There’s a time and a place for everything. Being politically correct as a human being is great. Being politically correct as a writer is overrated. And boring.
I’m currently reading a throwback novel from the 90’s titled Friends and Lovers by Eric Jerome Dickey. This book is chock full of scandalous statements from candidly outspoken characters. I’m constantly raising my eyebrows and shaking my head. But I’m also still reading because I find it absolutely titillating!
One character equated deception by a man she was intimate with to rape. She felt that when a man lies or misrepresents himself to get in a woman’s pants that he is on the same gutter level as a rapist. Is this PC? Um, no. But it does tell me a lot about the character and what she represents. There are other instances in the book that reek of racism, sexism, and bigotry. Still, I can’t help but to remain intrigued because Dickey didn’t seem to write simply for the sake of shock value. I think he did it because he was striving to paint a true picture of the world as he saw it. He succeeded.
Each of the many characters throughout Friends and Lovers reminds me of someone I know or have known. The world is full of less than desirable people. People that are far from PC. If one of our jobs as artists is to portray the world as we see it, then we will have to include characters and phrases that are likely to offend someone, somewhere, at some point. And that’s okay. As long as we do it with grace and purpose.
Dickey’s characters are at times crass, but those same characters also display intense moments of compassion and humanity. It’s all totally believable because that’s how people really are. Hemingway said it best, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
So every once in a while leave your political correctness at the door and get down to the nitty-gritty business of re-creating people. No one will bite, I promise. And you might just cause a reader to stop and take a closer look at themselves and the world around them. If they don’t like what they see, perhaps they’ll change it.