Lately in my wanderings around the great wastes of the interwebs, I’ve been reading about the concerns some authors have about offending their readers, and how they can avoid it. Sometimes it’s about swearing, or violence, or sex, or religion, or one of a million other issues that could get up the nose of someone or other.
Frankly, I think this is bullshit.
I consider myself a nice guy. Those who know me in real life will know I go to ridiculous lengths to avoid confrontation. If someone overcharges me in the supermarket, chances are I’ll walk out without complaining.
But in fiction, you can’t afford to censor yourself. When you write a story, no matter whether it’s about the cracks in a middle-class marriage or the crazy tales of a coke-snorting, womanizing leprechaun called Samson McLaughlin, you’re ripping out a piece of your heart and slapping it down on the paper, blood and sinew and all. That’s what you have to do if you want to have any hope of reaching someone, or at least, that’s how I see it.
You put this piece of you out there, not as some gross spectacle (although that would make an interesting modern art installation), but to find others who believe what you believe and feel what you feel. That’s what a story is: the formation of a telepathic bond between storyteller and listener, or writer and reader, or director and movie-goer. And if you want to go beyond a cursory surface touch, you have to reveal who you truly are. You have to strip down and open yourself up and let the world examine you.
Many will be repulsed. But if you’re lucky, maybe a few people will see their own soul reflected in yours. Maybe they’ll even hear echoes within themselves they didn’t even know existed. Those are the stories that we remember. Those are the stories that crazy bastards like me feel so connected with, they literally tattoo parts of it on their own bodies.
But when you try to cover up your nakedness by censoring yourself or your characters or your story, you compromise all that. Cutting out swearing or a sex scene that doesn’t fit is fine. Cutting out swearing or a sex scene because you don’t want to offend some hypothetical reader is just taking you one step further away from the people who see the world as you do; the people who want to hear your story. Of course, this goes the other way as well. Putting in a sex scene because “sex sells” just dilutes the truth that only you can provide.
Storytellers of all forms need to take responsibility for their story. Own it. Bare everything. If someone doesn’t like what they see, then that’s their problem. All you can do is spill your blood on the page, put it in a bottle, and toss it out to sea. If you’re lucky, it’ll get where it needs to go.
That’s what I believe.