Censorship and the PC Movement. Writers, Put Up Your Shields!


Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 2.53.58 AMOne of my professors in grad school preached a lot about the danger writers might fall prey to the political correctness bug. While there is nothing wrong with being kinder and gentler as a society in our discourse with each other, being PC has not really had that effect. In fact, it appears to have had the opposite. People get into bitter discussions and vitriol flows freely in comment threads and on social media sites. If it sends the average Joe down that path, what is it doing to writers?

Brock Pope informs student writers this is a daily battle. We have to guard against it every time we sit down at the keyboard. The PC mentality is so engrained in our society that all rational thought leaves the building. Everything has become an attempt to ‘marginalize’ people. Recently, I had a scene with my detective, a Native Samoan. My critique partners both suggested it be cut as it was stereotyping. I trust my girls, and I always take their suggestions seriously. However, as writers we have to know when to fall back on our own counsel and what we know and have learned.

When I was going over the piece later, I kept hearing Pope ranting in my head against writers who cave to the pressure “not to offend” or to maintain a “PC” approach. Ultimately, I cut the bulk of the paragraph in question, not because it was stereotyping but because it was info dumping. I researched Native Samoans thoroughly and what I said was not stereotype but fact. There is a difference. When we make every male black character a basketball player, it’s stereotyping. They are not all brilliant basketball players, and they don’t even all like the sport. However, if I write an Italian character who talks with his/her hands, I am not stereotyping. Talking with our hands is a genetic factor in who we are. Attend my family reunions, you can pull major muscle groups dodging the arms.

What bothers me most about this PC culture is we’re slowly wiping out and demeaning our own histories. By demanding others not acknowledge who we are, we are also denying it. I grew up on Italian jokes, loved them, still do. Do we probably look silly talking with our hands? No doubt. But it’s part of who we are, and I wouldn’t change it anymore than I would my name. There are hazards to writing characters that have diversity. We’re encouraged to do it, yet told not to write characters outside our own culture. These things are in opposition. Trust writers to write. Allow them to create characters from any number of cultures, full of a richness that is part their culture and part their own unique personalities.

Writers today can spend too much time worrying about offending people and not enough time writing real characters. As writers, we must ignore the culture wars when we sit down to write. Otherwise, we are censoring our writing more than we’re editing.

How do you silence the inner editor who seeks to censor you?

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76 Comments

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76 responses to “Censorship and the PC Movement. Writers, Put Up Your Shields!

  1. Great, GREAT post, Dawn! Absolutely agree with every single thing. PCism is the biggest single threat to freedom of speech ever invented. It’s simply a vile concept in every sense. I wrote an essay about its evils back in ’97 that was published in my story collection, GUMBO YA-YA, in which I posited about the same things you are here.

  2. Thanks, Les. Stay tuned for a Part II. A post on FB brought out more PC crap about a film. Grrr.

  3. kitsyclare

    In my first drafts I write whatever comes to me without censoring. Later, I only delete lines and sections that either don’t contribute to the story or are badly written. I do try to write against stereotype.

    • We definitely need to avoid stereotype but we also need to avoid bending characters in order to avoid offense. We walk a tight line. πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Great post! I had a hard time with this in my last book- which is set in North Carolina a year after the Civil War. PC tendencies galore! It is so hard to stay true to a time period while battling modern PC expectations.

    • Yikes! That would be tough. It’s hard to look at any historical time without the lens of our current times. It would especially be hard with the Civil War. I commend you for taking that on. Every writer needs to accept challenges like that. πŸ™‚

  5. Hi I’m new to your blog and enjoyed reading your PC post. I hate people who go around the bush and never say what they mean in order to NOT to offend some segment of society. If we’re that sensitive, I pity us. You can be honest without being unkind or rude. But that’s just MHO.

    D. L. Hammons is Blitzing you today. Good luck!

    • Thanks for stopping by! The blitz was a pleasant surprise to find after traveling all day to come see my ailing parents. We appear to have become intolerably sensitive. Yet, in that we have become insensitive at the same time. It’s beyond strange.

