Well, that’s one way of saying it. (img: Marina Caprara)Well, that’s one way of saying it. (img: Marina Caprara)

As is pretty obvious by now, life isn't pretty.  It's filled with warts and scars, both the literal type and the figurative, especially if the figurative is that guy behind you in line screaming at the top of his lungs for no apparent reason.  So, too, good fiction is liek that: Life imitates art imitates life, and just like in meatspace, people in virtual space can be jerks as well.

Of course, there's always going to be the point where you push too far and cross the line from jerk to outright offensive.  At that junction, you risk being blamed for your characters' words as if they were yours (after all, you did write them), regardless of wheter you believe it or not.  People will naturally assume that your characters are less entertaining and more your mouthpiece, because your work is naturally nothing more than an author's tract.

Nevermind that it's not true, it's the brush you're going to be painted with.

So how do you handle it?

For the record, this was brought about by a comment I had in a sort story I wrote, where a character thinks (not says, just thinks, mind) something about a friend of his that could be construed as racially insensitive:
Figures – I come here to sign the contract to join up as Psifiakon Technon’s new editor-in-chief and my new boss – probably the only black woman in history that likes hunting and outdoors stuff – wants to meet at the shooting range to discuss business.  

 Needless to say, my editor suggested that I change it, but I didn't think it required it, because:

  • The two characters are friends; he's just making an observation and to him (and likely to her as well), it's humorous
  • It's well established the speaker can be somewhat of a jerk at times
  • From my other writing, it should be clear that I don't think that way.  Granted, people do change, but given I had other stories being written at the same time, I think I validated my point.
  • I'm a minority myself, so I get a free pass on that (joking, of course.)  Seriously, if anything I would be more sensitive to those issues.

Honestly, the easiest thing would be to simply put a disclaimer that says it doesn't represent my views (and that's what I did, though I should point out that my readers assured me it wasn't necessary).  But at what point do I need to do it for and about everyone?  And at what point does it water down a story to nothing but an apologia test?  Despite the fact that I did it, I'm not convinced splashing trigger warnings left and right is the right thing to do.  I'd rather handle each complaint individually, but all in all, I'd probably not change anything.  Sure, people might get offended, but life is about offense and not everyone sees things their way (part of the reason they're mentioning it in the first place!)

I don't doubt other authors handle it differently, and it wouldn't surprise me if there was someone out there who would blush at even thinking about putting something like hte above in their works; and just as likely someone who would do it just to offfend and that the reader should just put on their big boy/big girl pants and deal.  There's a middle ground out there...but who knows what it is, really.

Thoughts?  Leave them in the comments below.

(I should also point out that my good friend Serdar Yegulap made a compelling companion piece here that I recommend reading.)