Welcome to another month of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop, where we ask all the writing questions, pretend to know the answers (or not), and generally be supportive.
Thanks for joining us.
Each month we blog about our writing doubts and fears. Struggles and triumphs. We also answer an optional prompt question: this month it’s all about where we ‘draw the line’.
In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?
Content Warning: Brief mention of sensitive topics including rape and paedophilia as examples.
This one is all about the audience, I think. If the writer knows what their audience will accept, they can write to that. They can also push the boundaries, challenge that status quo… and I think that’s important, too. Especially in regards to topic. In fact, I think it’s one of the most important things that a writer can consider. Their words are going to be read by someone. By a real person (most likely). And each person has their own identity and heritage, experience and dreams. When we read fiction (which is what I write, so where this is coming from) we can either:
– put ourselves in the place of other people with different versions of those things. Learn what it might be like to experience the world from that different perspective. Perhaps gain some perspective of your own;
– alternatively, you might end up reading about someone whose experience is a lot like your own, and that can help you to feel seen, to feel validated.
So I don’t draw the line, not yet. I realise what topics I want to explore, and why, but I don’t say that I will never write about child paedophilia, for example, or rape. But if I do, it will be with the audience in mind. It will be done carefully, sensitively, with appropriate research and discussion, and informed knowledge guiding my story. I would also be extremely hesitant to write from a perpetrator’s perspective, because to be honest, I wouldn’t want to get inside those heads.
As another example, I have an unfinished book in which I want to include Indigenous perspectives on colonisation impact in Western Australia. That’s not the main aspect of the story, and my main character does not fall into that identity–because I am not Indigenous, and such a perspective is not mine to tell–but I want to explore the topic from the outsider’s perspective and from that of an ally. So I have not yet written that story. When I originally envisioned it, I was not yet confident enough in my writing skills, or even in myself as a writer, to approach anyone to talk about the Indigenous parts. I am feeling more ready to do so now. Perhaps that will be my next topic to address… when I am finished writing my space opera trilogy, that is.
Which brings me on to language. I do swear in my writing. It feels authentic to me. If my characters would swear in a situation, then they do. BUT I try not to overdo it. There is such a thing as too much swearing, in my opinion. You want it to have meaning, to emphasise a feeling, not to be a shock factor or something that pulls the reader out of the story. (I do sometimes use made-up swears to reduce the glaring pulls-you-out-of-the-story part, actually: I find it can help with worldbuilding.) I rarely come across a character who swears constantly whom I enjoy reading. Or watching, for that matter. It has to be truly authentic to the character for that language to be required.
And you have to know your audience for this one, too.
Other than that, I do try to identify the level of language my expected audience would be likely to accept. As a speculative fiction writer, I am aware that many people find this genre difficult to read because of flowery, made up, and/or difficult to pronounce names in particular. This was a thing in the last century, and still does come up today. However, I feel that on the whole, the current work I read in my genres has started to come away from that. It’s important for me to be aware of such things, and be ‘on trend’ or at least ‘subvert the rule’ with purpose. When a character has called for it, I have used made-up language conventions for a sci-fi world that I have also made-up. But as long as it’s consistent–and interspersed with plenty of easy to read words–I think that’s okay.
How about you? As a reader, what topics and/or language turn you away? What about as a writer? Where do you draw the line?
I have a new publication!
This week, Flash Fiction Magazine published my short story, “School Sports Carnival” over at this link. It’s free to read and I’d love it if you wanted to check it out and leave a comment!
This story started life as a flash fiction piece that was a single breathless paragraph. A few edits brought it up to scratch. It’s not spec fic like my usual stuff, but I hope you enjoy it.
Thanks for reading. Have a great October! 🙂