  6. Hi Dawn. That’s an excellent post. I have a MFA in Creative Writing and my professors has always taught to be careful of stereotyping characters. It’s so sad when people confuse fact with PR. My first book was written from the Shawnee Tribes point of view and there are some that hate it because of that. You just have to write what you feel needs to be written. Don’t allow anyone to change your characters but be aware of how people may react to your characters. Keep writing and enjoy it.

    • We will never please everyone but that should not be our goal. We write to please an audience of one. If that happens, we’ve done our job. Any after that one is icing on the cake.

  7. It is an interesting conundrum. I read a blurb for a book which featured “a Native American” character. I was immediately bothered that the writer hadn’t selected a tribe. I’ve heard my friend’s grandmother get into an argument- and actual heated debated from a little old lady (stereotype term?)- about how being Sicilian was different from being Italian. And here was a story where a writer lumped hundreds of people and cultures into one character and said, quote, “It doesn’t matter what tribe the character is from because they are all the same.” It was really disturbing. Beyond that, it made a cliche character instead of a rich, full, well-rounded one. How much more memorable could that character be if he showed something unique to his tribe? It was a chance to offer something to the world, and the chance was wasted.

    I commend you on doing research on characters first. It is good to expose readers to the vast world we live in. To let them know that humans aren’t from one big cookie cutter that is applied only to one batch of dough.

    Have a blitz-rific day.

    • Excellent point! Native Americans are often lumped into a group even though the tribes are quite unique. Tribes across the globe are unique and they are allowed their own identities. It’s a great point to make. My friend is Scottish and quick to note there’s a difference between that and Irish. πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by!

  8. This is where telling the truth should never go out of style. Sure, there are mean ways to say something and not-so-mean ways, but the best writers are the ones who study human behavior, not with an eye of tolerance or acceptance, but one of truth and honesty.

    And on a similar note, writers can get into ruts, their characters always nodding or smiling. Though not really about the PC culture, it does demonstrate that the study of human behavior should be second nature for a writer.

    After all, people watching is the best sport of all.

    • Absolutely! I agree totally. PC is not about honesty unfortunately. If fiction is going to be honest to human behavior it has to be about all our behavior, not just the acceptable parts. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Greetings from Australia. Happy blitz Day

  10. Hi Dawn. A great article!
    When I think about my “rainbow-nation country” with it’s many diverse cultures, then the PC issue becomes a mine field…
    Happy blog blitz day! Enjoy! πŸ™‚

  11. Happy blitz day!

    I agree. Sometimes I’ve read writing that is so PC that it’s sterile and unrealistic.

  12. This is such a tricky topic. I think part of the problem lies in the fact that what’s considered PC is constantly changing. Also, what’s PC in one country may not be PC in another. Being Canadian, I sometimes notice differences between what’s acceptable here and in the States. I guess the best we can do as writers is to research thoroughly and try our hardest to be respectful. Happy Blitz Day!

    • I think respect is important in all we do in writing. However, being honest trumps it. The best way to show respect is to be honest to your subject and your characters. I had not thought about the differences between countries, and that’s an excellent point. I am well versed in the PCisms here but no clue how those might differ in Canada. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Happy Blitz Day, Dawn!
    I fully agree with your comments. I don’t believe it is possible to write or say anything that doesn’t risk offending or upsetting someone. It is not unreasonable to avoid overt stereotyping or sweeping generalisations based on race, gender, age, orientation or anything else. People are different. It is something to be celebrated. No image, visual or words, is complete without contrasts and colours, shades and nuances. PC is negative and reductionist; responsibility and reasonable sensitivity can positive and uplifting.
    Apart from anything else, we IWSGers don’t need anything a

  14. Sticky thumb – comment should end “we IWSGers don’t need anything else to fret about!”

  15. DL Hammons

    A very interesting topic and great insight on your part. It used to be that stereotyping was a speedy way to help readers understand the core of a character, now its a four-letter word. πŸ™‚

    BTW….you’ve been BLITZED! Elise Fallson is also receiving the treatment today, if you’d want to drop by and say HI.

