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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Doth This Offend You?

   
Author Topic: Doth This Offend You?
philocinemas
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I recently developed a new idea for a story (possibly novel-length). However, I'm afraid the subject matter may be greatly offensive to a large number of people.

The story would be about a person who recently arrives in heaven to find that it is nothing like any religion has described. God and heaven does not "look" like what he expects (possibly perceived by some as unpleasant looking), there are also aliens and animals (that speak) in addition to humans, there are various problems in heaven that the MC is discontent with, and he is given a job that involves traveling to "places" and doing things he does not particularly like.

This would be satirical in nature, along the lines of Douglas Adams' stuff.
Now, my questions are:
Does this sound offensive to those of strong faith?
How do I write this without it becoming the next Satanic Verses?
Would a "Huckleberry Finn" type disclaimer at the beginning help it be more acceptable?


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Robert Nowall
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Probably it will...but don't let that stop you. Especially when it hasn't stopped anybody yet. (Heinlein's Job, several books by James Branch Cabell, Farmer's "Riverworld" series, and lots of others whose names elude me.)
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BenM
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> Does this sound offensive to those of strong faith?
Thinking back to a time when I was a bit more fired up about faith issues than I am now - I still rarely got bothered by stories like these, there are plenty more out there. I just didn't read them.

> How do I write this without it becoming the next Satanic Verses?
Steer clear of certain religious icons. But then again, The Da Vinci Code got stuck right into a particular Christian icon, got the book condemned by the Catholic church, and I suspect sold a squillion copies as a direct result. But then I don't see the premise of your story being quite so controversial, personally (because it rewrites religion as a whole, rather than a targeted set of beliefs).

> Would a "Huckleberry Finn" type disclaimer at the beginning help it be more acceptable?
You can't keep everyone happy...

[This message has been edited by BenM (edited January 09, 2010).]


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Crank
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Write the story in any way that entertains you. If a person's 'faith' or 'belief' is so weak that it cannot stand a little satire, the problem is hardly yours.

S!
S!


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Merlion-Emrys
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Yeah this kind of thing is definitely nothing new...I think Carlton Mellick III and some of the other "bizarro" writers have done this sort of thing too.


Remember, some hardcore people of some faiths find ALL speculative fiction (especially fantasy and horror) to be offensive/blasphemous/whatever, so chances are you're already writing stuff that would offend some people.


For me, because I am strongly spiritual but don't adhere to a specific religion/faith, I would just see it as another point of view or possibility.


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extrinsic
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The hereafter depicted as a metaphysical dystopia metaphorically reflecting the mundane realm turns a hierarchal notion of religions upside down. As it is below so it is above. Dante Aligheri's Divine Comedy depicts perdition as a hierarchal bureaucracy.

Seems to me a best practices way of depicting the hereafter is in a satirical light. That has a built in plot structure for being a dystopian milieu with a tendency for forelorn accommodation to the status quo to overcome. The protagonist is beset with a cognitive dissonance to reconcile, internal and external conflicts, private and public complications.

One way that might blunt the potential perception of blaspheme without diminshing the story, perhaps strenghtening the story and its message, is to depict the milieu as the eternal end point represented in Western religions, but reveal it later in the story as another stopping point on the path to enlightenment, say, a proving ground with another level above to attain or portray a pervasive desire for outcomes as a return to the relative ignorant bliss of the more entertaining mundane realm.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Messages from Michael saga broaches a similar context, though she's better known for vampire sagas in her Saint-Germain cycle.


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Pyre Dynasty
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As a person of strong faith, who laughed out loud when God was destroyed in a fit of logic in the Guide, I wouldn't be terribly offended. (Unless you make it some sort of "religion is what's wrong with the world" type of thing.) The funny thing is, my heaven does have aliens and talking animals in it, as well as talking trees if you can wrap you head around that.

If your story looks distasteful to me I won't buy it. But I did buy Heinlein's Job, even if it is still in line.

Actually, I think you have a greater chance of offending people if you try to accurately depict what one religion or another thinks about heaven or God. Because you can never get it exactly right, or perhaps there is a iconoclast faction that is strong in the religion like in Islam.

