I’m going to talk about strong writing today, but first, I have a joke for you. So a white comedian walks into a bar. He steps on the stage and says: Racism! The racists and white allys™ laugh, no one else does. In the news that night, the white comedian is applauded for his progressiveness.
I first heard of this idea when watching a documentary. I forget what it was, but it stated that if a comedian tells a racist joke that everyone in the audience laughs. Those who aren’t racist, understand the context and that it was “just a joke”. But the racist in the room hears everyone is laughing and believes everyone thinks the same as them. And why not? Everyone is having fun right now. Right??
A lesson from my favorite editor is that words have a weight on the page. I don’t mean socially, I mean for readability. If you can say something in fewer words and still convey your meaning you’ve done your job. You actually don’t need much more advice because that one suggestion covers a lot of it.
Which brings me to my point today. To have strong and diverse writing you can’t just say haha racism! And leave it as that, because the people experiencing it don’t find it funny. Nor do LGBT+ people when they are included, but killed off or made the joke. Nor do rape victims when they have to explain to you why something is bad, because haha rape sucks, obviously? Oh, that didn’t come off on screen that way? Oh well, there’s no more time!
Mirroring a trope is not changing the trope. It is not calling out the trope. And we as writers, cannot assume we are better or greater than every writer who has done it before. If you are going to have homophobia, or racism, or sexism, etc in your narrative you need to not only spend the time and words on that, but also the time to draw a huge circle around it with shining lights that flash bad, bad, bad.
I see so many TV shows lately getting applauded, and congratulated for “facilitating the discussion” when in reality the show didn’t do anything. These “discussions” have been happening for centuries. And while I can’t stop TV studios from doing these things, I can tell you that strong writing comes from the puzzle you assembled. Not the pieces laid out so your readers can collectively put together.
Nor as consumers, should we agree that they are doing anything remarkable either. That’s a lie we tell ourselves to make enjoying something that would otherwise hurt our conscience.
And as writers, let’s do this soon, because the people hurting the most aren’t laughing.