“Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!” Alex J Cavanaugh
For this month’s Insecure Writers’ Support Group post, I’d like to talk about political correctness in fiction. Do you temper your writing style to accommodate other people’s insecurities or do you throw political correctness to the wind for the sake of ‘real characters’?
I take somewhat of a middle road. I want my characters to be as authentic as possible, but I’d prefer to do that without offending people. I’m sure writers’ and readers’ opinions fall across the whole spectrum on this issue, but I noticed something interesting during my beta reader stage for The Big Smoke. I had a number of beta readers from both Australia and America, and several of my Australian readers pointed out phrases that could potentially offend people’s sensitivities. None of my American readers made comments of a similar nature. Is there something in that, do you think? Does it say something about our different cultures? Are Australians more worried than Americans about political correctness in fiction?
Obviously, my sample size is quite small, so I wanted to see what you think. These are the phrases that some of my Australian readers suggested I re-word:
- Robert forced a laugh. ‘Don’t worry about Cindy. She’s a schitzo.’
- I nodded in the direction of this fat chick in super-short shorts. ‘There’s your talent. Whatchya waiting for? Make a move.’
- She named me after the opera singer. Seriously, could you get any gayer?
- I was about as coordinated as a nine-year-old girl with bow-legs.
- And that hair. That fake, slutty red hair.
I took my readers’ advice on board and changed these phrases, but I’m interested in what you think. Would you suggest re-wording any of the above to avoid potentially offending people? Or do you thinks it’s OTT to even consider these phrases potentially offensive? I’ve numbered the phrases so you can be specific if there are particular ones you’d like to refer to.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. In your comments, please identify where you live (country) so we can see if cultural influences could be at play. Looking forward to hearing what you think!
P.S. Don’t forget to support other insecure writers!
Nine times out of ten, when I tell someone the basic premise of my novel-in-progress, Tangled (country-raised teenagers trying to survive their first semester at an inner-city university), they ask whether the book is based on my personal experiences. I answer that there are some similarities, but it’s predominantly fictional. But for some reason, at that point, people often give this wink-and-smirk combo, as if they know that Tangled is really my life story but I’m too embarrassed to admit it.
I’ll be honest with you. This frustrates me for a couple of reasons. Namely:
- If it was my life story, I’d just come out and say it.
- It implies I’m not creative enough to conjure a plot purely from my imagination.
So, here’s some proof that this book really is fictional:
Jeez she was a good kisser. Slow and sexy. I could taste the guava cruisers she’d been drinking on her lips, real sickly sweet. Then her tongue touched mine, and my heart started beating real fast. I could tell where all my blood was pumping to. Hopefully it wasn’t as obvious to her as it was to me. But then she laid back on the grass and pulled me down on top of her, so there was no way I could hide it. I mean, it was pretty much poking her in the thigh and saying, ‘Hi, wanna play?’
I definitely haven’t experienced that personally! Hopefully that will convince those with doubts that I have an imagination. 🙂
To my writer-readers, do you have this same problem? Do people assume your fiction is based on real life? (I’m assuming this is only relevant to contemporary writers, but if you have any stories about people asking if your fantasy fiction is based on reality, I’d love to hear them!)
I did something wildly adventurous yesterday. Can you guess what it was?
No, not bungee jumping.
Not sky diving either.
Wrong again. No swimming with sharks for me.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that adventurous, but it was definitely unusual for me. So what did I do?
I… wrote a chapter out of sequence. *GASP!*
Totally wild, I know.
As you may have realised from my weekly updates, I usually write in a linear fashion. I start at ‘Once upon a time’ and write in order all the way through to ‘The End’ (or equivalent).
But last night, after I completed chapter 92, I skipped 93 and went straight on to 94. Why did I make this monumental change to my approach, you ask? Because chapters 92 and 94 are both told from Seb’s perspective (my lead male character) and together they form one long scene, with a break (a scene from somebody else’s perspective) in the middle. So, in this instance, it just felt… right.
But that made me curious about how others approach their writing. So, please tell me: do you write linearly like I do? Or do you take more of a ‘greatest hits’ approach, jumping from highlight to highlight and return later to fill in the blanks?
I’m off to write chapter 93 now – poor little chapter has been feeling left out all day. But, who know? Maybe one day I’ll really be adventurous and give the ‘greatest hits’ approach a try. Or maybe not. Makes me nervous just thinking about it…