Touchy commentary in writing


Writing will be an inner journey for you, the author. When writing you must study everything, do research and open your mind to many facets of thinking and rethinking the universe as you know it. Don’t make me feel like I am standing in Mumbai with privileged white people passing by in big cars unless you want me to be in Mumbai looking at privileged white people in cars. Are the characters in the world you are creating only black and white? Did the sentence you just wrote lack diversity? Ask yourself, is your protagonist a racist or just hearing or remembering racist commentary? Is this line of thinking necessary for your story? If so, maybe racism and other tough subjects could be handled in a more tactful way.

True story: While at an all night coffeehouse here in the west bank neighborhood of Minneapolis, Mn, my bass player commented, “ White folk slumming,” as cars packed with college aged kids crowded the streets on their way home from the bar closings. It was quickly turning into 4:00am and the band and I were looking to the waiter for coffee and donuts while waiting for the streets to clear of the squealing, howling interlopers. As musicians, those crazy young partiers are the ones who made it possible for us to pay the bills that month.

Does your protagonist have that same pragmatic outlook on life as I did? Maybe your protagonist was the one who said that racist comment. If so, I would expect racism to be a constant part of their ingrained personality unless they somehow learn something different along the arch of your story. Are they that way because it was learned through personal violence or learned by growing up in a racist echo chamber? Maybe they are not, or think they are not really racist at all by their passive carelessness. That kind of attitude comes from somewhere. Please be very clear and tell me, the reader, why you are like this in the next few paragraphs or plan on doing that somewhere down the road. You are dealing out sensitive feels and have created a loose end to be decoded.

If you do not wish for your protagonist to be the racist in your story let the other guy who’s passing by on the sidewalk be the racist. The other guy’s comment could mull around in some inner musings. Let us just say you have written over 60,000 words of a story using words like, “then they did this, walked over here and ran their hand down that,” or they said this or they say that… You have a first draft framework well done. Now it’s time to edit and re-write. You will have to think about creative ways to make this rough draft into a page turner.

Try this: Close your eyes and imagine the scene you are working on. For the sake of this demo let us say we are in a street scene much like the one I shared earlier. Where are you? How many people are surrounding you as you make a slow mental 360. How many are standing nearby or sitting at tables? How many are talking, giggling, adding something from a hidden flask to their coffee? Is it cold in here or are they just alcoholics? Do they have girlfriends, boyfriends? Is there drug deal going down ten feet away where the arse-holes think you can’t see them, or they think you’re just a scrawny woman so they are not worried about your sideways glance as you calculate the room.

Who said that racist comment! Was it you or in your head? You look around. People surrounding you part like the red sea avoiding your pensive glare. Your character obviously has deep-seeded problems but if you don’t rein it in some bright shiny bible-thumper will appear out of nowhere, drawn by your negative energy like an ant to maple syrup. Most certainly, brandishing a relic of power, they will attempt an exorcism right there on the icy-blue tiled floor of that coffee shop. Thank the gods you are surrounded by six equally somber bandmates at the edge of that counter. But you still have ears… Describe to me inch by inch this scene in sentences such as these that don’t bore me or insult my intelligence as a reader. For every word you craft, delete, delete, rewrite.

After a while this kind of visualization can become second nature, like learning how to ride a bicycle over rough railroad tracks, and you won’t have so many re-writes in your future. Conveying information is the job of the writer. You will create interesting polished stories for others, who will relate to those books in the bubble of their own experience. If your potential reader has absolutely zero experience with what you are describing you’ll have to grab them by the hand and drag them kicking and possibly even screaming into a whole new world. The hard subjects like racism, suicide, bullying, personal violence and the like, can be spoken or insinuated through your characters actions in delicate, sarcastic, harsh or kind ways. If you must have these attitudes in your writing, “say it without saying it.” I promise, you will offend fewer people and possibly even sell more books this way.


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