This will be short, and hopefully, to the point.
In the current PC climate, we change the language we use, to show more sensitivity to our surroundings. You may agree with it or not, it doesn’t really change my position regarding literature, or art as a whole for that matter. More and more, I hear how authors should be sensitive in their writing, and this really grates my ears. I can see both side of this, don’t get me wrong. I just fear that many people out there, take this direction as gospel and produce stories that are less than they can be.
No conflict – No Story!
If everyone in our story is well mannered, open minded and happy-go-lucky, then why bother? These people will not conflict with each other. They will sit together praising life’s beauty for three hundred pages – not that we’d know, we’d have fallen asleep long before. It’s true that conflict doesn’t have to be about racial oppression, or sexual orientation etc. It can be simply about disagreement on any number of things. But MUST is not be about this subject matter?
I am not my characters!
Let me ask you this – Is Thomas Harris a cannibal? Of course he isn’t. Is Hannibal Lecter an offensive person? Of course he is. He eats people, people… Is Hannibal a phenomenal character? Yes, he is.
Characters are flawed!
Remember this from any writing course you ever took? Not only are we NOT our characters, but it’s incumbent on us as writers, to create characters who can grow. Growth starts with flaws and shortcomings and otherwise, things that should be fixed (or not). Can these flaws be politically incorrect? Of course they can. Also, Villains… can villains be offensive, sometimes to the point of abhorrence? Sure they can.
Writing as a mirror
We mirror and correspond with life. Is life peachy? No it isn’t. There are racist and misogynistic people out there. A lot of violence too. Do we – in the name of political correctness – stop discussing these aspects in our writing?
A believable story
We’re taught to stay true to the story’s environment and rules. If our story takes place in our current world, is it far fetched that some characters in it would use some politically incorrect language, or express some troubling opinions? I don’t think so. I think that, as promised, we will tell stories that stay true to the settings, both human and otherwise.
But, be aware!
Characters as described above can be offensive (it depends what kind of emotions we’d like them to evoke in the reader). As a writer, there really is no point in being offensive. The narrative – insofar as the writer’s voice is concerned – should be considered differently to the character’s qualities (or lack thereof). Again – we are not our characters.
Therefore, it’s my position that a (racist) character can surely use the disgusting, derogatory N-word in context of the story’s conflict, while the author should never utter it. Ever. The same goes for any such use of language, and of course – in the context of the story. Simply throwing this language around is counter productive for the story, and unnecessarily triggering.
There are more aspects of PC that we can discuss, with relation to writing and perhaps we will tackle some of those in future posts. I did promise to make this one short though, so let me ask you:
- Do you agree?
- If not, I’d appreciate you sharing your view.