Saturday, September 03, 2011

Censorship

In these days of electronic communication, the idea of censorship is almost passe, since it’s now almost impossible to keep people from getting hold of and reading whatever they want, which of course doesn’t keep people from trying. I’m sure every author and avid reader has more or less the same attitude toward censorship, that being that it’s a bad,bad thing, and that the antidote to unsavory ideas is not less talking, but more talking.

But here is an interesting question for an author - how much do you censor yourself, and why? Of course, we all keep our target audiences in mind, and try to write material that will not offend them so much that they won’t buy our subsequent books. We don’t want to be killing any kitties or puppies unless we absolutely have to for the integrity of the novel. Nor do we wish to go too far beyond the language/sex/violence parameters set by our publishers or agents or editors lest they decide no longer to publish us.

But there are times when the story you are telling just calls for something shocking, or it won’t ring true. My self-censorship problems have to do with the mores of the times and the place I’m writing about in my current series. In 1910s Oklahoma, there were a lot of common and wide-spread attitudes that we in the 21st Century would find unsavory in the extreme - casual racism, even among people of good will who would never knowingly harm another person of any color; assumptions about women and people of other ethnicities; the treatment of children. Can you imagine what would happen today if a parent took a belt to a whiny child in the grocery store? In 1915, it would be expected. Language, too. Words that today would give the hearer a stroke were tossed about with abandon and nobody batted an eye. And I don’t mean just epithets, either. My grandmother, a farm wife with the straightest laces you can possibly imagine, used all kinds of what we would now call scatological words. In her society, crude words for excrement didn’t have nearly the cachet they now have, probably because people were up to their knees in it every day of their lives.

But I don’t want readers to judge my characters by modern standards and thus think less of them. Nor do I want to present early 20th Century societal shortcomings in a way that makes light of them or seems approving. So how do I deal with the reality of the time and place? Very, very carefully, let me tell you.

4 comments:

williamdoonan said...

I think writers censor ourselves all the time. We don't normally write anti-Semitic characters unless absolutely called for. We don't tend to make negative statements about Muslims. And nearly every last one of us censors our political views from our fiction, so as to not alienate half of the reading public.

William Doonan
www.williamdoonan.com

Donis Casey said...

I think you're right, William

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