A controversial opinion (or: a rant about stupid stuff that’s bothering me).

17 Mar

People absolutely have the right to write about whatever they want to. But as someone who’s read a great deal of stuff, some professional, some not, I’m coming more and more to the conclusion that imagination is not enough for some things … to write about some subjects, you really have to earn the right.

That sounds harsh. But if you’re going to write about science, you would probably do some research, talk to scientists, make sure you had your facts straight.

But there are a lot of writers who think they can write about different experiences they’ve never personally experienced, experiences that bore right down into the core of people’s lives, and they get it wrong. Maybe not offensively so, but you can tell the writer just didn’t “get it” with an issue.

As an adoptive parent, stories that flippantly deal with adoption, or with an adopted child searching out their “real family” bother me. This is a valid subject, but in most cases, it is not handled with grace. In most cases, it’s a lovely little quest that reunites the child with some inheritance or family group, completely oblivious to the fact that that child already had a family …

As a person with Bipolar disorder, and the parent of a child with severe ADHD, I see these conditions used as jokes in many, many stories. And people try to write about them without really understanding how they feel to the person experiencing them. It’s one thing if its characters making jokes, quite another when its right there in the narration, or when ADD, or Bipolar are used as quick and dirty descriptors. Usually by people who don’t really understand what they mean, and haven’t bothered to talk to anyone with these conditions.

Divorce, death of a child, career paths, legal issues (this one’s for you, Jared), life in different countries, etc (this list could go on for thousands of words), you need to do your reseacrh.

No work of fiction should be completely research free, even if your research is simply digging into your own life.

The good news … no one gets through their first tweny years or so without becoming one of life’s walking wounded. We all have experiences that can be poured into the vessel of fiction and shared with others. And if something that hasn’t happened to you interests you as a writer … talk. to. someone. Even if it’s just having someone else read it to make sure you’re getting it right in the important ways.

This doesn’t even get into the area of writing from the perspective of a different ethnic group than you … do it. Be brave. Take a risk. But talk to someone, let others see your work. It will be stronger for it.

None of us are experts on everything. We are usually experts only on ourselves, and because of the nature of our lives, that does give us a wide base to stand on, but … let’s get it right, people.


Posted by on March 17, 2009 in Uncategorized



4 responses to “A controversial opinion (or: a rant about stupid stuff that’s bothering me).

  1. Unfocused Me

    March 17, 2009 at 1:51 am

    I’m going to take a wild guess that something specific got your attention, Chad; would love to hear more about it if you feel like posting a more detailed review of whatever it was.

    I agree with most of what you’ve said here, but I come at it from a different direction. I have, on rare occasion, been involved in cases that have made the local news. I’ve never been the lead attorney on those matters, but I’ve been deeply enough involved to see where the reporters got facts — basic facts, easy facts — wrong, because they were on deadline and didn’t have the time to get the details straight or the background to understand them.

    As fiction writers, we don’t operate on that tight a schedule, so we can afford to do some research. The old advice to write what you know was never intended as an excuse not to learn anything new.

  2. Unfocused Me

    March 17, 2009 at 2:59 am

    And I gave you an award. More like regifting. But still.

  3. C.E. Grayson

    March 18, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    totally agreed. i think i’m just tired of seeing emotionally “heavy” subjects handled flippantly, just for drama’s sake. The specific story I’m thinking of (was doing an online writing workshop thing) was someone who discovered they were adopted and went off to go find their “real” family. The writer was not adopted, had no experience with it, and didn’t understand why it might be insulting to a lot of people who did have this experience.

    I don’t need the storyline to line up with my biases, but at least don’t assume you know everything, you know?

    This writer also had a bunch of kids living in an orphanage, which … that really doesn’t exist anymore. There’s no baby store.

    So, yeah … there was a lot going wrong there. I ranted here instead of unleashing on them.

  4. C.E. Grayson

    March 18, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    and thank you for the award. it’s my first, and it’s going up on the wall of my office (as soon as i figure out how…)


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