Wednesday, January 11, 2017

S.E. Hinton and Feeling Like an Outsider

Last week, an ongoing controversy fired up yet again on Twitter. In one corner was S.E. Hinton, author of The Outsiders, among other books:



In the other corner? Half the internet. Okay, maybe not that many people, but it definitely seemed there were more people against the author than for her in the Twitterverse.



It all started when S.E. tweeted this:



Apparently, she feels she's dealing with regular criticism about the lack of diversity in her books. 



Tired of this, she launched the first missile. The internet fired back. People took issue with the fact that she felt she was being attacked "for being heterosexual." As everyone fought, nobody seemed to take a step back and say...

"Why are we arguing over books that were published 40+ years ago?"



Unless I'm missing something, S.E. Hinton's last young adult novel was released in 1988. She released a couple of adult novels in 2004 and 2008. Yet her argument isn't that she seems to have misplaced her TIME MACHINE...



Instead, she's making a different kind of statement.



Okay, so let's assume (HOPE!) that she has a new book in the works so she's actually able to make a decision on this issue. Authors today know we should try to work diversity into our storylines. Many of today's children/teens have friends who aren't white. Who aren't heterosexual. It's important to introduce characters who aren't all white and heterosexual, even if it isn't an issue in the book itself.



In general, authors like S.E. Hinton have the power to introduce large audiences to the diversity of today's world. But S.E. Hinton doesn't feel qualified to tell those stories because she hasn't lived that life herself. She says she can only write what she knows...



But do you really need to know what a person has been through to diversify your fiction? What do you think?

39 comments:

  1. It depends on the topic. Some things, I can't write about. Some I won't. Not because I don't know, but because of my values. But I do know diversity when it comes to races and cultures, as I've lived and traveled in many foreign countries. That I have written about in my books.

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    1. I can respect that. I think for children's/teen writers, it's important to recognize that kids' friends aren't all white now. So when the main character has three best friends, if they're all white, it might not be relatable to the world today's kids live in. But S.E. Hinton tends to fully flesh out a large # of characters, I seem to remember? So in that case, she can't have Ponyboy being Hispanic because she personally doesn't feel she can tell a Hispanic person's story and do it justice. Interestingly, though, people are just people. Humans have a lot of central things in common and it's not that hard to step inside someone else's shoes. It might be different for children's authors because our books try to help kids by tackling issues they're grappling with now.

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    2. That makes sense, Alex and it's honest.

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  2. I think we all have to choose for ourselves. I agree with SE Hinton to the extent that she needs to write what she needs to write. Maybe she doesn't feel comfortable or qualified to write diversely. But Ponyboy could easily have been Hispanic without much more being mentioned about it. I may not be able to write about the authentic experience of being Black, but I do know what it's like to be at the bottom of the list of who gets chosen for kickball. We all have the same feelings.

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    1. That is definitely true...that could have been open to interpretation. Interestingly, this seems to have stemmed from today's readers wanting to make certain characters in The Outsiders gay, especially now that some schools make the book required reading. S.E. Hinton got a little blunt with people asking that, saying she wrote it in high school and "ask someone in the '60's how "cute" it was to be gay." Which I get--it was a different time. But IF she were writing a book today at her age, she would need to recognize that being a teen in 2016 is quite different from being a teen in 1962 and to make her stories relatable, she might have to address those prejudices and get past them...

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  3. interesting controversy. I do think it is about what you know or feel comfortable writing about. An author wants the voice to be authentic, not strained. It's a fine line these days to avoid being trite or cliche or show bias, etc. Reading books through the filter of time, one does learn lessons too.. This post has made me think. Thanks.

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    1. I think that's the best compliment a writer can get. Making people think about issues! I personally find it isn't a stretch to work diversity into my books, but I'm torn. Because I know there are so many talented writers out there who can tell those stories in their own voices and THEY need to be the ones writing those books. I could write a book about a young Muslim girl dealing with the discrimination she faces, but does that take away from a Muslim writer getting a publishing deal with that story? Or is it that the more stories that get out there, no matter who writes them, the more awareness we spread?

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    2. I don't recall character development needing any physical description and on the same note, I don't think anything beyond gender is even necessary, including a person's sexual orientation (unless this is a romance or erotica).

      For me, what makes for a great read is reading about the internal goings on with each character, not their physical makeup and not their sexual orientation. You can leave those out and the story would remain the same for me. When you go adding diversity for the sake of "being diverse" then people get to feeling fake and it's really hard to pull off a genuine story in that manner. This topic was part of a post I'd written on Writing What You Don't Know

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  4. I agree you should be able to write what you feel most comfortable doing.

