Authors Answer 42 – To Be PC or Not To Be PC

Political correctness has taken over, hasn’t it? It seems that almost anything can offend someone, so we make sure everything is gender neutral, religiously neutral, racially neutral, and so on. We don’t want to offend anyone, do we? But what about in literature? Should we be PC?

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 42: Does political correctness have a place in your writing?

H. Anthe Davis

I’m not sure what this means.  I don’t write Earth cultures, so the societies are different.  People fight about different things.  I do keep an eye out for story-elements that could be construed as racist/sexist from our perspective, but my personal opinion is that most of those problems, in fiction, come from treating the characters as props instead of people.  Since I try to fully flesh out my characters and their cultures, no matter how minor, I think it goes some way toward heading off those complaints.  Though I suppose there is one thing I do: I avoid derogatory terms for women or femininity unless they’re really necessary, because those just piss me off.

Paul B. Spence

Obviously you haven’t read my writing. J No, I don’t tend to be particularly politically correct, which is not to say I’m offensive for the sake of being offensive. I try to make sure I’m only offending the people I want to offend.

Caren Rich

Don’t get me started on this! I equate political correctness with censorship. My mama always told me there was a way to state your opinion without it being a personal attack. And she’s right. The first amendment guarantees you the right to BE offended. My high school government teacher was a brilliant woman. She told us repeatedly she would rather racists, and others, have the right to say what they want. That way you knew who they are.

In writing, we have to be true to our characters. People are not perfect and life is messy. We need to remember that when we write. It’s hard. I know I have a little voice that creeps up and yells, “Don’t write that! Your mama won’t like it.” At that point I have to re-evaluate what I’ve written and the character, to make sure that it’s still true to the story and character.

I’m not saying you should run out and write hate filled books and call it literature.  But at the same time, there is a way to write about difficult or unpopular ideas.

Eric Wood

It depends on the time period I’m writing. If I’m writing current material then political correctness has it’s place. I’ve written a few pieces where political correctness went out the window simply because my characters weren’t politically correct. I tend to be a PC person so my characters usually are, also. Writing non-PC is tough for me if I’m writing in the current time period.

Jean Davis

I try to portray my characters as honestly as possible. Some of them aren’t very politically correct. Some of them are. It’s not something that I give much thought to when shaping a story.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

Yes and no. I do make a conscious effort to avoid the kinds of things that tend to offend people and get them all riled up. However, I don’t hold back if I feel the story warrants it. So, for instance, in “Nowhere to Hide” there is a fair bit of profane language, because I felt that it would be ridiculously unlikely that everyone would remain prim and proper in the face of flesh-eating undead monsters. Above all else a writer has to make their story feel like it could really happen, to get their reader to fall deep into the world, and if you avoid political incorrectness it could very well be at the cost of making your characters and your story feel unrealistic.

Gregory S. Close

No.  Although delivering a sensible and honest diversity in my writing to engage the broadest possible base of readers does have a place.  I work to make sure that I represent different genders, outlooks, sensibilities, orientations etc. in a fair and honest way, both to the character and the delivery of story.

For example, I would never place a gay character into a story just to check off a “gay” box, but I certainly try to be aware that gay people exist, and that when creating a character it’s a realistic question to ask – is this character gay?  If the character is gay, how does that affect the character’s place in the story, or society, or with other characters?  The same question should be asked of other characteristics – should the character be black or white, male or female, etc. Star Wars fan or Star Trek, that sort of thing.

Short answer: I don’t really care about being politically correct, but I do want to be fair.  (I guess I should have just led with that)!

Allen Tiffany

No. I don’t think about political correctness at all. The only correctness I think about is how “correct” is the story and my story telling.

Linda G. Hill

I have to say yes. And no. If I’m narrating something in a novel I try to stay as unoffensive as possible. My characters on the other hand are bound to say anything that’s in their nature to say. I have very little control over them – if I try to control them it’s obvious, and my writing becomes boring to read.

D. T. Nova

That depends very much on what is meant by the term. Many things which I have seen some people denounce as “political correctness” were almost certainly not included for any such reason. I strongly suspect that, for example, the diverse relationships in my first novel would fall into that category.

I have said before that I do intentionally include characters who represent groups that I consider to be underrepresented.

However, I don’t intentionally pander to anything I don’t agree with. If I think a belief or practice is very harmful, I will not portray it without depicting the harm.

S. R. Carrillo

In general, my feelings toward actual political correctness are a little conflicted. What people consider PC is usually just an attempt at legitimate correctness, maybe not executed the best. So, sure. I guess you could say PC is in my books, although I stay away from labeling most things at all.

