Monday, September 17, 2012
I'm sorry, did I offend you?
Good stories should contain ideas. Even plot-driven thrillers and casual romance novels need to have something more to them than action. The idea doesn't have to be the focus, but action has to have some meaning or it will not engage the reader. There does not need to be an argument for or against anything, there is no need to preach or educate or inform. But some concept of humanity needs to be present, and anything dealing with people will have multiple interpretations.
With multiple sides comes disagreement. So rest assured, if you write something down someone will disagree with you. Even if you don't take a side intentionally, others will subscribe it for you. Even if you try to present all sides, you will miss some. Or misrepresent them. Or just be plain wrong. Always. So accept it and move on. Don't let that stop you from writing it.
But that doesn't mean you should just ignore it. It's important to be aware of what you are saying and be comfortable with it. Even when you don't agree with your own position. One of the joys of being a writer is the ability to play out philosophical ideas in our own laboratory ; a laboratory that we control.
But when we disparage others without thought, when we reinforce negative ideas without intending to, when we feed the ignorance and hatred that already exists in the world we do ourselves a disservice. We are no longer creating but merely mimicking. It's lazy and does not bring value to our work. You don't need to build a perfect world when you write, but you need to know what you are creating and what power it has. And use that power purposefully.
It's okay to have a stereotypical character - those people do exist. It's okay to have someone do something bad and get away with it - that happens in real life. It's okay to explore ideas that are unsavory and destructive. But if that's all you've got, you don't got much. Exploring ideas will give your story more depth and make it more compelling. Adding complexity will garner you more fans - people will find something they can like in the mix (or at least it will get them to think about what they like in contrast).
So if your men are not manly enough, your women are too manly, your villain is a racist, your hero is flawed, your society is bigoted and your universe is unfair - well done; you've created a realistic world. Just remember that men are also strong, women are intelligent, heroes charge through that door and virtue is sometimes rewarded. It's a beautiful, ugly world out there. We should aim to inspire, encourage, challenge, horrify, reassure, anger, and sometimes even offend. We should move people, and move ourselves in the process. Just be conscious of what direction you are heading.