by Gina Burgess
Successful authors now face a serious wall damming up their free-flowing creativity.
I wasn’t positive, but very much feared that political correctness and the thin-skin of some social groups would start tearing at the fabric of author creativity. This isn’t a rant against authenticity or truthful depictions of real-life stuff. I’m pointing out that the voices of a few people are trying to drown out the very real rights of the many.
The Washington Post has an article about a new kind of editor or manuscript reviewer who “will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content.” It seems that the few voices in some social groups can’t sit by and allow an author to express real life in all its ugliness in the form of “offensive content.” (Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to worry about foul-word bombs when reading?) Those are offensive to me, but I’ve learned to steer clear of books from certain sources (and authors) who use graphic violence, foul words, and explicit sexual scenes in their stories. I’m wondering why racist and sexist content is more offensive than graphic descriptions of bloody murder or rape? What would happen if a Christian author was graphic about Hell? The realistic depiction of Hell would melt the hearts of even the most hardened criminals. For some reason, that is offensive today.
There is a definite need for authenticity, deep research, and realistic depictions of character lifestyles for fictional characters to be believable. A good author wants the kind of authenticity that makes readers live and breath the story. Absolutely! That means deep research. It means writing what you know (and lived). Sometimes that means the depictions of stereotypes.
I have often said that a perceptive reader can figure out an author’s background because that background will bleed through. Numerous authors have vehemently disagreed with me, but numerous editors and publishers do agree. That quirky truth is what makes an author unique. This is why the sensitivity police may do more harm than good.
Their motives may be good like the woman in the article.
Clayton, who is black, sees her role as a vital one. “Books for me are supposed to be vehicles for pleasure, they’re supposed to be escapist and fun,” she says. They’re not supposed to be a place where readers “encounter harmful versions” and stereotypes of people like them.
Let’s see… what about those delicious villains such as Roger Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter, man in Bambi, Prof. Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Long John Silver, the White Witch in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, oh, and Captain Hook? The one that strikes me as especially stereotypical is man in Bambi. First and foremost, these are fictional villains, but very believable (and hateable) villains.
The definition of a stereotype includes standard/conventional image, received idea, cliché, etc. That comes from the fact there are so many of like-types that a standard, or cliché, has formed. It is also how axioms are formed. That in itself is a truth that can’t be ignored. We should never rewrite history or try to sweep certain ugly truths under the proverbial rug. Click To Tweet The best way to deal with a problem or ill-conceived ideais to shine the light of truth on it. Instead of removing these clichés from books, we should make sure the wrong way of thinking is addressed even in children’s books.
But, seriously! Novels are fiction. They take us places where we’ve never been through characters that we may or may not grow to love/hate, or emulate/decry. It’s one of those things that stories move along: conflict. A good story can’t live without it. So how can an author be politically correct and completely sensitive and still have a great story?