I had an interesting conversation with a friend who is a professional, published author and while we were talking about stories we wish we could write, she said she had one story that she always wanted to do, but she never would because it was a completely sexist story and she didn’t want to write a misogynist book.
But honestly, isn’t writing about going outside of your comfort zone and doing things that you may not want to do?
Now I’m not going to judge her for her views, she can write, or not write, whatever she wants to do, but clearly she wants to write this story, she just doesn’t feel comfortable doing so and that’s entirely up to her. But this is something that I’ve run into a lot among creative friends, the idea that they cannot do anything that might really challenge their readers, lest someone be made uncomfortable and might not like you as a writer.
I guess some of it might have to do with driving away potentially paying customers but that seems very small-minded to me.
Martin Caidin, creator of the Six Million Dollar Man and originator of many other works that became movies, once wrote a book called Prison Ship. It was so graphic that the publisher at the time, Baen, marked the most disturbing sections so that squeamish readers could skip past them. His aliens were responsible for murder and rape and all manner of socially unacceptable activities and Caidin described them all in graphic detail, yet he never tried to be politically correct, he was writing a book about all of the worst things that could happen, should we meet the worst of the worst alien criminals. I respect him for doing so. He wrote what he wanted to write and he challenged his readers by making them uncomfortable. That, to me, is the mark of a good writer.
The other problem is that so many people seem to think that anyone whose political or social ideology doesn’t match the modern mode of thinking, they must have been horrible people. “Doc” E. E. Smith, famous for the Lensman books, wrote in the 1920s and 1930s and his books are littered with the views of his day. There is plenty of racism and sexism abound, but we really can’t hold him accountable for not being as “enlightened” as we are today, he didn’t live today, did he? In another 100 years, whatever future people are reading our “enlightened” works of today are likely going to be appalled by our unenlightened views. It’s a perpetual problem. Yet a lot of people think we have to go back and “sanitize” the past so it fits in with our squeaky clean views of today, but that’s just historical revisionism. Things need to be read in the context of the time that they were written, just like people need to view movies in the context of the time they were made and not keep remaking things so that they have flashy new special effects. Accept things as they are, stop trying to make them “better”.
So in the end, when I’m writing, I write characters that live and breathe, they are not just extensions of me. I’ve made characters that are genuinely “bad” people, who do things I would never, ever do, and who do them unapologetically. It’s a matter of living outside your comfort zone, testing your limits and pushing the envelope. Don’t just do what makes you comfortable, do what the story demands you do, whether you’re comfortable going there or not. Isn’t that what writing fiction is all about?