Dear Fellow Writers: Do What You Want

dowhatyouwant

Dear fellow writers,

Don’t be afraid to write what you want.

Sociologists will tell you that you have to have characters of every ethnicity or else you’re a racist. Feminists say that you have to have two named female characters who talk about not-a-man, or else you’re a sexist. Politicians say you have to represent every lifestyle fairly, without a preference for one over the other, or else you’re a bigot. I’ve actually heard storytellers (I’m resisting the urge to add quotation marks) supporting these claims.

And that’s nothing but a heap of rot. As much as we admire the social scientists and true feminists for finding the best way for our civilization to work, and as much as we (sometimes) admire politicians for trying to achieve an agenda, none of these folks are really storytellers. Sure, they can learn to tell stories as well, but it’s not automatically their job, just as it’s not my job to analyze statistics or give speeches. However, lately these culture-workers have been sticking sociology’s nose where it doesn’t belong: into writing. And there’s the rub.

In most modernized countries, we have something along the lines of the First Amendment, which says that we can write what we want without getting in trouble. That goes beyond government coercion. We can’t be intimidated into saying something we don’t believe or shutting up about something we do, and we shouldn’t have to be afraid of ostracism when we write a good story that just happened to have differences from what the audience expected. We can write our own stories, and if readers don’t like them, then they can read something else. Maybe they can even write their own book- because honestly, if people have enough time to read that many “bigoted” books and complain about them, they probably aren’t suffering for free time. So that means, in any free country, such pressure is just plain stupid.

Yes, I’m talking about the Bechdel test. I’m talking about the pressure to write in the latest popular genre, and I’m talking about the fad that fantasy and historical writers have to represent every ethnicity in their stories. Really, I’m talking about any non-storyteller that tries to tell writers how to do their jobs. Things like this have no place in literature because they are anti-story. Their underlying assumption is that storytelling is nothing more than a string of conversations or an archetypal set of characters, and when we look at those conversations or characters, we had better find everything we ever wanted.

However, readers have many ways of understanding the deeply-held beliefs of the author. Counting the negligible details of a single interaction in a story is not one of those ways. As anyone who knows the first thing about storytelling would explain, storytelling is about many small components- theme, development, plot, characters, even good prose- built into a larger structure called “story.” That is how we identify a good or bad book.

Let’s look at it this way. 12 Angry Men or Fifty Shades of Grey: Which one is more likely to encourage men and women to think critically about social bias? And which one is more likely to (at best) demean women? Well… guess which one actually passes the “feminist” Bechdel test? Yeah. And this is what non-storytellers have to offer the world of writing. It’s great for educational textbooks, but horrible for stories.

What’s the first rule of writing? Don’t overthink it. The first rule is to write what you want. When writing stories, you don’t have to write for your mom, your professor, feminist critics, the government… you are in charge. Sure, the beta-reading and polishing phases will require a little more thought, but for the first draft, no one hired you to write a politically-correct vampire romance. Don’t ever let a non-storyteller tell you what to do.

Write the story that only you can write.

Sincerely,

Hannah A. Krynicki

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23 thoughts on “Dear Fellow Writers: Do What You Want

  1. Thank you for this article, Hannah! I agree 100%. Not including two main women characters in your story doesn’t make you sexist (I mean…what about Lord of the Rings?! Well, I guess Éowyn and Galdriel are main characters, but the Fellowship is all “men,” and I would argue this is some of the best literature ever written!), and not including multiple ethnicities in a story doesn’t make you racist. Writers should have the freedom to write what they want (IT’S CALLED FREEDOM OF PRESS!), and if people are angry about the so-called “racism” and “sexism” in your stories, let them be angry. They don’t have to read the story if they don’t want to read it. But there’s always someone you can reach with a story, so even if you think that “no one will like it,” someone will. Just leave it to God to make sure that the right person reads your story. 🙂

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  2. Good thoughts. 🙂 It really bothers me when people believe something and then don’t act on those beliefs because “they’re scared” or it’s “not politically correct.” As a bit of a social critic, there probably aren’t that many people who agree with me, but I can still write what I believe to be true. We have the right to live and move and have our beings according to our beliefs, after all. In fact, if we have that right, we also have a duty to act on it. We won’t see God’s work in our lives and writing if we back down from every problem. 🙂

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    • Yeah, even if no one else in the world thinks the same way as us, that oughtn’t to stop us from writing what God tells us is true. And what you say about the duty to act on rights is so important: our right to speak freely is also a duty to speak truthfully.