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  5. This kind of stupid stuff IMO is why I am not on Facebook or follow anyone on Twitter. You write what you like, and I'll read what I like.

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    1. Haha! I do like the fact that there's been a call for more diversity in books. It has made me aware that I need to try to find ways to work in the fact that characters aren't always WHITE. Although to be honest, I have to make an effort to make it CLEAR they aren't. They might be diverse in my head, but that doesn't mean it'll translate to the reader on the page, unless the cover designer incorporates it.

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  6. Damn when I saw that line about being attackewd for being heterosexual...I knew the internet was going to go rabid. While I understand what Hinton is trying to say...she should have left that topic alone. Sorry she got all that harsh criticism but we are at a time where readers are demanding to be represented. I read what I like and don't mind not seeing myself in a book. But others do and we need to be mindful of that. Still it is wise to write what you know best. Not everyone can write a book with characters that cover multiple spectrum. That's just the way of the world. Every writer is different.

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    1. Having always lived in the South, it's always very jarring to me when someone is as blunt as she is. I don't know where she lives...maybe it's her way. But I saw that harshness in a lot of her replies/tweets. She's just one of those people who don't sugarcoat. But as one writer put it, MOST authors, when asked if the characters in a piece they wrote years ago were gay, will just say, "That's up for you to interpret." She could have at least said, "I didn't intend that when I wrote it, but I'm glad people are making the story their own." That's the best way to make everyone happy.

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  7. That's a tough question. I think it's hard to write about certain characters if you haven't experienced what they have or know someone that has. Writers are individuals, though, and should write what they're comfortable with writing, in my humble opinion, especially if they know little about other lifestyles. I think there's room for both types of books, because readers are so different too.

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    1. I agree with that! I feel like my main character can have friends who aren't all white, though. And even if not, certainly everyone she encounters won't be white. For secondary characters, we don't really have to get into their skin to write about them. I would hesitate to write a diverse main character, simply because I feel there are writers who should be telling those stories.

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  8. Today in a class of 7th graders, one student called another "that white boy". I looked around. And realized that he was the only "white boy" in the room. (Well, one other might identify as white.) So, yeah, diversity exists.

    I think we all just need to realize that not everyone in a room is going to be one type of person. It's easier for some to recognize that world for they live in it already. But if you live someplace where every other person isn't Latino, Asian, black, and Pacific Islander (yep, that was the makeup of the 7th grade class in question) you may have a problem conceiving of a world like that.

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  9. Political correctness is not my strong suit. I am most comfortable writing in the voice of my animals. That was before Blogger changed everything and I can't figure out how to get to the rest of my blogs!
    Everybody seems to have an opinion and they all think they are justified in assuming they are right. It is a form of bullying, as far as I am concerned. But I am old and set in my ways.

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  10. I think that the author isn't being criticised due to their actual sexuality but rather for the fact people just want diversity, however, I think it is wrong to try and tell an author what to write as the story is the writer's art and to try and force something that isn't organic to the author wouldn't translate well to page.

    Rosy | Sparkles of Light Blog
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  11. Hi Stephanie ... honestly I think just leave everyone alone with their ideas and thoughts ... it'd doesn't add or help anyone - cheers Hilary

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  12. I think authors have complete literary freedom - they should write what they want to right. There are so many books - readers can choose what they enjoy. Social media... for better or for worse, it certainly gives everyone their own platform. I just wish there was a little more live and let live going on.

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  13. I think a writer should follow their heart, and write what they feel they can and should. To be called out publicly over what someone disagrees with along those lines seems silly, and it does sound like bullying.

    It's one thing for a publisher or an agent to approach the writer and suggest more diversity (or whatever), entirely another to be taken to task on social media over it. The latter being uncalled for, I think. Ultimately, it's the writer's decision, and if the publisher wants more diversity than this author can give them, then they should seek other authors.

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  14. JK Rowling wouldn't let anyone influence her into writing about her characters. But then again, she's got diverse ones.

    I think I just have to respect the author's work as a reader, whether I like it or not. If I want something different, I will have to write it myself. :)

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  15. Hi Stephanie! Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog. I see you are in Tennessee...my son and his family lives in Columbia and they had a couple of inches. Our snow had melted and it has been near 70 here today and will be tomorrow...crazy weather, huh?? Have a good evening!

