I saw a question about writing without being offensive in a Facebook writer’s group today and thought I’d share some of my thoughts here. I was a lot gentler in the group. The (paraphrased) question was:
“How do you write a character who stands against Christianity without being offensive to readers?”
For the purposes of this discussion, replace the word “Christianity” with any topic you think might be a land mine.
Pro-Tip: You Can’t
If you’re even remotely interested in achieving your full potential as a writer, then you need to get that shit out of your head right now. You need to write as if you don’t give a damn. You need to write as if your story and your characters are the most important thing in the world and that the world needs to hear it.
What, you claim to believe in your story but not enough to actually write it because it might offend someone? Get the hell out of here with that. You don’t believe in anything yet. You certainly don’t have what it takes to inform the world on any significant level. To do that, you have to say or show some pretty uncomfortable truths.
Look, we (mostly) all start there. Writing can be awkward at first, especially if you didn’t start until you were already an adult. But, what you can’t do is write as if your mother/father/pastor/prude friend/teacher/whoever is watching you write. You want to write and not offend someone? You chose the wrong gig. I’ve heard it said, “if you want to write and not offend people, then write greeting cards.” But, I’m not convinced even that is possible, because context is everything. And context is something we humans often screw up, especially those of us who lack a certain social awareness.
Don’t believe me? Send someone a “Congratulations” card on the occasion of the death of someone they love and get back to me.
Writing without being offensive is like meat-free steak (sorry Vegans)
Art isn’t doing its job unless someone is uncomfortable with it. You can’t write drama without deep, believable characters. You can’t write speculative fiction without revealing the flaws intrinsic to society. You can’t write satire without attacking the powerful. You can’t write literary fiction without touching on our struggles with our own humanity. The list goes on, for virtually anything that is recognized as art. You can bet your ass I offended people when I wrote Necromancer Awakening! I know because I heard from them. All of them. Go look at the 1-star reviews if you don’t believe me.
“But what about comedy?”
You only think comedy is the exception until you realize that all comedy is an inside joke. And if you’re not on the inside, you’re on the outside. [<– I guarantee this short paragraph will offend people, and you’ll eventually see the proof in the comments section.]
Get this foolish notion of writing without being offensive out of your minds. Leave it in the past the way you left other bits of childishness in the past.
If you don’t, neither your writing nor your story will ever reach the full capabilities of their potential.
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