This post was originally shared on March 31, 2014. I will be back in early January with new material.
One of the more interesting discussions that’s been happening on Twitter recently has circled around this question.
Many of the writers and bloggers I follow say controversial subject matter should be kept private because bringing them up has a high probability of alienating potential readers. I understand their concerns, but there are some very good reasons for mentioning these things when it’s appropriate to do so.
It humanizes you. I follow an incredibly wide range of people online, many of whom I strongly disagree with when it comes to politics, religion, or the proper toppings for a pizza. If you gathered them all into the same room, the only things they’d have in common are a shared love of reading and kind, intelligent personalities.
Yet I like our differences. It’s fascinating to see how two people can believe completely different things and still arrive at the same conclusion or believe the same basic principle but interpret it in opposite ways. What’s even more interesting is to see how strongly the religion, culture, and country you grew up in shape the person you become as an adult. Not everyone responds to similar circumstances in the same way.
Of course there are times and places when it’s completely inappropriate to bring these things up, but honesty is valuable. You can
Some stories require it. Last year I read a young adult novel written by someone who very quietly interjected a lot of symbols and memes from her religion into the plot. The characters were specifically described as people who had grown up with no religious instruction at all, yet they kept saying and doing things that were obviously pulled from this tradition.
Ordinarily I’d have no problem with this. A few of my favourite books were written by people whose were clearly heavily influenced by their faith, but I don’t like being surprised by ideology regardless of whether or not I agree with it.
The sneakiness of this particular novel bothered me even more because it was marketed in a way that completely overlooked its religious undertones. Had I known what to expect from the beginning I would have enjoyed the second half of it a lot more.
The rest of us will (probably) figure it out anyway. It’s extremely difficult to write anything without injecting your values into it somewhere. I’ve read a handful of authors who successfully created well-rounded, believable characters whose beliefs shared little to nothing in common with their creators, but this is a rare talent.
Most of the time story-tellers leave an imprint of their worldview somewhere in the plot. Despite the awesome archetypal villain on your right, this isn’t a bad thing. Your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) and political affiliations are influenced by your experiences, personality, and background.
The choices you’ve made regarding them provide important fodder for past, present, and future stories, and I believe you can acknowledge that without casting judgement on the lives of people who don’t see the world the same way.