Fear in Writing: "Terrorist-Coddling Warmongering Wall Stree-Loving Socialistic Godless Muslim ____"

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Terrorist-Coddling Warmongering Wall Stree-Loving Socialistic Godless Muslim ____"

As you can probably guess, the title of this post is a reference to President Obama, the 44th President of the United States.  But this post is not about him, or even the government.  It is about perception.

The title is a quote--the cover of the September 6th edition of Newsweek.  It began with "The making of" and ends with the word "President."  The magazine then goes on to paint Mr. Obama as 'The Illustrated Man,' a reference to Ray Bradbury's 1951 book by the same name in which a time-traveling witch covers the man's body in images.  Those images tell tales and make it difficult for the man to hold a job.  He says, "I'd like to burn them off."  But he can't.  Newsweek makes the analogy to President Obama in that "his enemies...have been busy for three years painting Obama as some kind of alien threat," and, just as the Illustrated Man struggles, the President cannot seem to shake the accusations.

Regardless of your political persuasion or feelings on the questionable adjectives given to the U.S.'s current President (though I will state for the record that I don't believe in the Kenyan birth certificate and I also don't think calling him a Muslim is an insult--the latter being a real sticking point for me in all of this controversy), you have to admit there is a problem with perception.

What is True or Factual is not necessarily what is Believed.  Rumors aside, multiple people can read an article about the President and take away many different things.  The same is true in life--witnesses don't always report the same observations about one event.  For example, we attended my son's soccer game Saturday and will readily admit he had trouble listening to the coach.  That being said, it's the U5 league and we aren't that concerned about whether he really learns the game, so much as that he has fun and enjoys exercising for sport.  At one point, Jake and another boy ran down the field behind a boy from the other team.  We saw them all swinging their little arms, but it didn't appear to us that they were actually fighting.  The coach then lifted Jake up, squeezed him to his body and carried him away, holding him in that position while he spoke with Jake.  Once he was set down, Jake ran to us on the sideline in tears.  To our perception, the coach's reaction was far from acceptable and did not fit the situation.  But, as my husband and I discussed how to deal with it, a parent next to us pointed out that the kids had been hitting each other and the coach was just separating them.  Our eyes widened.  We hadn't seen it that way at all!  We were ready to admit our child's fault in not listening (and had seen the coach react strongly to this in the past), but the swinging arms by three children did not constitute a fight in our minds, especially given the happy looks on their faces and the lack of furrowed brows.

I did not write this post to make my case in the soccer situation, though it feels good to write it all down.  My point is that perception may or may not be reality, and how this impacts what you write.

When you write, do you take into account how it might be interpreted?  Do you ask yourself, "Will making the MC a bit slutty insult readers to the point of not reading my book?" or "Does this joke go a bit too far, even though the character saying it is not supposed to be liked?"  Or, do you write what you want regardless, and hope the critics and the public will swallow it all?

Perception.  Truth.  Facts.  Believing.  These are all loaded words.  And there is no Right Answer, just your perception.


  1. Perception is important, I think, to published writers. If they're going to stay published for long, they need to take their readers into account. You hate to have to think that way, but publishing is a commercial endeavor as well as an artistic one.

    I wouldn't have thought the boys were fighting, either! Wow.

  2. It's interesting to read different POV's, and see a celebrated victory is also a crushing defeat. Unspeakable evil is also a necessary gesture as a means to an end. It helps that characters that aren't liked are at least understood. I hope to master this in my writing!

  3. Oh, the perception versus truth business is very tricky. For as soon as the sun shines, a shadow is formed! I think that we have to believe in the perceptions of our protagonists until they don't. At that moment of unveiling we can help them through the painful process of realizing that being right isn't really that important.Jan Morrison

  4. I am pretty sure the kids were not fighting- that is how kids that age have fun!!!
    And yes, perception is almost as important as reality- perhaps even more so. Which is the pity, because that means it has to be managed :-(

  5. I like authors who dare to (possibly) insult the readers. The best authors have often done that, because they have presented new ideas. It takes some guts to become a good writer.

    Cold As Heaven

  6. Elizabeth- I suppose what you're saying ties in with 'knowing your genre.' And, yeah, it was a frustrating moment.

    Will- Every few years someone writes about how a country interprets a war or battle. Usually the question is "How does the perceived losing side teach the war to their school children?" Sometimes educators are just flat out teaching lies, and sometime they are giving their society's perception.

    Jan- I love the comment about the sun--perfectly on point and a great image. Now, if only someone could teach our political parties that "being right isn't really that important!"

    Rayna- I agree, which is one reason it is so maddening. Secondly, if perception is as important as reality and taken as such, does that mean perception really IS reality?

    Cold- But it definitely has to be done well and with an idea that is important. If one insults the reader just to make a crude joke, that doesn't really seem worth it. But if it is to make a valid point, I can see the result being worth the risk.

  7. Michele - What a thought-provoking post about perception. It all really is about perception, isn't it? And for a writer, it's about how well we keep in mind what the reader is perceiving. If we do that, we can reach the reader, keep the reader engaged. Oh, and if one's a mystery author, use the reader's perception to fool him or her with "red herrings ; ).

  8. Margot- Yes! Using perception to your advantage! I hadn't gotten that far in my thought process. Great point!

  9. I worried about perception of the relationship of my two main characters and even rewrote several scenes to ensure they were not viewed as more than just good friends.

  10. Margot's right, it's very interesting. Because we all see things differently. Even Fox News believes they're right. I guess we have one view and try to fit everything we see into that view no matter what it may look like to others.

  11. Alex- Aaaah, the ol' love-or-friends scenario. Interesting that you saw it before publication and really wanted to drive readers' perception.

    Clarissa- Ha! Some beliefs are just hard to believe. It's a dangerous attempt--forcing others to believe in on idea. That's how we get dictatorships and genocide and theocracies and...Get the point?

  12. That's a complicated question. You want readers to love (or at least root for) your protagonist and hate the antagonist (mostly), but the protagonist has to overcome obstacles and sometimes those obstacles could be things within the character.

  13. This is what I learn when other eyes read my work - what I wrote will be interpreted in different ways by different people. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised, sometimes not. There are things I don't want misinterpreted, and if that's happening I rewrite - or get someone else to read it to see if it happens again. If it does happen again, then I definitely rewrite.

  14. It's interesting that in my last book, readers perceived the main characters so differently. All depends on one's past expereiences I guess.

  15. Yes, as in all things, words can be taken in the wrong way. I try to reinforce the comments my characters make with facial expressions and body language, but sometimes they just come across weird. That is why I am wso grateful for my Beta-Readers...they help me clear things up!

    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  16. I think it's important that a writer keeps their potential audience in mind, but to an extent. If all writers were afraid of what someone might think of their work, I don't see them getting very far! Either that, or their book would be too similar to another.

  17. As a mystery writer the chasm between perception and truth is key, almost instrumental, in telling a good story. It is what allows us to lead our reader down dead-ends.

    But in the real world...perception usually sucks!