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  17. I respect S.E. Hinton. I loved The Outsiders. I respect most authors, it's a tough business. Every author should write whatever their heart desires.

    And no, I don't exclusively believe about writing what you know. I believe in thinking and writing outside of the box.

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  18. The Outsiders was (and is) one of my favorite books. The movie is pretty good too. I think the issue of diversity is an interesting one. I think you can write a good (or great) book that is not diverse, but you never know what might happen if you add diversity. What I'm not a big fan of is reading a book where a character is labeled colored or gay but is such a minor character that it feels like the author just threw them in so they could claim their book was diverse. On the other hand, writing is vast. The possibilities are endless. Telling an author they need to include X even if it doesn't fit their story, their interests, or what they want to focus on is nuts if you think about it. Isn't one of the perks of writing complete freedom?

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  19. This is a great topic, because most of the time, we write about who we are, what we've experienced or the people we've met in our lives. But sometimes, I can understand a writer who does some serious research about something he or she may not know, writes about truly foreign subject matter because it's popular, and guaranteed to put money in her or his pocket.

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  20. great post!! (and the steve carrell gif cracked me up lol) it's such a hot button issue and it's sad that it is...we absolutely NEED diverse books. But I see so many people attempting it and getting it offensively wrong. bc they're doing it just to do it!

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  21. Hi Stephanie! You have quite a discussion here, and it was interesting to read through the responses.
    I agree that authors should write what they know (now I say this having never written a book myself). That said, they can always open up their lives to include new things, new experiences and new people that would widen the scope of what they know.
    Much like Karen, I agree that this Twitter thing looks a lot like bullying. If you don't like her book, don't read it. That's the biggest impact anyone can make with an author. No one has the right to push someone into doing anything they are uncomfortable with.

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  22. Wow! This is a spirited discussion.
    I agree with those who've written that an author should write what she wants to write. I enjoy reading books with diverse characters. What I don't like is reading books where the inclusion of diverse characters seems forced.

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  23. Oh! I had no idea that Hinton was getting slashed on Twitter this way. I LOVE her books. My goodness she got me through my teen years. I've read almost all of her books. I totally think she's right to say she writes the story that she identifies with. There are enough writers out there that hopefully if everyone does that then there WILL be diverse characters. I don't want her to write something just to satisfy a reader's request. A good book comes from the heart. Excellent discussion going on here though, Stephanie!

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  24. This is a great post Stephanie, and the responses here are brilliant too! While I think it's good to have conversations about diversity (as I do think it's important - representation is always needed) this isn't the way to go about it. I really dislike people trying to hack eachother apart over social media, it doesn't help anything and I think often it leads to more trouble. I think that having the creative licence to write what you want is important and of course no author should ever feel they have to write a certain style or concept into a book as that almost negates what diverse books are trying to do. I wish conversations like these focused more on diverse books in general, as a way to encourage people towards them and authors, while still celebrating other works, as I think The Outsiders is a great novel which has many other lessons and ideas coming through it, which are still relevant today. Loved this post though, got me thinking! - Tasha

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  25. I think the attack was ridiculous. Now that I know more here, I think it even more.

    But I don't think we should shy from diversity. Females write male characters and vice versa. If we're worried, we can make sure our work is vetted. At least make other characters non-white while also making sure they don't fall into stereotypes. Let's have our books reflect our world better.

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  26. I'm certain it's okay to create your own art your own way . . .

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  27. Interesting because I've seen a lot on the other side of this where people complain about authors writing characters they know nothing about just to be diverse. No matter what, you will have people who hate your work and others who love it.

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  28. I'm not a writer and I'm all for diversity but I do feel an author needs to write what they are comfortable with or what they identify with. As someone already mentioned, there are many authors who write the more diverse novels so that means a lot of choices for readers. I feel an author may risk losing their own essence, and possibly readers, if they try to conform to what is expected rather than what flows naturally to them. It would be like telling an artist to change their personal art style to suit public demand. It may work for some but many artists would not feel comfortable doing that, so why should they?

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  29. I'm a bit cynical when it comes to diversity, especially after being sledgehammered with it at work for the past 20+ years (guv'ment employee). Diversity in fiction is a double edged sword. Too much and you risk turning off potential readers (the sledgehammer effect). Too little and you'll be accused of being out of touch with the times (the politically correct effect).

    Having said that, the basic minimal "diversity" I have with my stories are interracial relationships. Not that I've experienced it too personally (have in-laws who are Hispanic), but I simply like certain concepts that some people consider to be out of the norm.

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