    • Thanks! This was a pleasant surprise after traveling across Kansas to visit my ailing parents. I love talking writing with other writers. πŸ™‚ It’s funny how opinions about these things have changed.

  16. Happy blitz. Great post. I do think there’s a difference between using people’s culture and traits vs. just being mean about it. It’s a fine line, but you are correct in handling it in your post. Have a great day

  17. I am a victim. I usually tell myself that it’s because everything that is good about us has been used against us so much that they are now viewed as bad. I have observed that inter-racial jokes are frowned upon; a Caucasian person cannot make a ridiculous joke about, say, Negroes, without being considered racist, and vice versa. I see it online all the time, especially on YouTube. It is so, even if the joker had no malicious intents whatsoever. Where I come from, so many tribal wars have been fought that any insinuations or jokes concerning another tribe’s quirks, idiosyncrasies, mores, lores, ethos, etc, are vile and offensive. It kills literature because literature is made of these. We now even give our children neutral (mostly Western) names that do not betray their tribes. As a writer, it becomes very hard for me to create characters from the vast variety of Kenya’s tribes. Imagine a character without any idiosyncrasies by virtue of his culture, place of birth, or upbringing! Our publishers now reject books they consider tribally offensive. Anything from accent to the manner of dressing is regarded with suspicious scrutiny. What kind of literature is that? It is screwed up.
    Happy Blitz day, Dawn. I’m a member of the Blog Blitz and that’s how I knew of your blog.

    • I’m sorry to hear that. What a sad state of affairs this is that our cultures and histories are negated by ignorance. Perhaps you should publish outside of Kenya? Just a thought. Perhaps another venue will be less sensitive to the tribal issues. It’s a fine line because I do not want to deliberately offend but I refuse to write in a way that is less than honest and if that offends, it just does. 😦 Blessings on your writing efforts! Fight the good fight. Thanks for stopping by!

  18. Wonderful post on being PC. I usually ignore the PC and just write the characters as I see them. I do live in a very diverse area, so I think that helps, too.

    Happy Blitz Day!

    • I’m sure it helps. When I lived in Kansas City, I didn’t think about it so much. Now I’m in Oklahoma and I’m more aware of stereotypes and PC expectations. Ugh.

  19. Miranda Hardy

    Wonderful post! I ignore the PC actions and mainly write my characters how they appear in my head. I also think that living in the very diverse area I do helps out with that.

    Happy Blitz Day!

  20. Hi Dawn! What a thought provoking post. I just finished writing a novel, based on extensive research, about the sex trade industry, and then had a critique group member question whether I was stereotyping. I thought I was giving an accurate representation of the industry based on my story line, but asked one of my sex trafficking experts, a member of one of the minorities represented, to weigh in, and she loved it. That made me feel better.

    I think writers walk a tightrope. We have a responsibility to be honest, yet everything people see and think is subjective, viewed through our own prejudices and life experiences. I’ve read lots of books where the characters or situations didn’t ring true to me, but they obviously did to someone, esp. if the book was traditionally published.

  21. Fantastic post. I actually had this conversation with my local critique group this past Saturday since one of the short stories took place in the old west and the author was worried it wasn’t PC since there is a lot of racism in it. Our history isn’t pretty sometimes, but that’s the truth of it and we shouldn’t cover it up or erase it. We must learn from it and become better.

    Happy blitz day!

  22. Great post!! I completely agree. Writing without censoring ourselves leads to classic works of art.

    Happy Blitz Day πŸ™‚

  23. Happy blitz day!

    When I write, I allow my characters to be themselves. I don’t always agree with what they say or do, but I’m not them. I hope my readers understand that too.

    • That’s as it should be Kelly! I don’t always agree with my characters either, and I like it that way. πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by.

