Offensive Writing? The Places in Which We May Fear to Tread

I am aware that in writing about offensive writing I may become…er…offensive. However, what is one person’s ‘offensive’ is another’s source of making them pee their pants laughing.

Potentially dangerous territory is about to be entered. Delicate Dorises be warned.

The Subjective Offensive

When we find something offensive, we are being subjective.

You may want to argue here and state that we all have common ground where we get offended. However, I can promise you that even the darkest, most disgusting acts will be deemed normal by the dark and disgusting creatures that commit them. There we go… I am already being subjective in labelling those people in such a manner. Therefore, I cannot be objective in this post.

What I’m trying to say is, please don’t get the hump with me. You may not like it, I may find it pant-wettingly funny. Let’s agree to disagree or some other such type of passive peace-making business.

Subject Matter

How many times have you read the blurb of a book and decided you don’t want to read it because the subject matter is distasteful to you?

Have you ever tried to read it and felt that uncomfortable gnawing in your gut as if you have condoned this book by the act of reading it? I think many of us have been there.

I try not to shy away from controversial subjects but I have my limits. I’ve read novels written in the first person about rapists, paedophiles and abusers. Occasionally I’ve found myself enlightened but never sympathetic.

You may ask why I did it. Why would I want to read and learn about such ‘scum’ as some may subjectively call them? I guess I’m interested in human nature. I also understand that none of us are paragons of virtue.

Man being hit by a book - offensive writingBefore your fingers get itchy for the comments section, please hear me out.

I don’t want to, nor will I ever empathise with a person who abuses and/or violates others. I am fascinated by the human personality and make-up.

I am aware that we are all a few steps away from committing acts that others will deem offensive. I am not stating that will be anything hideous, subjectively speaking, but one thing could potentially tip us all over.

Have you ever had that conversation with your other half about what they would do if you were being attacked or something along those lines?

We want to know how far they will take it to save us or avenge. Will they hurt, maim or kill for us?

Just how close are they to taking it to the level of what is normally viewed by us as offensive but subjectively we condone because it’s ‘okay’ in these circumstances?
This is where we consider how far we can go; from our normal to what we would usually deem offensive.

Every author considers their subject matter. Some will plough on regardless of how that will be potentially received. Others will tread carefully and try to consider how readers will feel about the issues. It’s a fine line.

Remember, the offensive is subjective. Does a writer avoid writing about paedophilia because it’s seen by many as abhorrent? Does the writer avoid ‘taboo’ subjects such as suicide for fear of alienation by a potential audience?

Well, that’s always down to the author. Personally I believe that if you have a story worth telling, then you must aim to tell it.

As the writer you have a responsibility to your readers, to a degree. Give them good writing. Give them what you always wanted to get across.

Readers, we writers love you but we can be stifled by you if we always worry about what you find offensive with every word we choose. Very little will ever be written if we do.

We have to trust our gut and our ability to write well. We have to accept that some may not read our work because they find it offensive. We have to respect that. We also need to understand that there are potential readers out there that need to read this.

My first novel (in progress) has the subjects of mental illness and suicide. I accepted when I started writing that some people will avoid reading it for those reasons alone. I have made my peace with that.

I initially felt uncomfortable delving into areas that were both personal to me and potentially offensive to others. I felt restricted. My writing was rubbish. I was editing myself throughout for fear of being construed as offensive.

Then I realised that I would never please everyone by trying to not be offensive.
I was doing those who have experienced mental illness and suicide a grave disservice. They need to know they’re not offensive to me and so many others. That is why I continued to write about something that may be deemed offensive.

I can live with not having the readers who decide not to read my book for fear of being offended. This is not the book for them.

Or maybe it is?

Maybe we need to get out of our comfort zones and push the boundaries of what we find offensive? Just a little. Maybe then we will be better educated about what makes people tick and how we can be quick to make judgement calls. Just a thought.

Your Not So Private Life

Lady shh - offensive writingAs a blogger I initially began writing lots of posts about writing, this being a writing blog after all. It continues to be the primary focus of this blog.

I did, however, one day feel a burning desire to write a post about how depression had set in and affected me: The Enemy Strikes Back and Then Some…. I wasn’t waving banners for the depressed. I just needed to explain how things were.

I did wrestle with it. How personal should I get? This is a writing blog after all.
No one wants me to be hanging out my dirty linen in public (weird English saying – who the hell hangs out dirty washing?). Then I realised that the need to write about it was stronger than the fear of being offensive to the writing cause.

This is my blog. I created it. Therefore it is not a cardinal sin to write about me.
I ignore the Blog Police ™ who dictate that blogs should not be personal. This is my forte. Some of you even return to read other posts so it must be working.

Oh, and that post, that oh so personal post? Astounding positive response. Thank you.

It is dodgy territory when you decide to inject some of your private life into your writing. You’re not only exposing yourself but potentially your family and friends *tries to eradicate vision of everyone she knows standing in a line, stark naked*.

Memoir writers must be constantly soiling their undergarments for fear of being offensive.

No memoir from me yet. I’ll need to wait for a few people to die first because what I have to say could get really offensive; subjectively speaking of course.

Black Humour

Woman hitting a man with book - offensive writingJust like The Rolling Stones, I like to paint it black; my humour that is. I am from a family that trades in black humour. It’s ‘normal’ to us.

I nearly died myself from laughing when the doddery Vicar at my brother’s funeral kept calling my Mum by my sister’s name.

