Political Correctness in Creative Writing


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“Political correctness” has gotten a bad rap.  These two words strung together have become a catch-all for some people who regard it as another way to say “oppression.”  These people want to be free to do and say what they want without regard to others or the civility of the society in which they live.  Do you know what political correctness really is?  Gina Hunter, at Eyes on Life in April 2013, posted her take on it, and I tend to agree with it.  I’d add now that people who stand against political correctness may do so in order to maintain their feelings of power over people they view as inferior in some way.  Usually people who feel power and control over others will not surrender that power without a fight.  They need to feel powerful and in control because inside they feel powerless and insecure.

This week over at “Charles Ray’s Ramblings,” Charles Ray posted about political correctness in creative writing — should writers be politically correct or no?  If so, how far to go?  When does political correctness restrict creativity, if in fact, it does?  Charles writes, “Writing holds up a mirror to the world.  I agree.

Gina Hunter wrote:

What is political correctness?  PC says that you can’t discriminate against someone for his or her age, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or race.  It’s about treating everyone with respect, no matter who they are or where they came from, what they think or what they say.  It’s about accepting that other people don’t think the way you do, don’t feel the way you do, don’t believe what you believe or want what you want, and their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and desires are as valid as yours are.  How boring the world would be if everyone were the same.  PC is about getting along with each other, agreeing to disagree, not holding grudges, and listening with an open mind.

A-hand-writing-with-a-pen-006As a writer, if you regard your characters as people, then you’ll want to be true to them as the people they are, accept them as they are, love them unconditionally, then portray them in their stories as they truly are.  That doesn’t rule out doing so with compassion and respect.  If you have a character who happens to hate Italian Americans and his speech and behavior reflect those feelings, then it’s part of his or her characterization.  I think creative writing has the potential to reveal just how ugly and undesirable speech and behavior is that is not politically correct, i.e. disrespectful and unaccepting of others.  How abusive such speech and behavior can be, and how revealing also of the insecurity, fear and ignorance that fuels it.

No one is all bad or all good.  Human beings carry within them the potential for learning, change and growth.  I would suggest that when creating a politically incorrect character to keep in mind that taken to the extreme, without any redeeming qualities or beliefs, that character would not be plausible.  He’d be more of a caricature than a person.  Maybe you have a character who is a better than average father, works hard at being a good parent, but can’t see his own prejudices against people of a different skin color.  How does that affect his parenting?  How does he behave outside his home?  Is he confronted at his job or other places with people who trigger his prejudice? Does his wife share his prejudice or no?  You can see the rich potential in this situation — lots of potential conflict and obstacles — far more than if he were only prejudiced against one group of people.

In the same way, someone who is politically correct cannot be all good.  What flaws would this person have?  Maybe being politically correct is a constant struggle that she’s very aware of and working at.  Or maybe she makes a terrible mistake that reveals how deeply entrenched prejudices can be.  A character can have contradictions and conflicts within herself, just like any person can.  I see dealing with political correctness in creative writing as an opportunity to give my characters speech and behaviors, beliefs and attitudes, that readers can relate to as well as grapple with themselves.

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6 responses to “Political Correctness in Creative Writing

  1. Thanks C.C. An important post on this tricky subject with which you dealt extremely well… like most things there’s a fine balance to be drawn. The reader would be able to tell if the writing is finely crafted how delicate this balance is.

  2. mmmm, I note that what I shared on twitter is not your piece actually, but that doesn’t matter!

    • No worries, Susan! The link does come to this piece even if the blog name isn’t the right one. I write Eyes on Life too under a pen name….(smile)

  3. I’ve never thought of political correctness when writing. In fact, when I write, I don’t think, I feel, and witness and record. If I tried to think, I would plunk to the ground.

    • You’re lucky you can do that, Damyanti! My first drafts are usually more about feeling, letting the imagination play to its heart’s desire. But after that, I need to look hard at the characters, their behavior and thoughts, and figure out the PC issue. With Perceval’s Secret, I started out wanting to show there was a difference in attitude between 2048 and my present. With subsequent drafts, I winnowed a lot of that out because it didn’t always reveal character or move the story forward. And that’s the crux of the matter: whatever a writer does with her characters, it needs to either reveal character, move the story forward or both at the same time. In America, political correctness has turned into an “issue” and therefore can be used against a piece of writing, hence the care and attention to detail writers need to take. Thanks for the comment!

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