Original Pic from Pixabay : artistlike Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been agonizing over some things that come up in the firs...

When Your Book is Painfully Honest and Politically Wrong

Original Pic from Pixabay: artistlike

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been agonizing over some things that come up in the first few chapters of my book, Low Expectations. I found some plot issues that needed a deep fix, so I went back to rewrite, and my characters... they just spoke to me in a new way, bringing out a lot of new pieces and personalities that I never really noticed before. Plus, there was another issue I’d been ignoring for a while, but came face to face with in the rewrite and had to resolve. The result: first chapters that are more difficult, more intense, and more honest than I ever realized they could be.

They’re also more controversial. There’s some offensive language, violence, and character archetypes some might see as stereotypical or generalizing. I’ve gone over these things in my head 100 million times trying and trying to figure out a way to write these chapters that will be more “user-friendly.” To write them in such a way that no one will have a reason to put the book down, not for my writing, but for an issue they disagree with.

But I couldn’t do that. Or more accurately, I very well could have done that. But Low Expectations came from Sketchy Moments, which came from Take Me As I Am, which came from the heart of a 14-year-old girl who just wanted to tell a story. I’m not invoking the age as a “feel sorry for her/me,” but as a “this is why I wrote it.” I didn’t write it for anyone but us, me at the time and those characters. As much as I wanted then and still want now for other people to enjoy my story, my first priority is and was telling the story that these characters came to me to tell in the best, most engaging, and most true to them way possible. I’ve come to the point where I’m willing to add to my story to make it better, but I refuse to subtract from it to make anyone more comfortable.

I don’t know that this is the right standpoint for everyone. If you want to write to a certain market, you’ll probably make a lot more money than me, lol. You’ll spend less late nights pacing your bedroom, agonizing over whether or not you should remove the time someone called your main character a fag. You won’t worry that someone will consider his best friend a cliche retelling of black side characters when he is so much more than comic relief. You won’t worry about people leaving bad reviews without even finishing, not because of the story or the writing quality, but because of something one of my characters said or did that the reader didn’t agree with.

But this is the position that I have to take because I’m a strong believer in the writer’s right to tell their story and as much as I do want other people to enjoy my work, I started writing for me and for Elliot and for his family, just the way they were and just the way they have slowly revealed the nuances of who they truly are. I’m going to write them honestly and, from there, it’s up to other people to take them or leave them.

And little disclaimer, it’s actually okay if readers leave them. I mean, I won’t like it. It’ll hurt my feelings if someone doesn’t like my characters, or doesn’t really understand them, or leaves a one-star review. But people are allowed to do that because that’s the contradiction of freedom: I have the freedom to write what I want, to express myself and my characters in the best way I know how, and then readers have the freedom to reject that expression (politely) and say it wasn’t for them. I mean, I’ve done it for other books and I believe that those authors probably love their characters as much as I love mine and wrote the best stories for their vision of their characters. But that vision didn’t work for me, just as mine won’t work for every reader who picks my book up.

I’m not pretending that I’ve already come to a point where that doesn’t hurt, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to get there if, one, I’m going to get any sleep, and two, if I’m ever going to truly write my characters as they are, let them be taken as they are, and find those people who will see them as I do and love them as they are.

I think those people will make it all worth it. :)

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So do you have any controversial topics in your book? Something else you minorly agonized over or a writing revelation you’ve recently come to? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.




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10 comments:

  1. I normally have at least one controversial thing in my stories. My general rule is that I don't mind stepping on toes, but I like to know when I'm doing it. Hand of Steel's whole theme is if it's okay for a character to disobey the government or not, and I know that might step on toes since some people believe in obedience to the government. I also had a scene where the MC, who is sixteen, goes to a bar and has some sort of drink. (Her view is drinking is fine, but getting drunk isn't.) I'm sure that will annoy some more conservative readers.
    Then there's Country in Chaos, which is a post-apocalyptic story involving main characters shooting American soldiers. That one's the most controversial one I've written. It also has an African American Marine who might appear to fall into the stereotype of "big scary black dude" but I like him and he's got a pretty good character arc for being a non-POV character, so I don't plan on changing him.

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    1. Yeah, knowing when and why you're doing it is probably one of the most important parts of deciding to go through with the issue. And I mean, if you like his character arc and you know it's a good one, I don't see any reason to change it. :)

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  2. All my stories are controversial in some way or another, as I'm writing to make the whole world think about things they'd never even consider ;)

    keturahskorner.blogspot.com

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    1. I love that <3 That is definitely a good reason for writing. :)

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  3. Hm, I guess I have written something 'controversial' (to my parents at least. When I was around 13, my Dad read a bit from my story and told me I shouldn't say 'shut up' in them *sighs and rolls eyes*) in the stories that I've written in the past but later on I censored myself a bit and now I'm just writing what I want to write. I need to be free. I'm not writing anything to offend anyone, I just want to write realistically.

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    1. Same. I'm not trying to step on anyone's toes, but I'm also going to write my story the way I think it needs to be written and I'm not going to back down, even if it does happen to make someone angry.

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  4. I totally think this is important! To be honest, I would say that while it's okay to write with an audience in mind, telling your story makes the story better than trying to tell a story that will sell. And the fact is, the world is full of controversies and wrongs. In a way, writing them is more representative of the world, and could make people realise that something needs to change. (not sure if this makes sense)

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    1. Yeah, I definitely think that writing to a certain audience is the author's prerogative. But I've always written for me. Part of the reason I write is to discover the world, and like you said, much of the world is full of controversies and wrongs, so those often find their way into my writing.

      And haha, that makes total sense. :) I think writing this way shows the world as it is and then, hopefully, how we can make it better. :) Kinda like Keturah said above, about writing to make the world think about things they'd never consider.

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  5. I struggle with this a lot, and I think I am starting to not want to subtract too.

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    1. It's definitely a hard standpoint to figure out, but I think each author has to decide where they stand if they want to release their books for others to read.

      I'm glad. :) Might be a little biased, lol, but I personally think it's a good place to be.

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