Here’s a handy dandy color reference chart for you artists, writers, or any one else who needs it! Inspired by this post x
"The Great Illusion", Lara Stone by Paolo Roversi for Vogue Italia May 2010
In light of our “Nazi Germany to write or not to write” discussion, I thought this post was very relevant.
I didn’t really consider, when I was writing my debut novel, A is for Angelica, which is available from all good book shops, that I might be tackling a controversial subject. It was only when I started sharing it with other people that I though, ‘Okay, maybe some of this is a little close to the bone, I need to get it right.’
The book is about stroke and caring for someone who has had a stroke. It’s about difficult decisions and the heartbreak of a loved one, on some level, being taken away from you. It’s supposed to make you think, as a reader, what would I do if I was in that same position?
So yes. A tough subject and potentially controversial. But that’s all right, isn’t it? We’re artists, aren’t we? It’s our job to tackle difficult topics. We should be bold and enlightening, not terrified into inaction, scared to shock and offend.
I certainly think so. But I also think that if you’re going to write about controversial subjects, you need to cover a few essentials before you get going.
Do your research
It doesn’t matter what you write about, you should always do a certain level of research. Some stories require more research than others, but if you’re going to write about a touchy subject, you need to make sure that you know what you’re talking about.
And that means taking more than a cursory glance at a couple of Wikipedia pages. You need to hit the library, buy books that you can own and scribble in, and contact organisations and relevant bodies.
I’m no expert on stroke or being a carer, but I did enough research to make me feel confident that what I was writing came from a position of knowledge and understanding. That’s really important. You need to know your stuff.
Ask an expert
You can read as many books as you like, but there’s nothing like speaking to someone who has been there and done it. Whatever it is you’re writing about, find an expert in that field and send them an email. Ask them if they would mind taking a look at your work and tell them you’d like their opinion.
Though I was happy that my potentially controversial passages were okay, I still needed some reassurance. I got in touch with a professor at my local University, a specialist in stroke and its effects. She read my novel and gave me the all clear.
Having an expert vet your work for accuracy and plausibility frees you up to concentrate on the writing. Similarly, any issues raised can save you a heap of editing work in the future. So get your expert in early. They can make a world of difference.
Do it for the right reasons
Controversy for controversy’s sake is one of my bugbears. You can tell when a writer is doing it and it never reads well. Being controversial without a purpose takes your reader away from the story and into your world. The world of an author trying to piss people off for no apparent reason.
Controversial subjects are there to be tackled, but make sure you’re doing it because it’s integral to your story. No other reason.
Prepare yourself for criticism
It’s likely that someone will take offence to what you’ve written. If you’ve done your research and got the experts in, that shouldn’t be a problem. You can rest assured that your work is accurate, plausible and handled correctly. Any complaints, well, it comes with the territory.
But you should still prepare yourself, because not everyone will see it that way.
Subjects tend to be controversial when they are emotionally charged and close to people’s hearts. They have impact because they touch a nerve. If you enter that debate, all be it through your fictional characters, you should be ready to defend your work. And that’s an incredible thing to do.
Write something bold. Make it brilliant. Defend it fiercely.
Don’t be shy
Finally, if you are going to write about a controversial subject, do it with gusto and empathy. If you are tentative, you will run into problems and your authorial shyness will come through on the page. It will lead to half-hearted characters and a plot that drifts.
Good writing challenges the reader and leaves them, hours later, thinking about what they’ve read and eager to return to the story. Controversy, really, shouldn’t come into it. A brilliant book is a brilliant book. So I say go for it, but be aware of what you’re doing. Make sure you get it right.
-Tips by Iain Broome
What about you?
How do you approach controversial subjects in your writing? Do you go all in and hope for the best or do you meticulously research and make sure you know what you’re talking about?
If you are writing for fun, and if you don’t want any help, please write any way that works for you. I am not trying to convert you to writing with a plan. It truly does not matter to me how you write. However, if you are struggling to finish a book that makes sense, I would love you to carry on reading.
Why should you do it?
When I used to teach Writers Write regularly, one of the first things I asked students was: How does your story end? I did this for two reasons. Firstly, as much as some people love the idea of working with meandering storylines, it has been my experience that those writers seldom finish writing a coherent book. Secondly, most people who go to workshops or sign up for courses are truly looking for help, and I’ve learned that the best way to succeed in anything in life is to have a plan. Successful people will tell you that you need to know where you’re going before you begin.
Smell the roses
This does not mean that you can’t take time to smell the roses, or explore hidden paths along the way. It simply means that you always have a lifeline and when you get lost, it will be easier for you to find your way back again. Remember that readers like destinations. They love beginnings, middles, and endings. Why do you think fans are terrified that George R.R. Martin will die before he finishes A Song of Fire and Ice? They want to know how the story ends.
Here are seven reasons why I suggest you write your ending first.
- If you know who the characters are at the end of the story, you will know how much you should reveal about them at the beginning.
- You will be forced out of the ‘backstory hell’ that beginner writers inhabit and into the story the reader wants to read.
- Hindsight is an amazing thing. We all know how different life seems when we’re looking back. We can often tell where a problem began. We think about the ‘what ifs’ with the gift of hindsight. You can use this to your advantage in fiction writing.
- You will have something to work towards. Instead of aimlessly writing and hoping for the muse to show you the way, you will be able to pull the characters’ strings and write the words they need to get them from the beginning through the middle to the end.
- Plotting from the ending backwards saves you so much time because you will leave out stuff that isn’t meant to be there. You will not have to muddle through an overwritten first draft.
- Writing the end forces most of us out of our comfort zones. We have to confront the reality of what we are doing. It might not be as romantic as flailing around like a helpless maiden, but if you want writing to be your profession, it’s good to make the outcome visible. This is a way to show yourself that you are serious. The end gives you a goal to work towards.
- The ending is as important as the beginning. Good beginnings get people to read your first book. Great endings get readers to buy your second book.
There are a handful of famous authors, like Stephen King and George R.R. Martin, who say they don’t plot. I think they just don’t realise they are those rare authors – natural born storytellers, and that plotting is instinctive for them. I have interviewed many successfully published authors and I can revel that the majority of them do believe in plotting. They outline, in varying degrees, before they begin. And yes, most of them know what their ending will be. Why don’t you try it? What have you got to lose?
I truly hope this helps you write, and finish, your book.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy 10 (Amazingly Simple) Tips to Get You Back on The Writing Track and The Author’s Promise- two things every writer should do. You could also read The Top 10 Tips for Plotting and Finishing a Book.
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I’ve been living on my own for almost 4 years now and I have like 50 tabs open.
Bless the person who put together this post, it ought to be made into a pamphlet for everyone in highschool/college.
I worship this post
Here’s steps for a painting that was pretty defining for me as an artist. It’s a bit older now, but still gives me feels and feels belong on a tumblr. Took three or so days I believe, all from imagination.
By the way I post a ton of my studies in my sketch thread here: http://forums.permanoobs.org/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2 Come by and say hi!