How do you feel about controversy in fiction, if you don't mind my asking?

Let me come right out and say this: I hate offending people.

I really do. I have a compulsion to see that everyone around me is calm and happy. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a middle child. The peacemaker. Or if I’m just a natural born pacifist, but I always strive for harmony.

Sometimes that urge equates with me being a wimp. At times I’ve walked away when I shouldn’t have--in these cases it's almost always when I’m the one whose ideas are threatened. I have a much harder time standing up for myself than I do standing up for others, but I’m working on that. On standing by my own opinions.

How does this translate to my writing? Well, I second-guess a lot. I'm often tempted to delete anything that might rub someone the wrong way. Too racy? Cut. Too violent? Cut. Too controversial? Cut, cut, cut. The problem is that you can cut the life right out of my manuscript this way.

Think about it. If we only wrote stories about characters who made safe choices, who never lashed out, or cursed, or crossed a line, how dull would our stories be? It would rob us of one of the best parts of reading—experiencing, from within safety of bound pages, that which we will never say, do, or see in our ordinary lives.

Not to mention that fiction is art, and when has art shied away from controversy? The answer is never. Art opens minds. It pushes us to think bigger. What if Holden Caulfield had been a sweet-natured, well-adjusted kid? What if Marcel Duchamp hadn't plunked down a urinal in a museum and called it Fountain? Some of our most lasting works of literature and art are just that--lasting--because they blew people's minds. Great art is like metal forged in the hot fire of controversy. 

In my more inspired moments, I believe the real tragedy is to create a work that sits there like a pile of oil paint, or a collection of words, and does nothing.

(Of course, art has more functions than expanding our thinking. It can entertain us, it can be beautiful, it can please us, etc.)

I know some people disagree with the choices I make as a storyteller. I respect their right to disagree. I don’t expect homogenous opinions. That will never happen. Show me two people, and I guarantee we could find a hundred things they see very differently.

What I hope for is that my right to speak is respected in turn. What I hope for is that to create something that gives a reader pause, and perhaps challenges them to reconsider their own views for even a brief moment. What I hope for is something more than nothing.


Veronica, thank you SO much for posting this… I can relate to your points here, and you gave me some wisdom to meditate on. Appreciate your insight!

You're welcome, Jodi! So glad it was helpful.

I shy away from confrontation, especially in person; I want to be liked. The same applies to my fiction sometimes--I want EVERYONE to like my characters, to like their stories. I try to push myself out of my comfort zone (and my characters out of theirs), but probably not enough, & you've given me a lot to think about here. What would I say, and what would they say, in an empty room? Why aren't we saying it when surrounded by people? What would happen if we did?

I always try to let the characters control the content at first, but I still catch myself second-guessing as I write- Is this too sexy for YA? Is this character too stereotypical? Is this choice too politically incorrect?

But you're so right- you can't help offending some, and I'm usually surprised at what people do take offense at. Not every heroine is a tough, strong, kick-ass chick, but I find people get offended at what society perceives as feminine weakness: too focused on finding romance; angst over boys; letting others influence or dictate decisions. Forty years ago, readers would probably be offended by a heroine who didn't care about boys (or gasp, liked girls instead) and was focused on building a career or saving the world. But, in any decade, who you choose as a mate has profound implications on your life in the long run, and romantic relationships can be intense and all consuming in both health and unhealthy ways. People (even girls) make bad decisions all the time for a variety of reasons, and there are sometimes consequences and sometimes (luckily) not. Teens experiment with good and bad things, as they try to figure out who they are and who they will become.

Books should be a place where we can experiment and reflect all of human experiences, and even some that haven't been thought of yet or that others deem offensive. What safer place is there to experiment with ideas about sexuality, addiction, war, revolution, crime, and social values?

We live in a society where having unpopular views can subject one to social ostracism and bullying, and I think that is often what can paralyze us as writers. We want people to like our characters and we want them to like us. But conflict is what drives stories, and anything (even good values and social mores) can be taken to an unhealthy extreme.

Long comment, short- I say go for it.

Life is controversy, it is a continuous push and pull, ebb and flow, always and never finding that middle point of balance because of the strife that is life. So, art, books,music...they will, do and should reflect these things. Personally, there are just some things I'd rather be entertained by via a book than to experience for myself.

I like the way you start and then conclude your thoughts. Thanks for this nice information regarding regarding I really appreciate your work, keep it up.

I'm so happy to hear this, Beth. I think these are all really good questions to ask! I struggle with this all the time, too. xoxo

Um, wow? Also… thanks doesn't quite feel like enough :) But, really. You are so right about your points re: girls and romance. I hate that women - especially teenage women - are trivialized for seeking love/romance/companionship. Even a girl who goes for casual hookups get bashed. You're either a lovestruck ninny or you're a slut. There's no winning.
Anyway, thanks. And I will go for it! <3

Great points, Angela. And I agree… I'm much happier experiencing LOTS of things on the page versus real life. Thanks for commenting - and hope you're well!

Beautifully put. Art, in its beauty and entertainment, convicts us of something and shows us something outside ourselves. I love it when authors share their perspective on life, even if it's something that makes me uncomfortable or I disagree with.

On the same token, it's not any easier being on the male side of the equation when-

You're either "Expected" to be a sports obsessed fantatic, crazed genius, or some psycho perv, and the latter's one male archetype I could stand to see go the way of the dinosaur....

That said, while Talia makes a fair point in her comment, I URGE everyone (But especially mothers and men of a certain age) to watch this-

While I feel there's more nuance to boys and men expressed here, she gets the HEART of what I long to see improve, and while the focus of the video is education, this issue goes beyond that, it's societal and real, and we need to acknowledge it or it will never get it any better.

Even if that means controversy. The problem comes when we use mistakes as weapons toward others rather than a learning experience.

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It's a hard balance between healthy assertiveness and not coming off jerky.

Sometimes I feel when people say "Be Civil" they really mean "Don't share. Period."

I kept a lot to myself when I was a kid just to avoid conflict, which while necessary in stories, doesn't mean we want to live it with no joy or moments of peace in between. That doesn't mean you're a "Wimp" either.

Online and off, I've said and done things I'm not proud of. They were times I did go too far. But I also can't apologize for what I felt. It was REAL. I just should've been more tactful in how I expressed it. But sometimes in trying to change ourselves (Or our story characters) for the better, we unmeaningly cause harm to others. It's only when we don't learn from them that we repeat these snafus that help no one.

Yes, there seems to be an increasing trend of confounding the character/story with the writer. So writers who create, for example, racist characters get accused of being racist, or the book is called racist. It is paralyzing.

Thank you so much for this post, Veronica. I am a peacemaker to my very core and have probably made decisions/cuts in my WIP because of this. And without even realizing it. Your insight is a great reminder to take another be bold and allow my characters that same freedom.


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