Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Crossing the line

Stephen King says, “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.” Should an author be concerned about the impact of their stories on the reader? Is there a point where you believe that truthful is too truthful? Have you ever cut something from your book for fear of offending somebody?

by Dietrich

I sometimes think yes, what I’ve written could be seen as crossing a line, and it might offend somebody. But, at the same time, I’m writing crime fiction, and the characters who live between the covers are often unlawful and marginal, and in order to be true and believable they need to be untethered and allowed to do what they do. They steal and kill and do horrible things. The truth comes in allowing the characters to be authentic in dialogue and action. And to temper that would not sound or come off as believable.

“Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King

Good writing has to be about impact, and any author wants their writing to be powerful and memorable. It doesn’t mean the writing needs to be offensive to accomplish that end, but a character’s words and feelings can’t be softened or watered down. The words have to be bold and honest to hold the reader, and the impact I’m concerned with is to have a book that will keep the reader turning its pages. And if the language comes off too strong for some, I accept what I’ve written isn’t going to be for everyone. I just have to write the book that I’d want to read myself; in other words I have do the best I can. And that’s what keeps me interested from page one of the first draft to that final edit.

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” ― Salman Rushdie

The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” ~ Tennessee Williams

I sometimes cut things from a story, but not for fear of offending someone. I’m more concerned about boring somebody. Too many details or scenes that don’t move the story generally do the trick. When I’m researching I often find these great nuggets I want to work into the story, but in the end a lot of them have to be cut so that the overall pace doesn’t get bogged by interesting facts. So, there’s this balance to the whole thing, and by the time I’m done writing and editing, I want to end up with a book that will be sharp and engaging, allowing the reader to enjoy the ride. And what writer could want more than that?


Paul D. Marks said...

I really like all the quotes you mention, Dietrich. And Salman Rushdie certainly put his money where his mouth is, so to speak.

Brenda Chapman said...

Some thought-provoking quotes - good post, Dietrich.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks Paul and Brenda.

Susan C Shea said...

Thoughtful post and hard to argue with, Dietrich. As you say, if a particular reader isn't comfortable, she or he can set the book aside, but you will have made your character real enough to engender the dislike!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Susan.