No, you don’t.

Lately I have read a number of posts from writers that follow a particular formula of:

“Writers of fiction should [include/exclude] characters who [are/do] this particular [identity/activity] to keep from being labeled as [bad word].

I have answered a number of them in comments, but I’ve seen this formula often enough that I want a blanket answer that writers can save and reuse when this particular thought rears its ugly head.

Fuck that shit.

(I’m sorry, I don’t usually permit myself to descend to obscenity for emphasis, but in this case I feel that it is justified.)

What writers should do is write.  What writers of fiction should do is write fiction.  Not polemic, not consciousness-raising, not deconstruction of cultural imperatives, but fiction.  Stories that people want to read because they are entertaining.

Anything–and I mean anything— that gets in the way of the story needs to be kicked to the curb, strangled and eviscerated and neatly wrapped in trash bags.

That most emphatically includes some hypothetical reader’s hypothetical criticisms of a book that you haven’t even written yet.

The fact is that some readers aren’t going to like your book and some of those are going to justify their dislike with whatever buzzword is currently making the rounds on FaceBook.

The other, and more important, fact is that there is no point in playing that game because you can’t ever win.

There is no objective definition of any of these “-isms” floating around the Internet.  It’s Xist if you don’t have any X characters, but it’s also Xist if you write an X character into a story just to avoid being called Xist.  If your X character is a villain it’s stereotyping, if your X character is a hero it’s pandering.  If you show your X character as happy it’s downplaying the cultural suffering of X’s, if you show your X character as unhappy it’s promoting a view that being X is bad.

What’s more, while you’re dealing with the minute shades of Xism, someone is going to accuse you of being Yist.

This way lies madness, or at the very least never finishing your book because you’re too busy rewriting it to suit your critics.

Just write. Breath all the life into your characters that you can and set them free in the best world you can construct and tell the story that you were born to tell.

People are going to hate you because you have the guts to do what they can not.  They won’t admit that, though, instead they are going to come up with reasons why your book is bad.  Some of them will be valid, some of them will be utterly spurious. Use the valid criticisms to make the next book better, and ignore the others.

You are going to be labeled as [bad word]. You may get labeled with several [bad words] and some of them may even be contradictory.  Accept that as part of the business and get back to work.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to No, you don’t.

  1. kingmidget says:

    Couldn’t possibly agree with you more. As I’ve said many times since I started writing, the number one rule of writing is that there are no rules. Other than to, as you say, just write. One of the writing blogs I read occasionally wrote something about how you have to tell your story in three acts to be successful. And wrote it as though this was a given that, surely, anybody would know. As soon as I read that I decided didn’t need to read that bloggers thoughts on writing anymore. Again, just write.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I’m not sure if it’s ego or what, but so many artists seem to feel a need to tell everyone else how to do it “right”.

      • kingmidget says:

        A co-worker has an idea for a novel. He asked me how to start. My response to that is that I have absolutely no idea. Everybody goes about this differently and any writer who suggests there is a right way to do it is not worth listening to.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Do you wrap it in cheesecloth and have a bowl to catch the drippings?

      • Myas says:

        I strain it through a sieve directly into a baking pan, no need for extra grease – it won’t stick, then into an oven at 475°. If I don’t like its consistency when it’s done I add a little more into the baking pan, stir it around and give it another five minutes. What’s added is according to taste.

        You never really make the same thing twice and so far it hasn’t disappointed over espresso.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        Epistemology. It’s what’s for dinner.

  2. sknicholls says:

    You are one of my most favorite writers on the internet because of posts like this. I wrote RC & R without any formula, and I fear that my crime novel stalled because I was trying to fit it into a marketable box. What I am writing now is not going to please some people (many people perhaps) but it is writing from the heart with no formula, no rules…just what comes naturally from the fingertips and the brain. If it turns out to be sellable, fine. If it doesn’t, at least I have said what I meant to say.

  3. paws4puzzles says:

    The only real rules of writing are those of grammar and spelling. Everything else is opinion.

  4. I try not to rant on blogs but whenever I read a blogger’s rules for writing and diversity is mentioned I lose my mind. It’s not my job to engineer my readers’ ideas about society–unless I want to. When Phil Robertson said he had no recollection of unhappy blacks he worked with in the south of his youth, people were offended. Should he have lied about what he remembered? I hate the presentation of “perfect” groups of people (ie, minority character, gay, etc). Only flawed people are real. I will never write a perfect black, white or gay person into my novels. I also won’t change a story to fit a certain genre. maybe I’ll always be broke–but I’ll love my characters for their flaws.

  5. Outstanding! I was considering something like this for my own blog. I’ll put the soapbox back in the basement. You said it perfectly.

  6. Oloriel says:

    I agree with you so much and it is really becoming hard for me to cool my senses when I am answering those, especially when it comes to this moment you described:”That most emphatically includes some hypothetical reader’s hypothetical criticisms of a book that you haven’t even written yet.”

  7. jrlambert says:

    I like the idea more of exploring different social norms through fiction more than the idea of trying to convey social norms I think the reader should have.

  8. Ellen McGilvray says:

    Thank god for some sanity! The things I find most frightening are the current trends of policing writing for “cultural appropriation.” In other words, a writer can’t portray people of cultures other than their own. Also, the bizarre demands for “trigger warnings” on literature (apparently, some colleges are even considering adding these to classic works so that no students will be “triggered” by anything). Scary times!!

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Scary? Annoying, certainly. It seems to me, though, that it is a very small group that is trying to redefine literature to suit themselves and the majority of actual readers and writers simply ignore them.

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