02 Jan 2018

Should Your Book be Politically Correct?

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Make a Living as a Professional Self-Published AuthorBeing politically correct seems to be in vogue these days. A few people believe no one has the right to hurt their feelings or make them feel bad. In some colleges and universities, it has gotten so pervasive that it’s considered an actionable offense to ask someone where they come from. In Canada, by law it’s a human rights volition, punishable by a large fine and possible jail time, to use the wrong gender pronoun, intentionally or not.

The careers of many politicians have ended because of the choice of a wrong word during a speech or interview. Businesses regularly apologize after someone claims they were offended by something the business said or did. Using racial or other slurs, even outside of the office, can be a job ending offense.

How does this trend effect you as a writer? Should you only write articles, stories and books that are politically correct? How much care should you take to ensure your written words offend no one? Should political correctness even be a concern?

Let’s begin by looking at the concept of political correctness:

Agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people – Merriam-Webster

Imagine a novel that offends no one. Is that even possible? Is it desirable? Would a novel that offends no one be interesting?

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Let’s look at a few examples contrasting politically correct ideas with the real world.

In one viewpoint, lawful citizens own guns and the vast majority (over 99.9%) use their guns in a legal, responsible manner. In most states, citizens can carry weapons, and use them for hunting, target shooting, self-defense and other activities. The police generally support gun rights and have no issues with those who legally own and use guns. Criminals, of course, don’t follow laws, and obviously use guns for illegal activities.

In the politically correct world, guns are death machines and must all be made illegal. Any discussions about alternatives are abhorrent and obviously insane. In this mindset, the solution is to eliminate all guns by any means possible.

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Feelings are of paramount importance for those who are politically correct. In the PC world, everyone would live together in harmony and peace – except, of course, for those with something called “white male privilege” because, obviously, white males have it easy and work to suppress all other groups of peoples. Any use of any word or phrase that causes hurt feelings, emotional distress or even mild discomfort is to be avoided (except,of course, for those peskly white males).

However, in another view,”white privilege” doesn’t exist, and most people use self-restraint and reason to control what they say. If your feelings are hurt, well, see a therapist or grow up (or “man up”, to use a politically incorrect term). Hurt feelings are a part of life, and dealing with them is a learning experience and an opportunity for personal growth and responsibility.

On top of that, historical events are interpreted differently by different groups. For example, in the past movies portrayed American Indians in a stereotypical manner, as uncivilized savages. Settlers, on the other hand, were generally innocent victims, and there was always a group of bad guys, clearly labeled by their actions or clothing. This is the more glorified, European-centric view.

These days, the view has been reversed. American Indians are often thought of as peaceful peoples, living in harmony with each other and nature until the evil, smelly white men came from Europe with their diseases and guns, which they used to kill and harm all indigenous peoples. This would be considered the “politically correct” view, because it portrays the Indians as victims of European aggression.

Another view is that before the Europeans came to America, the people living there fought each other as ruthlessly as any European. Take a look at the Aztec or Mayan rituals of human sacrifice and slavery and you’ll understand. Yes, the European conquest of North and South America was brutal and merciless, but the indigenous peoples were not innocents. In this view, there were heroes, victims, and innocents on all sides, each with their own agendas, desires, imperfections, biases and systems of government.

What does all this have to do with writing?

Your book or story is your creation, and you should write from your heart and your mind. The exception, of course, is when someone is paying you to write, you must follow their rules. Additionally, if you are writing a paper for a grade or a story for a contest, than you must follow the appropriate guidelines.

You have a responsibility, as an author, to tell the story in your heart, using whatever words and anything else that you feel are appropriate to your story.

If you are writing non-fiction, your responsibility is to ensure your book is factual, doesn’t plagiarize, and is well cited with credible sources to back up your claims. If you include opinions or personal knowledge or research, it needs to be clearly noted for your readers. I’ve written many non-fiction books, and most of them pull from my own experience, which I clearly state at the beginning of the work.

Non-fiction tends to come from your head.

Fiction is an entirely different story (so to speak). Since, by definition, fiction is not factual, you may give your imagination free reign. Of course, some fiction is based on historical events or scientific facts, and thus,ideally, should remain accurate to those fields of knowledge.

Fiction comes from the heart.

Write books that satisfy your own beliefs and fulfill your passions. You will, of course, need to tailor your writing to satisfy your audience – if you don’t do that, your book won’t sell.

What does this all mean?

If you want write a story that’s politically correct, if that’s your passion, than by all means have at it.

The problem is politically correct stories tend to be dull because they assume everyone is the same. Conflict is contrived and without purpose or point.

On the other hand, by writing about the differences between cultures, people, races, the sexes or whatever, you can create a compelling, interesting and wonderful story. People are different and everyone, politically correct or not, has prejudices, biases, and faults. Great stories use these differences to create conflict, then resolves that conflict in interesting ways.

The best stories are about the conflicts that people (or animals or aliens) experience and how they resolve those conflicts. Political correctness attempts to minimize or deny that those conflicts or differences exist. That makes for a dull and uninteresting story.

But it’s YOUR story. Write what is in your heart.

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