I’m planning a series on how to write about body modification, to start in May, but then I realised one of my points of discussion could be expanded into a full post, beyond just body modification.
One should never write about a topic one lacks any real respect, understanding, passion, or even basic interest for. To use my starting example, if you truly believe the majority of body modifications are sinful, mutilation, disgusting, stupid, etc., you have no business including them in your story. The same goes if you’re convinced those of us with mods, or who like mods but personally don’t have a lot, are just mindlessly following a trend, rebelling for the sake of rebelling, trying to be edgy or cool, depressed, mentally ill, or will automatically regret the mods at some arbitrary age.
It’s one thing to have a character espousing views you don’t necessarily share. I have characters who, e.g., have said some very Sinophobic, racist, anti-Catholic, sexist, or anti-Semitic things. If this character is just misinformed, a typical product of a certain time and place, or a straight-up bigot, that’ll show through. Normal readers won’t assume that means the writer holds those hateful views too.
However, when you’re imbuing a story so strongly with your own beliefs, that’ll show through too, and will alienate many readers. This is one of the numerous reasons why I can’t stand the late fraud “Dr.” Beatrice Sparks’s books. I have no problem with the facts that she was extremely conservative and very strong in her Mormon beliefs. Those were her genuine beliefs, and we all have to live our own truths.
What I dislike is how she overwhelmed all her books with these beliefs, projecting them onto every single character, pretending these were their beliefs. I’d have more respect for her if she’d at least been honest about her authorship, seriously toned down the obnoxious preachiness and unrealistic depictions of modern teens, and made these characters Mormon. Then at least it wouldn’t seem like some over the hill psychiatrist pretending to write in teens’ voices and having non-Mormon characters using such obviously Mormon-only language and concepts so often.
If you lack basic knowledge about what you’re writing about, you either aren’t the right person to be writing that story or character, or it’s not the right time yet to write this book. I’ve been there and done that, and now cringe at how certain characters come across. I’d never intended any offense or inaccuracy, but when I barely knew anything about observant Judaism, Sparky just came across as some shrill, overreactive PITA with a serious chip on her shoulder about other religions. She also did things a member of the Conservative movement, let alone an unmarried girl, wouldn’t have done in the 1940s, like covering her hair. I’m really embarrassed at this and many other examples of poorly-researched characters and storylines, since I’m not a bigot or ignoramus at all!
Maybe this is unreasonable and holier than thou, but it kind of annoys me when I see people writing about subjects they don’t seem to have a longtime passion for. As a Russophile of over 20 years, for example, I doubt every single writer who chooses Russia as a setting, particularly a historical setting, has that kind of passion for the language, people, culture, literature, art, and history. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t have a drop of Russian blood, but I’m a Russophile down to the very core of my soul. So I can kind of tell if someone chose that setting just because s/he thought it would be interesting, only has a passing interest, or thinks it might be trendy.
On that same note, you never want to make your story look like a huge pile of fanwank. Don’t show off all your research or passion for the subject. Make it a natural part of the book, instead of some comprehensive history lesson or swoonfest. And don’t just ram it in there for its own sake, like using a novel set in the 1960s as an excuse to name-drop as many bands and songs as possible, or using a novel set in the 1990s to waltz down memory lane.