Don't Say That!
To offend or not to offend, that is the question. I have spent my whole life trying to avoid upsetting people, my inclination is to shy away from controversy. However, as a writer, I feel it is part of my job to delve into what makes people feel uncomfortable, to provocate and challenge the norm. If I really wanted to be sure I never ever offended anyone, I would stick to writing about rocks and daisies. Fear of offending has blocked more of my writing than illness and fear of rejection combined. I can get over illness, I can recover from rejection, but the idea that I may have caused another being pain is shattering.
Some examples of questions I struggle with daily include:
Should a character swear when the scene calls for it? And believe me, there are plenty of scenes which call for swearing.
What about including a romantic scene and how far should I take it?
How do I add diverse characters in a way that is respectful of their culture without veering into stereotypes?
I once had a beta reader give feedback that my joke about communism was offensive to socialists. I told her that the joke was a reference to the former USSR and had nothing to do with socialism. No good, she still thought I should remove it.
Then there was the scene where my main character’s love interest teaches her about gun safety. He also opens up to her about his experience in the military. There is no politics spoken, no sides are taken, no one was hurt, everything was legal. Yet I was told this scene is offensive because guns are offensive.
I haven’t even come to the stories which include people of faith. No one wants to see their laws and customs broken. I can scream at the top of my lungs- characters misbehave! It’s how the story grows and evolves. I’m not targeting religion, I’m simply writing about characters that happen to be religious and human. No matter, it rubs some people the wrong way and so it must go.
All these scenes and more have kept me up at night and away from my computer for days; wondering if I should change them or not. I have done research on this topic and it seems I have three options when dealing with someone who may be offended by my writing; concede, ignore or fight.
I personally would not want my shelves filled with books echoing all the same messages. I read to understand other’s perspectives, even if it differs from my own. What happened to the art of civil debate? Can we ever discuss ideas without descending into a mudslinging, head bashing brawl? I’ve encountered many scrapes along the road to the middle ground, but I’m determined to get there. I must let fear go. Not because I wish to offend others, but because you can’t learn from characters that are perfect, not to mention how boring the story would be. I will continue to listen to others in the effort to gain a perspective beyond myself. I believe we must show each other grace, kindness, and respect, even when our opinions differ. And when we don’t’ see eye to eye, I hope we can put down our pitchforks and pick up generosity and agree to disagree.