Sunday, May 7, 2017

On fiction writers offending their audiences

Given the acrimoniousness of the recent presidential election, and the general insanity over the “culture wars”, there’s been a lot of debate recently regarding whether or not a fiction author should weigh in on controversial subjects, or remain silent. 

The “remain silent” faction asserts that the author should strictly avoid alienating and offending readers with political posts on social media. 

This argument has some merits. Of course, you’re going to offend a certain percentage of people no matter what—even if you never post on social media. 

If you write a story without a strong minority/female/gay character, then a certain group of people will brand you a horrible person because you didn't achieve perfect demographic parity in that book. Forget the fact that you have other stories in which the heroes are something other than straight white males. For the bean-counters of the culture wars, no lapse is too small to avoid a “calling out”, and possibly a Twitter mob.

On the other hand, you’ll offend a certain number of people if you do write a story with a hero who isn't a straight white male, because….you’re pandering to feminism and political correctness! Don’t bother to tell them that you’re just writing stories. For the politically obsessed, everything is seen through the prism of politics. 

The same goes for your social media posts. It is almost impossible to make regular blog/Facebook/Twitter entries without revealing something of yourself that will offend someone, somewhere. 

I therefore don’t believe that the fiction author needs to walk on eggshells. Sooner or later, they’re going to find out who you are, and a certain percentage of them won’t like what they see. You can live with that.

There is a difference, however, between unapologetically being who you are, and going out of your way to pick a fight with anyone who might disagree with you. 

This is difficult to quantify exactly, but it is closely related to tone, relevance, and frequency. 

Tone is fairly obvious. You can express your opinion. If someone won’t read your fiction just because of who you voted for, then they probably aren't going to like your books, anyway. But don’t use your social media platform as a parapet from which to hurl sputtering insults at half the world. 

In the context of the recent election: Don’t say anything to Clinton/Trump supporters on the Internet that you wouldn't say to the Clinton/Trump supporter next door, in person, right before you ask him or her to collect your mail, water your plants, and feed your dog while you’re away on vacation.

What about relevance and frequency? I don’t shrink from expressing my opinion on this blog, but I usually try to tie it in to what I’m doing, which is—writing fiction. 

When you blog about politics every single day, you’ll tend to attract readers who are only interested in politics. I want to attract readers who are interested in suspense fiction. And a large number of the politically obsessed couldn't care less about fiction—they’re too busy arguing with the other side on Twitter/Facebook/Reddit. Because, haven't you heard…Someone is Wrong on the Internet

If you consider yourself to be a fiction writer, and you’re kvetching about Donald Trump (or Nancy Pelosi) every single day on your Twitter feed/blog, you might take a moment to ask yourself if political activism isn't really your calling, rather than fiction. 

And if you decide that fiction is your primary calling, then you might consider the question: Why are going on about politics, every single day?