Last week we discussed the topic of diversity (find it in our archives here!) and the importance of portraying diverse topics in a sensitive nature that avoids stereotypes and misconceptions. Today we’re exploring the flipside of that: whether to be “politically correct” or not in our writing. Many classic books have been banned over the years for this very issue; they’ve used racist language or taboo subject matter in their storylines, which oftentimes sparked indignation and even outrage from the reading community. There have even been instances when books with these topics have been “edited” for political correctness, with racist terms removed or replaced (Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has had several edited versions published so that the “n” word was removed), and even entire sections deleted from the author’s original work. Is this acceptable, or is this a violation of free speech? It’s an issue all writers, artists, and content creators must face, as the entire concept of creating is often to question stereotypes and cultural constraints and bring light to the struggles of minorities and the marginalized. Before we dive into how to tell whether your content is “appropriate” or not, first let’s define political correctness as a whole:

Political correctness: the avoidance of forms of expression or actions that are perceived to marginalize, insult or exclude groups of people who are discriminated against or are socially disadvantaged in some way. This would include the avoidance of terms that are deemed negative, derogatory, racial slurs, or other verbiage that is “exclusive” in some way—i.e. using gender neutral terms like “post worker” instead of “postman” or “postwoman,” or “vision impaired” as opposed to “blind.”

Some authors or artists would argue that their intentions in particular writings would be lost if a politically correct angle or term was used instead, and this is a valid statement. Books frequently address topics that make us uncomfortable, and rightfully so, as they might be the tipping point to raise awareness about unacceptable conditions for human beings, animals or the environment. When writing a book that deals with sensitive subject matter, it’s important to ask yourself some questions:

Is the Material Gratuitous in Any Way?

The definition of “gratuitous” is unwarranted, uncalled for, and/or lacking good reason. When writing content that is addressing the struggles of minorities and the marginalized, an author must be aware of the intent behind the politically incorrect verbiage used in their work. Is it for shock value? Are certain phrases or terms or situations taking place to create buzz and outrage, or to paint a meaningful and unflinching picture of an injustice in society? Sometimes it’s hard to tell, which is why an author should defer to our next recommended step.

What Have Editors or Beta Readers Stated Regarding the Content?

One of the most important roles an editor plays in the writing process is providing a “temperature” and outside viewpoint regarding the author’s work. As a writer, it can be nearly impossible to step away from one’s book and observe it objectively, which is why Midnight Publishing’s editing services are so vital to the development and revisions of a book’s journey from start to finish. Another valuable resource can be found in beta readers (early readers who see the book in its “pre-publication” form), who you can request thoughts and opinions from about the subject matter. If a recurring theme occurs from several readers who state that they feel the content isn’t handled well in a certain area, or that they had a visceral reaction to a scene but didn’t feel it was “overkill” or done for shock value, that provides the author with a much better idea of the material’s real comprehension rather than it’s intended meaning.

Have you written a book that deals with sensitive subject matter and requires a second pair of eyes from some award-winning editors? Midnight Publishing has been trusted with over five million words so far, and we’d love to provide editing assistance at any stage of your manuscript. Contact us today to discuss your book’s needs and get a free sample edit of your first 1,000 words!