“We are all familiar with a Herd of cows, a Flock of chickens, a School of fish and a Gaggle of geese. However, less widely known is a Pride of lions, a Murder of crows (as well as their cousins the rooks and ravens), an Exaltation of doves and, presumably because they look so wise, a Parliament of owls. Now consider a group of Baboons. They are the loudest, most dangerous, most obnoxious, most viciously aggressive and least intelligent of all primates. And what is the proper collective noun for a group of baboons? Believe it or not . . . a Congress! I guess that pretty much explains the things that come out of Washington.”
That said, writers face decisions of a “political” nature when they write. Every story has an audience with identifiable expectations. “Politically correct” expression infringes on freedom of speech. Where does the writer draw the line? Don’t use the “n”-word. Don’t use certain profanity like the “c”-word or the “f”-word. But, what if your character curses like a sailor and uses racial epithets? Or, let’s say you are writing a rape scene; would the rapist address his victim as “maam” or “miss” or would he slug her in the face and call her a . . . you get the idea. What is the writer to do?
I believe writers must “know their target audience” and write accordingly. For example, kids should not be exposed to certain concepts or foul words. What about writing for adults? Should adults be coddled like kids? Should writers produce non-offensive Pablum to placate sensitive readers? Is the writer selling out by softening language or protecting the reader from brutal realities that might fit the story? By resisting temptation to write the story as it NEEDS to be told, we become whores to the market. Here are my personal rules for writing about volatile topics such as politics, religion and sensitive stuff like gay scenes or “PC” subjects:
Rule 1: Never promote a political agenda. You instantly lose 50% of the buying public. Write for the left—you lose the right. Write for conservatives—you lose the left. Write for fishermen—you lose almost everybody. Most people don’t want to read about fishing and most fishermen don’t read. (just kidding!) Maybe that’s why writers like King stick to horror stories that are equally frightening to both political parties. That way, no book sales are lost to closed minds.
Rule 2: Never write strictly for men. Why? Many men don’t read unless there’s a centerfold in the publication, (Calm down, I didn't say ALL men.) The corollary to this is that most women DO read. It’s okay to write “for” women, because your potential market doesn’t shrink much. That explains the success of romance novels and sappy stuff like the Bridges of Madison County or Gone with the Wind.
Rule 3: Ignore rules 1 and 2 if you think you can make a bunch of money selling your story to fans of Hannity, Joy Behar or Billy Graham. Does this make you a writer-whore? Uhhh, yeah, but who cares? The ugly little truth is that ALL writers crave recognition for their work and many will gladly parade around bookstores, or babble in radio interviews, trying to enhance their sales.
So, if writers sell their services to the highest bidder, including years of promoting the book after it hits the market, then I guess the only remaining question is, “How far will you go for fame?” And, don’t deny that you would dress up in a giraffe suit and dance in front of Barnes & Noble, if it meant selling another dozen books. That brings me to my own "price" for success. I will do anything that is not illegal, immoral or totally tasteless to bring attention to my book(s). I recently bought a bagpipe and Scottish kilt. Picture a 300 pound, rugged-looking writer dancing along the sidewalk in front of your favorite bookstore playing Amazing Grace (the only song I know on the bagpipe) over and over. Wouldn't you be at least a little curious? Now, help me make that age-old decision . . . under the kilt? Briefs or commando? What do you think?