Write Path Ideas & Creativity: Write the Grit. Ep 1.5

YOUR IDEAS & CREATIVITY: Episode 1, Part 5


Why are you writing again? We talked about the "why" in an earlier episode. Perhaps revisit your notes and consider, again, your "why." Are you still in tune with your response?

Society dictates norms, and often, that translates to what others think we should do, and that includes what to write. There are those who think authors should only write clean and wholesome books, usually because that's all they want to read. (And of course, only their opinion matters.) Others value books
written from real-life problems and scenarios, and that authors hit the issues head on and explore them. Some feel subjects like racism and rape and murder and drug use and sex, and graphic depictions of any of the above, should be avoided in books. Some say books shouldn't make us feel uncomfortable.

Some say they should.  

I'm in the latter camp. Depending on the story and the author's intent, there are stories that should make us uncomfortable. Stories that should make us think, and perhaps, propel us to act. Or react.

And guess what? You, the author, get to decide. You decide what to write and why. Readers get decide how they feel about it.

Authors will want to be prepared, however, for how readers will interpret and react to their work. You know your intent, the story you want to tell. But once it leaves your hands (or heart, mind...) and the reader picks it up, it belongs to them. They interpret and react as they wish.

And that's okay. Be cool with that.   

I fear a day in the future where writers are told what they can, and cannot write—and if that day comes, it will be a sad, sad day. That's my opinion. After all, writers write. Readers choose what to read. No one forces anyone to read a book they don't want to read. (Well, okay, Mrs. Brown, my fifth-grade teacher, except for you...) Enough said. Choice is better.

There is the #ownvoices movement, where authors write authentic stories unique to their own lives and perspectives. Some believe if you aren't part of a particular community, culture, or ethnicity, you shouldn't (or can't) write or represent those from that community or their stories. Others will argue they can do their research and write the stories well—do the stories justice and present both compelling characters and accurate storytelling.

Should a seeing person write about a character who is blind? Should a white woman write from a Black male perspective? Can a male write a story from a lesbian POV (point of view)? Can anyone who has never been homeless, write about being homeless? Should a deaf person write from a hearing POV?

And on, and on, and on....

Some feel books should come with warning labels, to let readers know there might be content in the book that may trigger a reaction they were not expecting. Movies have sex, graphic language, violence, and other ratings; romance novels have sexual heat level ratings. Do all books need some sort of rating system to warn the reader about pending content, so they can avoid the book and a possible trigger?

How do we, as writers, truly know what might be a trigger for this person, or another? How do we get the trigger labels right?

Or, do we simply avoid all taboo subjects from here on out?

Take incest, for example. Good Lord, we can't write about incest, can we? It's wrong. It's illegal. It's a
horrible, horrible thing for many people. How will victims of incest react when reading a story with this element?

What would the neighbors think? Your mother? Or your potential editor? Will it not get shelved in the library because it is a taboo subject?

Maybe ask V.C Andrews....

A trigger warning is a reasonable—and often responsible—thing to consider. Avoiding writing about incest is not necessarily the answer.

My totally unsolicited opinion:
There are no taboo subjects. If writing about incest is critical to your story, provides conflict and complication, then write about it. It is not necessary to showcase it. You may not need to describe the gory details. You decide. However, taboo and edgy and raw and gritty subjects/writing evoke emotion, provide conflict, twist plots, and build or reveal character; they make us think, give us pause, help us relate to real life, connect with the character(s), create sympathy and worry, make us question motive, and give us problems to solve. And more.

Do not censor yourself.

Refrain from playing it safe.

Write what comes. Yes, you must be comfortable with your words and thoughts and ideas. Sometimes, you may need to defend them. But write the gritty, weird, awesome, wonderful, scary stuff because that's what comes out of your brain—and that's what makes your writing powerful.

Doing anything less is not nurturing your creativity, it's stifling it.

Now, does that raw and gritty awesomeness need editing? Yes, of course.

Might it need to be toned down? Yes, perhaps. And maybe not.

Should the grittiness be reviewed for sensitivity, accuracy, overtones, and messages you truly don't want to send? Yes. For sure. Check with others and make sure you are not out of line—unless you want to be out of line.

Might those gritty, raw things need to be removed from the piece later? That could happen.

It doesn't matter.

Get it down. It's what was in your head at the time, and you wrote it for a reason. Maybe it works now, maybe it doesn't. Maybe after you write more, you decide that this taboo scene was for your eyes only. Maybe it happened in your story, but off the page. Maybe you enter into this scene through a backdoor, or you slide it in through the character's actions or emotional state. Maybe it's the thing that gets unveiled later in the story in a less-gritty way.

Or perhaps it is the mind-blowing plot-changer that gets dropped into the story when you aren't looking.

The thing is, you experienced it when you wrote those raw first words on the paper as they were conceived. You drank the Kool-aid and took the bait—you weighed the risk and wrote the controversial words and thoughts and you experienced and felt them as you did so.

You experienced the edginess, the terror of them, the wrong or rightness, the disgust, the pain, regret, sorrow, humiliation, frustration, and the hopelessness in your words.

Good. Great. Awesome.

Because, even if that scene gets cut, you'll remember. You'll remember how you felt writing them, and the rest of your writing will be better for it. The story will be better for it. Your readers will thank you.

Remember: All scenes must move a story forward, and taboo topics shouldn't be inserted into the writing just for the hell of it. Every scene should contribute to plot, conflict, or characterization; to character goals or motivation. If it doesn't, reconsider its use.

Think about Flowers in the Attic. Did V.C. Andrews take the risk?

Think about Stephen King. Had he toned down his writing, pulled back on the depth of evil and horror in his stories, would they be the same? Would he still enjoy his bestseller success?

Think about The Handmaid's Tale. (I've been thinking a lot about that book lately.) Did Margaret Atwood play it safe? No, she had a story to tell. There was purpose in the plot points she chose to write about. And many of them were ugly.

And poignant.


Like a train wreck.

Decide the writer you want to be. Do you want to push the envelope or are you happy with playing it safe? Remember, there are readers for all kinds of writing. This post is simply to remind us all that as authors, it's okay to take the scary path once in a while.

It's okay. Your choice. Do you.

Go ahead. Write the grit.

For more articles on writing, search the hashtags #microworkshop or #writepath within this blog.