I hear authors as well as readers talk about their content in a number of ways, and a common theme is, “It’s just a story,” as well as several variations of the same sentiment that go like this: “What does it matter so long as my readers and I enjoy it?” “If you don’t like it, then don’t read it.” “Don’t censure creativity!”
I agree that creativity should not be censored, and people have a right to enjoy what suits them without being judged for the entertainment they choose.
But a story is not just a story when it is shared with others. You want to write it and keep it on your hard-drive? Then it’s just a story. If you intend to let it loose on the world, then it’s up to you as the writer to be cognizant of what you are putting out there.
This is not to say that I think we need to censor our own writing, delete the curse words, make our villains into fluffy bunnies, deny the existence of misogyny, or leave any and all rape scenes in the scrap heap, so to speak.
What it does mean is we need to write in full awareness that our work has the potential to either perpetuate, challenge, or entirely rewrite the status quo.
What happens when we glamorize abusive relationships, bigotry, rape, suicide, or other realities of life that are unsavory? I would not say it’s as simple as setting a bad example, because most of us as rational adults can pick and choose what to support and emulate and what to eschew.
Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is, no matter how mature we are, there is a little thing called human nature that responds to exposure. When we glamorize something in literature, we push society in the direction of normalizing that something.
So what are we doing for society at large when our main character tells hurtful jokes about gays and never gets any comeuppance or never learns any different? Your readers are supposed to love this guy(or gal) and identify with him. If their new hero tells gay jokes(or blond jokes, etc.) and it’s all good, then what does that tell your readers about gay jokes? Are they harmful, harmless, all in good fun, or damaging to ourselves and others? I’m not talking about that surly main character with rough edges who is revealed to have redeeming qualities, or even the woman who acts in bad taste but comes back to her senses and feels remorse. Neither am I referring to the bad guys or even multifaceted good guys with a dark side who live in a world that provides realistic feedback for their darkness.
I’m talking novels where dangerous or hurtful behaviors are tossed around like they’re nothing, or, worse yet, are sexualized or made appealing through the art of prose. Stories where abuse is framed by the author and all or most of their characters as appealing, sexy, or no big deal, and the harmful actions of main characters are never dealt with in a realistic fashion or resolved. I won’t name particular books, but we all know they are out there.
As a writer, you will find that I strive to let my characters be real people with flaws; they may curse, argue, manipulate, struggle, fail, get violent, rape, and murder. What they will not do is commit these acts without substantial effects that will ground them and the reader in a matrix of reality. Rape will be rape and will be treated as such.
Have thoughts to add? Opinions? Think I’ve gone off the deep end and need to go back for my floaties? Post a comment and let me know.