I am proud of the struggling writers who finally get into print, ok maybe the genre is not for me, but heck they have got there, and for me that is a victory for us all.
(Pause fer thought: Here’s an example of the problem I am writing about. Look at me using military phrases ‘minefield’; ‘shelter’ ‘victory’. I am willing to bet if this was a popular blog someone somewhere would object to at least one of those words, for some reason or another…..I could write the objections myself…and that’s before we get onto those angry at ‘the theme’ )
Back to the ‘We’ and the ‘What’.
Remember, unless you are going to try and write about you own group which when you take into account age, gender, social grouping, race, religion (or not) etc, etc is going to be narrow (ish), you will always be writing outside of your comfort zone and will likely to be making assumptions or be seen to be trying ‘so hard’ not to be so. Accept you will upset someone, somewhere, sometime. The important aspect is try not to antagonise. (unless you are being deliberately provocative, if this is the case you had better have a pretty good balanced ethical reason otherwise I will be in the kicking line.). Nor patronising by giving the character all the goodies. Therefore just do the best you can…. as simple as that.,
In doing the best you can, try and familiarise yourself with the whosoevers you are writing about. This does not mean you ostentatiously try and hang out with them and ask stupid questions like ‘How does it feel to be….’. That is painfully offensive and patronising. There is enough material out there written by folk of the various groupings (and don’t forget those groups do cross-pollinate) for you to get a general idea to break down your own assumptions.
When breaking down your own assumptions try not to shoe-horn a type of character in, just because you want to prove you can write about ‘that sort of person’ or they ‘look good’ in the narrative. Try that and oh my, you really will be heading for a lot of trouble…..unless of course you are writing something wildly comical and even there can await deadly traps for being offensive and stereotypical. Fit the person in naturally, where you would expect them to be, which truth be known would be a lot of places. You don’t need to force them in.
Once you have eased in a possibly ‘sensitive material’ character (which could in some febrile corners of society could be anyone irrespective of age, race, gender, orientation, beliefs etc, etc) into your narrative then do not try and have them skirting about trying to be perfect, or exceptionally empathetic, witty, brave and all good things (see above ‘goodies’)….OR…fall into another trap of trying too hard not to make them so, so they end up as a spare villain. Give them depth, let their purpose and motivations. Then defend them and their inclusion against all comers outside of the book. They are a person, who happens to be…… (fill in your blanks)
No One Gets It Exactly Write (sic) for Everyone, Everytime, Everywhere, Everywhen.
Being plain about it; to reapeat. Do your best. Meld your characters. Check yourself from time to time to see if they are fitting in naturally to the situation you are writing about. Avoid a preachy style if you can (unless you really don’t care what folk think; it’s your narrative kiddo. What do I know?)
Sounds like one of those ‘How To’ pieces yeah?
[Whoever writes those is not going to win either.
If they are famous, many will be the sceptical person who will say ‘Oh fine. That might have worked for you…BUT…..(and then they go off on a tirade)
If they are not famous (let me get my mirror function on this laptop), then folk will say ‘Ha! If that’s the case, how come you are not famous?…..AND….(then they go off on a tirade).]
Just accept folks, if you write, someone is not going to be happy with what you have written. (When you think about, that could be pretty cool because it means you have reached a wide audience…Whooo-hoooo. Embrace it!!)
In the next post I will endeavour to illustrate my own journey and justifications in getting from conception to written…..an act which will have its own pitfalls.