  24. 2unpublishedgirls

    Great post, Dawn. I tweeted it via @authorrbaustin.
    Happy Blitz Day. πŸ™‚

    -RB

  25. Totally agree — PCness is out of control, in America, anyhow. I realized how bad it got when my teenaged daughter and her friend described a pair of shoes as black…because they were the color black, and one of them said, “Wait, is that prejudiced?” And she wasn’t joking!

    As a writer, I was accused by an editor of being sexist because one of my female characters felt guilty over a bad decision — apparently women aren’t allowed to feel any sort of shame or remorse over sexual indiscretion anymore. That would be politically incorrect.

  26. Oh, sweet mother. How does one even respond to that level of ignorance? Women experience guilt over everything and I think it’s a genetic trait. I’m not sure we can help it which means there’s NOTHING stereotypical about it. Cue the eyeroll. Keep the shield up, Nicki!

  27. Fantastic post, and happy blitz day!

  28. I feel that political correctness is WAY overdone sometimes, to the point of being offensive.

    Happy Blitz day!

    anna
    Deeply Shallow

  29. Dawn, Thank you for a thoughtful blog. I’ve had a hard time finding these in the blog world. There’s much to be said still but few who can place a subject in context. Nice job. Mary Clark, Traveler

  30. Even though it *is* blitz day, I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this topic. I don’t do much fiction writing, but when I do write, I want it to be interesting – not a scrubbed down version of something that was interesting, but is no longer. There’s always a balance between being interesting and unique but potentially alienating readers, and being so white-washed that we’re not saying anything new or interesting (and ultimately losing readers because our writing is so bland). Know what I mean? If EVERYTHING is labeled as non-PC, or racist, or prejudiced or stereotyping, how do we give anything any character? Oh – and happy blitz day! Great post! πŸ™‚

  31. I hope you get to read all these comments. I appreciate what you have to say so much. I hope you manage to work all that information in so much and YES! I get tired of worrying about offending.

    Its like in books written during a certain time period and words that offend us now weren’t offensive when they were written. Context is so important. It alerts us to where we have grown and where we still need to grow.

    I talk with my hands a lot and am not Italian, by heritage anyway. I often say I am Italian in the heart. I talk with my hands on the telephone, which especially cracks me up.

    Happy Blitz Day!!

    • LOL. I must take you to one of my family reunions. You’ll fit right in. Thanks for stopping by and talking PC with me. I’m glad I’m not the only one frustrated by it.

  32. Here here!!! I am so glad to hear someone raising the banner against the PC culture. Thanks. God bless, Maria

  33. What an excellent post, found you today as part of the Blog Blitz Team. Hope you are having a good day πŸ™‚

  34. I read this yesterday when the blitz came out and I want you to know I truly agree with you. PC is out of control.

  35. Looks like you are well-connected to the OK writer scene. Happy Blitz Day! New follower/subscriber.

  36. Hi, Dawn! Happy Blitz Day! Great post. It’s too bad that few take the time to understand the author’s intent when using supposedly offensive words. Describing someone or some culture is not hateful; it’s called story or history. Thanks for the insight! Keep being real!

  37. Great post!! I think you’re absolutely right. A writer simply cannot hold back characteristics of a character simply because of PC. I think if one were to do that, you run the risk of creating a weaker character.

  38. Wow! This blog post was so timely for me! The novel I’m working on now is set in Dubai and Saudi and trying to write characters from these cultures without stereotyping is difficult. I did live in the UAE for four years so have first hand experience so I keep plugging away and continually doing research as I go to verify cultural nuances. The bottom line is, in any book, some characters are likable and some are not… just like in life.

    Thanks and happy writing!
    Anne
    P.S. hope you enjoyed being blitzed!!!

    • Thanks, Anne! No one but another writer understands the pains taken by writers to get it right, to make it honest and true. It’s just not easy. Thanks for stopping by. It’s been a blast.

  39. So true. We all have rich heritages to share. The key is to respect those heritages in our writing from the heart.

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