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  3. Amen and thank you! I hate how so many people are scared to write now, because everything is cross examined and if you even write about your beliefs that gasp somebody else DISAGREES with, you get labeled as a horrible person. We don’t need to be afraid of writing. We should have freedom to write what we think! We are witnesses and we are called to write what we believe because God has given us this gift.

    God bless you, sister!

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    • Thanks, Rubix! That’s so true about the labels. Watching the presidential debate last night (another story entirely), I realized just how much of the two-party system, as well as much of American society, is based on labeling the other guy or gal who disagrees with you. It’s so much better to care about other people and just give people a chance to talk.

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  4. Thank you for taking the time to write this! It really annoys me when people take equality to the point of it being ridiculous. While it is nice to show fairness to differnt kinds of people, it is unnecessary for non-writers to try and give their advice to writers about how to write. :/

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  5. I’m a little late to the game here, but this is so important.

    Personally, I think the Bechdel test is great… but only when it works with the story. Really, if someone wrote a fantasy novel with a lot of ethnic diversity in a setting that didn’t fit, I’d call that poor storytelling research. Context matters so much here. Your 50 Shades of Grey vs. 12 Angry Men example is excellent!

    I wouldn’t totally give up on the Bechdel test though. There are wonderful books that pass, too. (Harry Potter comes to mind. I know some Christians oppose the witchcraft, but if you make it to the end there’s a huge Christian analogy). I like to take the Bechdel test as something that makes me stop and think, not a steadfast rule. Same with considering whether a story I’m writing has enough diversity. No one should feel forced to make changes that detract from their story, or the story’s message.

    It’s really, really not possible to represent every lifestyle fairly 24/7… that would be writing a story where nothing happens. You need biases to have a proper story 🙂 Besides, without biases writing would never have a positive influence on anything.

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    • You’re exactly right! Writers do just fine telling nuanced stories without sociology staring over our shoulders. It’s the story that matters, not so much the individual scenes. 🙂

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  6. I’d argue, though, that E.L. James (the author of 50 Shades of Grey) is just as much a storyteller as Tolkien — not a “non-storyteller” to quote you. Is she as good as Tolkien? Nope. Do I particularly like 50 Shades of Grey? Not really. But a big part of everyone being allowed to write what they want, is things like 50 Shades of Grey being written. And accepting that, yeah, it’s a story too. And it’s one a lot of people enjoy reading — and there’s nothing wrong with that! There can’t be censoring of some things but not others. No one is forced to read 50 Shades of Grey.

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  7. LOL, I think you’re a little confused; I didn’t say Ms James and other authors who pass the test are “non-storytellers.” (My debut novel passes.) I said that some books happen to pass the Bechdel test, but they don’t answer to it. 🙂

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  8. LOL I guess I’m misinterpreting? I’m not still talking about the Bechdel test. Maybe we’re referencing different paragraphs? See italicised:

    ‘Let’s look at it this way. 12 Angry Men or Fifty Shades of Grey: Which one is more likely to encourage men and women to think critically about social bias? And which one is more likely to (at best) demean women? Well… guess which one actually passes the “feminist” Bechdel test? Yeah. And this is what non-storytellers have to offer the world of writing. It’s great for educational textbooks, but horrible for stories.’

    I could be wrong, but I thought you were calling consider E.L. James a “non-storyteller”? (nothing to do with the Bechdel test).

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    • Yup, I think it’s a bit of pronoun confusion. “This is what non-storytellers have to offer” refers to “the Bechdel test” of the last sentence. After all, it wouldn’t make much sense to say Fifty Shades or 12 Angry Men is great for educational textbooks, would it? But no problem. 😀

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  9. Sorry for jumping in late on the game. Once again I have nothing but praise! It’s just another amazing post by the Hannah!! I admire your bravery in calling like you see it!

    Now that I’ve said something nice (Which I mean with all my heart!) I now get to tell you that I’ve just tagged you for the Q&A Tag game!

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