Should Writers Be Sensitive in Their Writing?

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Should you worry about sensitive readers in your writing?

The idea of ‘sensitivity readers’ has been around the web lately and something I felt was worth addressing. I understand where they are coming from, but simply, in my case, I write for me.

I think advertising what is going to happen is important. Bloodshed? Sex? Disturbing images? Puppies being shoved into a blender and drank like a protein shake by the villain?

We shouldn’t be afraid of offending someone because no matter what you do, you are going to offend someone.

I think you need a thick skin. Gay characters holding hands? Well, that’s real life. Don’t want sex scenes beyond kissing or cut to the next morning? That’s fine, but writers write about the real world. These things exist and should be included in fiction regardless of offending people or not.

I can only imagine what The Wasp Factory or a Clockwork Orange would be like if it had to pass a sensitivity test. My point is that writers shouldn’t have to limit themselves to the insecurities of the reader. The writer’s job is to capture the world and show the beauty and the ugliness of it. Just like daily life, there’s no sensitivity buffer, and thus, shouldn’t be one for writing.

Now, I do agree things like rape or domestic abuse can offend some people or trigger them. And that’s fine. Once the book is advertised in a way that shows these themes, then the reader can make the decision if they want to read it or not. Not the writer. Sometimes writing is ugly, just like reality.

Write it. Embrace it. Do it anyway.

If you’re especially sensitive, there are apps such as Clean Reader if you want further research into this idea. The app promises to replace all profanity in your e-books, such a fuck becoming ‘freak’, dick becoming ‘groin’, bitch becoming ‘witch’ (which is offensive to actual Pagans or witches!) or my favourite: Jesus becoming ‘gee’ (which where I come from is slang for a vagina — not sure how that’s better!)

Writers spend a lot of time choosing each word carefully. If a profanity is in there, it probably deserves to be. The writer chose to use it. People use profanity in day-to-day life all the time. That’s the way it is. If you don’t like it, then don’t read it. Problem solved! I’ve discussed this further in my blog post about censorship in writing, which you should check out!

I feel sci-fi author Chuck Wendig said it best in his terribleminds blog:

“You may say, ‘But I want to read your books, just without all that nasty business.’ To which I say, ‘then I don’t want you reading my books. Nothing personal, but I wrote the thing the way I wrote the thing. If that troubles you, then I don’t want you reading it.'”

So, what do you think? Should writers be sensitive in their writing? Is it okay if it’s advertised through the blurb and cover art first? Where should the line be drawn?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Paul W. Ryan is the Irish Author of The Watchers series, Monster Hunter Extraordinaire series, Rage, and The Rot and Death. Be sure to prod him with a stick and throw him a bucket of fish heads once a week. It’s the only way he’ll get more novels done.