I wouldn't read your book as if you were portraying my God. So I would read it like I would read about Zeus, or Paladine, or Harash-Amin.

Milton did it, why shouldn't you?


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satate
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I aree with Pyre Dynasty. I would consider myself a person of strong faith and I don't think that book would offend me. Like others said it would be offensive if you used a real religion but like Pyre I would read it as if it were a story about someone else's God.
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MAP
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quote:
Does this sound offensive to those of strong faith?

No, I don't think it would for the vast majority. You will probably offend those who think Harry Potter is of the devil, but unless it is written in a mocking tone, I think most people will understand that it is fictional. Personally, I think the premise sounds interesting.

quote:
How do I write this without it becoming the next Satanic Verses?

I haven't read the Satanic Verses, so I can't say for sure. But I don't think you should worry about this when you write it. Beta readers will let you know if the story is too disrespectful.


quote:
Would a "Huckleberry Finn" type disclaimer at the beginning help it be more acceptable?


No. But then I don't think Huck Finn needs a disclaimer either.

[This message has been edited by MAP (edited January 09, 2010).]


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Teraen
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The concept doesn't offend me, in fact, it intrigues me. You have opened up an avenue to explore more about theological issues (aliens, etc.. How many religions are prepared to deal with that??) So in effect, you could poke fun at narrow-mindedness by the very subject you are writing about. And if Douglas Adams is an inspiration, you could do alot worse! (Plenty of people have been offended by his stuff on religion, but he always handled it in humor. Those who got offended always (to me) seemed to be missing the greater philosophical subjects he raised.

However, since you haven't written it yet, it very well could be offensive. Numerous are the people who have attempted to make a statement, and end up showing Jesus as nothing more than a homosexual out of his time, or God as an alien bent on torturing mankind, etc. Those things are not often handled with any degree of tact, so they end up being offensive.

And as long as you are only poking fun at Christians, you aren't likely to have to worry about becoming the next Salman Rushdie...


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philocinemas
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I don't plan on having Jesus, Muhammed, Buddha, or any other religious figure in it, but I thought about referencing some of them at some point to explain their absences there. Would this be going too far?
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Rhaythe
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Anyone who's faith (any faith) is fragile enough to be disturbed by fiction isn't worth the worry.
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jayazman
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Of course it will offend some people. You could write the most bland, politically correct, non-offensive story, and if you show it to enough people, someone will get offended.

So don't worry about it. Write your story. You should consider yourself lucky if someone gets offended, because that means they read it.


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sholar
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I'm a religious person and my current novel is about a guy who goes to war against the gods, was basically manipulated into doing so by said gods and then is basically stuck doing their will for most of the book- all the while grumbling about how someday he will figure out their weakness and kill them all. I figure, it is speculative fiction and the gods I am writing about aren't my God. If I named my gods Jesus, Buddha and Allah then it would move into offensive. Of course, I also missed in Pullman's Golden Compass that it was supposed to convert me to atheism.
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Pyre Dynasty
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quote:
You could write the most bland, politically correct, non-offensive story, and if you show it to enough people, someone will get offended.

Ok, that would offend me.

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dougsguitar
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It seems to me that if you are attempting to be offensive you will likely succeed. I find it interesting that you posted this thread to begin with, as if you were pssibly looking for the very edge to which you could push the envelope and keep one toe in the 'pool'. If you are not trying to be offensive then for the vast majority of people you won't be. For the minority, I agree with statements posted above that say you can't help but offend them anyway if you deviate one tiny speck off what they claim to be the truth. As a 'believer' I find that the only people I offend tend to be other 'believers'. I'd say go with it. This is art after all, and is best served with no fences.
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rstegman
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Those who are most offended by a story you describe, are not the kind of people who will read fantasy or science fiction, unless it becomes a best seller.
They even consider stories of dragons and fairies as the work of the devil.

OF course, as your book becomes likely to hit the charts, you could leak to the press that it is Anti Christian. The people trying to prove it is, see if it isn't, curious about the furvor, will likely make it a true best seller just by the free advertizing the contriversy creates.......


