There’s a fine line between being an edgy writer and being an offensive one. If your writing tends to be a bit raw, it’s important that you understand how to navigate this tightrope. The literary world does not take kindly to racists, misogynists, homophobes, or other individuals with an overtly offensive agenda masquerading as writers. However, writers most certainly CAN write about racist, misogynistic, homophobic, or other characters with less than desirable traits.
One of the greatest tools that any writer can do to learn how to write well is to examine the works of authors who have pulled off what you are attempting to do. One incredibly unsavory character in fiction is Patrick Bateman, the Wall Street yuppie serial killer in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. Bateman is a racist, sexist, homophobic, classist murderer; he’s clearly not a choirboy. However, Ellis’ work was published, became quite popular in literary circles, and even became a blockbuster Hollywood film. Why did it not meet the same fate as other writers who receive immediate rejections when writing similar material? The answer is simple—because Ellis handled his character quite skillfully.
Below are a number of tips that should help those who are attempting the sometimes difficult task of writing offensive characters:
1. Be incredibly careful about using insensitive language. Don’t overdo it (or use it at all) unless it’s absolutely demanded. Don’t use offensive language outside of dialogue unless the narrator is the individual with these tendencies or a similar individual.
2. Write well. It’s simple enough, but if your story is not up to snuff, it’s a lot easier to misconstrue the sentiments of a character for the sentiments of the author.
3. Ensure that the offensive character’s perspective is challenged in some way by reality.
4. Make sure that any other characters who would be subjects for your character’s biases do not fit your offensive characters’ stereotype, unless there is a specific reason necessary for them to do so to make your story work.
5. Don’t resort to cliched tropes. If your offensive character’s been done a million times before in literature and the popular imagination, not only is it unoriginal, but it has quite a higher likelihood of being construed as offensive.
Writers should have no limits. Writers should be free to depict anything. However, make sure that when you’re writing, your readers don’t get the wrong idea about who you are as a person by following these guidelines.