Jay Dee Archer

I will only use political correctness if it’s appropriate. That is, if it’s related to government, public relations, or customer service within a novel. All other situations, I’ll keep things more realistic. In everyday life, we don’t speak politically correct in general. So why should characters in a novel behave and speak politically correct? I don’t think they should.

If I have an offensive character, whether he or she is racist, sexist, foul-mouthed, or whatever else he or she may be, they will be offensive. I will not censor my character to protect the feelings of readers. Besides, when you read my novels, I want you to be offended by an offensive character. If you get upset with a character, then I did my job well.

Keep this in mind: the attitudes and opinions of my characters do not reflect my personal attitudes or opinions.

How about you?

If you’re a writer, how much does political correctness factor into your writing? If you’re a reader, do you feel novels should be politically correct? Let us know in the comments below.

17 thoughts on “Authors Answer 42 – To Be PC or Not To Be PC”

  1. Reblogged this on The War of Memory Project and commented:
    Thinking about Book 3, a couple characters really threw PC out the window — but that’s one of the sources of inter-character conflict, not to mention a driver of some of my religious and nationalist fanatics. Still, I stand by my answer here, at least when it comes to derogatory language; the characters seem to snipe at each other in roundabout ways, rather than going at each other with inflammatory terms.

  2. The answer is no. Fiction should be independent. Would H.P Lovecraft, the praised godfather of modern horror, be published if his work had to conform today’s bureaucracy? I doubt it.

    I agree with H. Anthe Davis. If you are writing a hate filled rhetoric thinly disguised as fiction you will be found out. If the story has been crafted with three dimensional characters, who attitudes and opinions are relevant to the story, then there are no boundaries.

  3. Having been in college during the last wave of PC (early 90s), I think a lot of it really had to do with self-censorship with an unhealthy dollop of projecting it onto everyone else. It had its valid points, but it also had its overbearing ridiculousness too. It’s the same now, only we have the internets as the projector.
    Put it this way–I’m all fine with making sure you’re not being a Grade-A a**hole on purpose. And if you *are* doing it on purpose, you’re only doing it for the attention. [See: D. Trump.] I kind of feel the same way about writers and fiction too. [See: Franzen.]
    It’s kind of hard to describe my personal stance on it as an author, because “PC” bears such a stigma. I tend to be more a follower of Wheaton’s Rule anyway–I might write some questionable things, but they’re there for a reason other than for shock value or proving a point. I just try not to be a Grade-A a**hole about it. 😉

    1. I should probably add that today’s actions by the self-professed “Sad Puppies”* at Worldcon this morning proves my point. Someone went to Kinko’s and printed out a big pile of one-sheets and placed them in a very public place for all to see. The contents of which were a grade-school-level “haha look at the retards” joke about SFWA at the expense of women, people of color, and other non-Puppy people. Really disgusting, tbh.

      *For those not aware, the Sad/Rabid Puppies are conservative-minded writers and readers who decided to stuff the ballot box of the Hugo nomination system by nominating a bunch of their own stuff just to prove a point. (What point I’m not sure, other than complaining that “the SF/F field is too full of PC and unicorns and not enough about the Manly Men doing Manly Male Things with Guns”. Or something like that.)

      [Sorry for bogarting your comments section. I’ll be quiet now. 😉 ]

        1. Really, it’s technically ALWAYS been a popularity contest, since it’s completely voted on by fans. [Unlike, say, the Nebula, which is more industry-focused, or the Locus, which is run by readers of said magazine.]
          Long story short, the Puppies are really just angry that a truly not-all-that-popular-anymore kind of SF is getting passed by, and they stacked the deck with whatever they had on hand (good quality or no) just to prove the point that they could game the system. And when that move backfired on them last night (their stacked decks were all No Awards this year), it convinced them that the Hugos were rigged by liberals. Or something like that.
          Really, it boils down to fear of change. Many of them really are rightwing conservatives who fear that SF readers are going to be forced to read about Blacks and Asians and Girls and Gay People and Feelings now. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. The genre is just evolving and becoming more world-inclusive, and that bothers them.

          1. I guess the Puppies won’t like my writing. I include blacks and Asians and girls and gay people, as well as feelings. Hell, my first book will have a female main character! Oh no!

            Honestly, I find these conservatives to be nothing more than children intellectually.

    2. I agree. No need to push anything on people just to get a reaction. There should be a reason for something. I may use some swearing, but that’s appropriate for the characters in question. There may be discrimination, but again, that’s a reflection of society and just a fact of some characters.

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