Write the story the best you can and don't worry about those who might be offended. "Everybody has the right to be offended"


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dougsguitar
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quote:
Those who are most offended by a story you describe, are not the kind of people who will read fantasy or science fiction, unless it becomes a best seller.
They even consider stories of dragons and fairies as the work of the devil.
OF course, as your book becomes likely to hit the charts, you could leak to the press that it is Anti Christian. The people trying to prove it is, see if it isn't, curious about the furvor, will likely make it a true best seller just by the free advertizing the contriversy creates.......

This seems wrong on so many levels... wrong and misinformed.

Add; rstegman - my apologies if I missinterpreted your voice. I'm not meaning to bring tension to this group. Your comments are well founded. Sincerely, D

[This message has been edited by dougsguitar (edited January 13, 2010).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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He's completely right about the first part...just as I said, truly hardcore ultra conservative Christians (and some whole denominations like Jehovah's Witnesses) consider anything involving magic etc to be inherently sinful and wrong (look at the people who attack Harry Potter, whose fantasy content is almost an afterthought.)


As for the last part...well look at what happened with the DaVinci code. Although I'm pretty sure the suggestion of actually doing that was facetious


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dougsguitar
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M.E. - I totally acknowledge the 'wig-out' factor of the hard core, super-duper far right crowd (a small portion of the bell-curve). Actually, supernatural events are very common in the bible, right from the very first sentence to the very last. There are even descriptions of fire breathing dragons in the OT, and all kinds of creatures commonly found in fantasy writing. There is a story of a single man fighting and defeating an entire army.
It has been my experience that most well founded believers don't have a great deal of trouble with HPotter or Davinci Code. The media does the same with everything; which is to blow it out of real proportion to sell advertising space. I will stop here because it feels like I am leading this thread away from the original context. Apologies for that. Smiles - - and bows.

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philocinemas
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I don't intend for this story to be anti-Christian per se, but more of poking fun of our belief that we can know everything about God and heaven from what is in the bible and other religous texts.

I do not intend for the story to be a factual representation of what is beyond the grave, but more of a satiral statement of what really can't be known.

I actually once had very conservative Christian beliefs, and still do about some things, but I have decided that it is somewhat presumptious to claim to know the mind and intent of God. Believers of so many faiths have very concrete images of heaven, and this story really is about saying how do you know that's what is really meant by that writer or religous figure?


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Mark Twain
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dougsguitar
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Philo... That perspective is sorely needed. Often times those who claim to know the most... know the least.
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philocinemas
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Kathleen, I actually have that story by Twain. I recently discovered it in a collection of short stories by the author, and I'm purposely not reading it so it doesn't influence my story. I've never read The Divine Comedy either, so I'll have to resist the temptation to take off my blinders.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Actually, Twain does that sort of thing in more than one story. Besides "Captain's Stormfield's Visit to Heaven" there are also his THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER, "Little Bessie" in FABLES OF MAN, and THE BIBLE ACCORDING TO MARK TWAIN: WRITINGS ON HEAVEN, EDEN, AND THE FLOOD as well as THE DIARIES OF ADAM AND EVE.
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micmcd
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Just browsing the topic, I couldn't help notice the top line where you were worried about your story turning into the "Satanic Verses." Dude - now I have no idea what that is, but just by the title... I mean, how sacrilegious are you trying to make this thing?

I mean, I was worried that adding a sex scene to one of my stories might be going too far, but I wasn't worried about turning the story into (Insert jokey incredibly inappropriate adult movie title here)**. Poking fun at religious beliefs can get some people's hackles up, but within limits the large majority won't care. Telling a dirty joke is different from telling The Aristocrats. If you're worried about writing religious equivalent of The Aristocrats, well... I'd be more worried about people with pitchforks and torches than hurting the marketability of a story.

** (and then add a joke about starting that sentence with "Insert"

[This message has been edited by micmcd (edited January 25, 2010).]


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philocinemas
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Micmcd, The Satanic Verses was a book by Salman Rushdie in the late 80's. In it, Rushdie presents a somewhat characturized version of Muhammad - think a literary version of Life of Brian but not as funny. Many Muslims, including the Ayatollah called for his execution. Rushdie was placed under protection by the British government and I believe he eventually moved to the US (not sure). Someone will correct me if I got much of this wrong - going mostly by memory (I never read the story in question).

[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited January 25, 2010).]


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