Do you have a writing taboo? Is there something you wouldn’t include in a piece of fiction? Do you have reading taboos? Is there something in a book you hate to read?
Firstly, a definition:
a social or religious custom prohibiting or restricting a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.
prohibited or restricted by social custom.
If you want a distraction, watch the video and listen to the silky smooth tones from Sade. It has nothing to do with this blog post, other than it has the word “taboo” in the title.
Anyway, on with the discussion.
Do you have any taboo subjects for your writing, or your reading? Some things makes us uncomfortable – for me, it’s anything where women are abused, physically or psychologically. For one of my friends, it’s any violence directed at animals. Some readers don’t like any swearing in the books they read – “no cuss words”.
Some people have few, or no, taboos. I’ve read some “transgressive fiction”, which at its worst is an excuse to use the very worst profanity, words that I don’t use in polite, or even impolite, company. A wide variety of subjects are given an airing. And many of these subjects are in areas that make me squirm.
A few years ago, a Twilight fan fiction author, Erika Leonard, began writing a story called Master of the Universe. I was published for free on a number of platforms. And people LOVED it. And then she created a book called Fifty Shades of Grey, under the pen name E.L.James. And she sold squillions of books.
Are these good books? In my opinion, no. Is Erika a great writer? Meh. Not really. But what she does is tell a good story. And she suddenly found a deep well of readers who wanted to read this stuff. I bought the first book, read the first chapter, and then didn’t read any more. The writing was clunky, and the subject matter distasteful. And it fell into one of my taboos – the physical and psychological abuse of women. No titillation for me! As readers, we all have pretty firm ideas of what we want to read, and what we don’t want to read.
As authors, we should feel free to write about whatever we want to write about. Nothing should be off limits. And like the transgressive authors referred to earlier, sometimes you gotta push the boundaries. Find out where your own particular boundaries are.
And here we come to the crux – we, as commercial, full-time, earning-a-living-from-our-writing authors, need to make a decision. Do we want to do art, or do we want to eat tonight? My tongue is in my cheek, but I hope you see my point. We can write the most awe-inspiring book, but if no one wants to read it … what’s the point?
We don’t, and we should not, write to market. We shouldn’t chase the big numbers on Amazon, writing romance because it’s the single biggest-selling genre out there. No. We should write what inspires us, and what we want to write. But as commercial authors, we should always have one eye on the requirements of our readers. Are they going to like this stuff? Are enough of them going to buy these books that I can make a living from this?
There is no clear answer. You need to figure it out yourself, I’m afraid.