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Dare We Write About Anything We Choose?


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I came across this presentation by novelist Lionel Shriver to the Brisbane Writers Festival, in which she defends the need, if not the right, of writers to be free to create any character and present any circumstance. I believe it is an especially important statement in this present-day atmosphere of cultural correctness. It is a lengthy read but worth the effort:


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Here's the NYT article on the address:


I've had a very few reader comments over the years that since I'm not really gay or married to a man, I shouldn't write characters that are. I have some empathy for minority authors, sexual or otherwise, who see themselves as disadvantaged in the marketplace, but I'm uncertain that preventing people from thinking or writing particular characters addresses that issue.

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A Korean woman complains a book about Korea by an American won the Pulitzer while one she wrote on a similar subject didn't. I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps the quality of the writing didn't have something to do with that.

I think anyone writing fiction can pick anything they want to write about. Readers decide whether or not there's merit in their work.

And of course critics will be critics and carp and disparage and whine. It's what they do best.


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Often the best writing on any subject is done by those on the outside looking in. It is hard to think of any writing on male homosexuality during the second world war that is better than Mary Renault's "The Charioteer". Look at how Arthur C Clarke deals with the issue of race in 'Imperial Earth'. The outside can often take a view of something that the insider cannot see.

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I think we can write what we want. I also think readers won't read anything else by you if their distaste is extreme.


There is a difference between writing what you want and writing about anything you want. Golding in 'Lord of the Flies' and Burgess in 'The Clockwork Orange' both tackled subjects which were unpleasant and distasteful. They both did so in a way that was not only not distasteful but was extremely good writing. One of the jobs of the writer is to explore that which is "unexplorable" and to ask those questions that should not be asked. To do that we must be prepared to go where other think we should not go. Our only excuse for doing so is that we do it with style and good taste.

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I'm gay and I write both gay-themed stories and non-gay-themed stories. If you look at my stories (novels, short stories, and flash fiction) on AD and CW, there are 85 in all. 35 of them, about 40%, are not gay-themed nor do they have a gay character.

I write what I feel like writing. Some have (non-graphic) sex scenes, some don't. Some have violence, most don't. Most have a male protagonist, some have a female protagonist. Some are about kids, some are about adults. A few are about animals.

Lionel Shriver said in her speech, you should write whatever you want. I think that if someone disagrees with your right to do that, tell them that's their problem and to get over it.

Colin :icon_geek:

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