Redacted for Offense

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a particular Free Write Friday picture prompt (Free Write Fridays from Kellie Elmore). What came from that free write session was about 1600 words of a relationship story, one that flowed so naturally from my fingers, I just couldn’t stop writing it. As I mentioned in that earlier post, what struck me as I wrote those characters was how much of a role their religion played in their dialogue. Their sexuality also featured prominently, which is one of the main reasons why I didn’t post the piece at the time. Because you never know who you might offend.

Generally speaking, offending potential readers is not something I care very much about. It’s my belief an artist should create Art that speaks from the soul, no matter how dark, bright, raunchy, or chaste. Whether the artist can then sell that creation if they so choose is an entirely different debate. But, the Art at its core should be honest. Otherwise, it’s not so much art or even craft, but simply a consumable.

Side note: I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with producing for consumption. Nor am I saying consumables necessarily exclude artistry, or vice versa. I think A Song of Ice and Fire has proven that pretty well. Besides, every one needs to eat, no matter how high-falutin’ their principles.

That said, I recently revisited that piece of free writing because I was curious to look at it with fresh eyes. I wanted to see if it really was as bad as I’d originally thought. Holding a marker, I went over and redacted everything I thought anyone could possibly find offensive in any way. This is what came of that exercise:

Redacted pages 1&2Redacted pages 3&4
If, for some reason, you’re interested in the actual words, click the images for a more legible experience (they’ll open in a new window or tab). The scene itself isn’t important, though. The reason for this exercise – aside from fueling my own personal amusement – was for me to see just how much black there’d be on those pages.

I’m not particularly smart, so I can’t write good mysteries or thrillers. I’ve only ever held a gun once, and never in a conflict, so I’m not qualified to write a big war epic. But, I understand people, and the everyday conflicts that can arise from personality and heritage clashes. I know love, too, because I experience it in my life every day. And I like sex, because…well, who doesn’t?

I don’t pull many punches when it comes to my stories. I try my best to warn folks ahead of time if a story contains questionable or mature material, but I also believe any individual should be able to decide for themselves if they want to continue or not. But, I’m writing these for me, first, and those topics are the ones I personally enjoy exploring. If they need to be redacted later, to fit someone else’s idea of what’s appropriate or salable, well, that’s life.

Have you ever redacted or edited something you’d written to fit someone else’s sensitivities? Why did you  do it? Or, if you didn’t do it, why not?

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10 thoughts on “Redacted for Offense

  1. When I was part of a writing group that met in person, I redacted material I thought might be offensive. I didn’t know the people that well at the time. Once I’d gotten to know them after several months of working together, I didn’t redact anything even though I knew some material would be controversial.

    I think my feelings changed from worrying about offending someone to worrying if I’m writing that material well. Comfort level had a lot to do with it, yes. I didn’t need an audience that I thought would be totally accepting of my ideas (and they were not), but I did need an audience that could deal with the subject matter objectively in order to get to the real issue at hand — did I write it well? For feedback sake, I think we have to find the right kind of readers so that we can be honest with our writing.

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    • That is a great point you make about the shift of concerns, Kate. You’re right that an artist’s or reader’s comfort zone doesn’t necessarily need to exist with the subject, but it should do with the skill. I’d say I have to agree personally, too, as a reader. I can handle most topics (even taboo ones), but, if written poorly, I’m usually not patient enough even to get through a few lines of dialogue. 😀

      Thanks so much for stopping by! I always value your thoughtful input.

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  2. A warning is always good to have, so be honest all you want in your writing!

    There was a section I had written where a character was swearing in his head when distressed, and some people didn’t like it, upset that he wasn’t comically angry like he usually was. I didn’t change it, because I wanted to show that he was genuinely furious.

    I did change one part, where I went and broke the fourth wall a little for fun, but I made the change because I didn’t like it. Most other things that readers didn’t like, I kept, reminding myself that if they wanted someone characterized a certain way, then they should write their own story.

    Great post for considering ourselves and the readers!

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    • I remember that, spooney. 🙂 I think characters – just like writers – need to be honest, too. (I thought you made the right call back then, as well.)

      There was only one little part of 1MC! I changed. Looking back now, I think that was the right call. Since even *I* was questioning the appropriateness of the moment, I knew it would cause trouble among readers. But, that was more editing for my own conscience than anyone else’s.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. This is an interesting question. I liken it to knowing enough not to swear when you’re on a job interview or talk about your sex life to your child’s kindergarten teacher.
    When I’m out and about in the world, I evaluate situations and see which behavior is appropriate for each one.
    When I write, I feel I’m creating my own world and therefore can make my own rules. It’s up to the other people to adjust their behavior to fit the word I’ve created. Some people won’t get it, others will. If they don’t like my world, that’s fine with me, they don’t have to be a part of it and I’m not offended.
    If I had a specific group I was writing for, like a children’s reading group or seniors or a piece for church, I would adjust my writing to fit the group. When I’m writing for myself, for others to read, I do not censor.
    If it’s not from my heart how can I expect it to touch someone elses?

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    • Hi, K,

      The job interview/mixed company comparison is a good one, especially in terms of audience consideration. Some topics will be beyond some readers…but, I never like to presume too much. I know I was reading beyond my “suggested level” at a young age. Of course, a lot of subplot went over my head until I was older, but it was still my choice to pick up those books.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Firstly, yay new post!

    Second; while I’m all for warning the audience that what they are about to read is for mature audiences and will contain adult themes or language. After all, there are plenty of things that people will find too explicit or offensive for their tastes.
    However, I’m not going to change what I have written once I am happy with it. Least not for that reason. Fix spelling or grammar? Sure, I’ll change that. But content? Sorry, no can do. And honestly, I took that lesson from you; to write what makes me happy. (Not that I’ve done much of that in a while. This whole “family life” aspect eats up a lot of time. Shocking, I know)

    Lastly, I thought your Free Write post was pretty good. There was a lot of subtext and history to it, and I’m curious if you will ever expand on it like you do your Songbirds. Could make an interesting story for NaNo.

    Hope you are enjoying the summer!

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    • Thanks, Shade. 🙂 I had this one written quite early, so I’m slowly getting back into my old routine of having posts ready to go. It’s a nice feeling, getting up to speed again after being in flux for a while.

      My opinion of writing what you – the writer – wants still holds. As I vacillate between trying to publish or not, though, I’ve become aware of what’s considered most salable. It does make me grind my teeth to think I’d have to change any of my stories, though. 😉

      This piece was basically a one-off, I think. Rollie and Ree are very amorphous, at this point. I have a much better handle on my older characters. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a story to tell, but I don’t think I could sustain them for a novel without rehashing issues I’ve examined before. And, I think I’d want to try something new for another NaNo. Thanks for reading, though!

      While it’s a bit of a cliche, hardships of family life are usually worth it. 🙂 Good luck!

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  5. So far, I haven’t run into this situation with my stories, but it could pop up in future ones. I agree with letting a potential audience know that “the following story may not be appropriate for younger or more sensitive readers.” But as long as what follows is true to the character and story, then an author shouldn’t feel the need to redact anything—unless s/he’s submitting to an agent/press that wouldn’t accept the piece as-is. Of course, if the piece needs to be changed that much for submission, maybe it’s not being pitched to the right people….

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    • That’s a good point you make about checking your submission rules, JM. I’m aware of that one, but should have mentioned it, as I’ve been halfway through submissions before I realized I was writing for the wrong audience! 😀

      Nice to hear that so many of my respected writerly folk have the same conviction for their words as I try to have. Here’s to not keeping our artistic mouths silenced! 😀

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