I then had to chew my fist to stifle the hysterics when the Vicar then proceeded to call my deceased brother by the name of the very much alive brother sat right next to me. It wasn’t helped by alive brother declaring rather loudly, ‘I’m still alive!’

You may have read that account and think that’s dreadful. What an unprofessional Vicar. What an outrage for a poor grieving family. Yes, it is but it was also bloody funny.

Some people found it offensive, my brother and I thought it was hilarious. Black humour helped us to cope.

Another incident, again with ‘Alive Brother’, reminds me of my propensity for dark humour.

My mum had just been given her terminal cancer diagnosis. Alive Brother and I were of course devastated. However, we were close to being removed from the waiting room after having hysterics at the man with the loudest voice in the world ™ stating to his friend how chemotherapy was great because his pubes at least hadn’t fallen out. I shit you not.

In the bleakest of times, this marvellous man invoked black humour. I hope he and his pubes continue to thrive.

I try to see the humour in things as much as I can, particularly the bad. That may be a coping mechanism. However I also view black humour as a means of seizing control of terrible situations. I don’t always have the will for black humour but there are times when it gives me strength.

Black humour is also subjective. Some may find it offensive and vulgar. This has a lot to do with personal taste and upbringing. Clearly I have no taste or received a decent upbringing at all – just joking Mum and Dad.

I acknowledge that black humour doesn’t work for all. I know some people may not like how my main character in my novel makes jokes about mental illness and feeling suicidal. I made a conscious choice to do this. By using black humour she normalises what seems taboo. She takes control of her life and jokes about it. Laughter is the best medicine, along with a shit-ton of antidepressants of course.


swearing woman - offensive writingWhen I first started blogging I never used swear words. Go and look through my earlier posts and then see how I progressively fall into sweardom.

So why did I start swearing?

Because it’s what I do in real life.

When I began blogging I didn’t have a clue. I thought I needed to write word-perfect posts. I thought I needed to make sure I was appealing to all and the only way to do that was to not be what may be deemed offensive.

Then I woke up.

I will never please everyone with my writing or blogging in any manner. Some will be okay with the occasional swear word and others won’t.

I do try to rein it in. No-one wants to hear or read a potty mouth gone wild. That’s just lazy writing and speaking. But there are times when only a good ‘shit’, ‘bloody’ or ‘cockwomble’ will do.

I still hesitate over the ‘f’ word though for some strange reason. I’m wondering if I still have that kid-like sense of it being one of the most offensive swear words. Odd as I know so many use it. You’ll probably still find me writing it like this f**k for a while. Old habits die hard.

Don’t even get me started on the ‘c’ word. That to me is offensive but I know some use it all the time. Subjectivity strikes again.

I respect that some people hate swear words. I won’t apologise for using them in my writing but I do acknowledge your right to find them offensive. As for those who don’t mind them; too bloody right!


Lowest form of wit? Give me a break.

Actually to those of you who use this as an attack against us sarky gits, there is more to this quote from the fabulously sarcastic Oscar Wilde you know.

‘Sarcasm is the lowest from of wit, but the highest form of intelligence.’

Too right.

Sarcasm doesn’t come easy, even to Brits. Yes, it’s one of our national sports but even some of us are shite at it.

woman throwing a book - offensive writingI strongly believe that you are born with a sarcasm gene. Some of us come out of the womb taking the mickey. We just know how to use it.

Pity our poor mothers who often see us for the first time from the vantage point of their private parts. Sarcasm fodder ahoy.

There’s no sorrier a sight than a person trying to use sarcasm who has no sarky skills. Tumbleweeds follow them everywhere.

I’m often amused in my communications with other cultures and nationalities when sarcasm flies over their heads or they find it offensive. I’m not being nasty. I’ve tried it on some dumb ass Brits who’ve asked me to explain what I mean; seriously letting the side down there.

I understand that humour can be different concerning where you were born and raised. I do however feel sorry for those of you who cannot read or speak fluent sarcasm. You’re really missing out on such delicate nuances and asides. You’re also wearing me out when you ask me to explain what I mean.

There are two forms of sarcasm: nasty and teasing. I’m in the latter camp.

I have no place for nasty sarcasm. It’s offensive, in my humble opinion, and is used to belittle others. Nasty sarky people usually do it to make up for their own inadequacies, such as small penises or brains, or probably both.

Teasing sarcasm people are gentle, quick-witted and often funny without trying. Of course that’s me. See what I did there?

You may like it when you read my sarcastic writing, you may not. It’s in my blood. I cannot erase it. I belong to a clan of sarcastic shit-bags. It’s how we function.

Where is the Place Where We Fear to Tread?

Surprised woman - offensive writingI think we should all ask ourselves this question; in reading and writing.

Maybe we need to challenge ourselves to step into those seemingly dark places.

Maybe we will find that what we thought was offensive can be sensitively handled.
Maybe we will have all our preconceptions verified, but at least we tried.

We spend a lot of time on social media being offended. It is an offensive playground. That’s often because the trolls are out in force and the click baiters are just dying for us to bite.

Don’t feed the trolls.

Don’t give their writing any consideration if it offends you. It’s not easy I know. I’ve wanted to tear many a new arsehole on those I see as offensive posters, but I figure they are one big a-hole anyway so I’m not going to win.

Tread your path, hold on to your convictions of what you find offensive but keep an open mind.

You may one day just be surprised by how the offensive becomes the new normal. Either that or you can write a shouty comment to the writer. Never to me of course. You love me too much for that, right? Right? *Avoids comments section for the next week*

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

34 comments on “Offensive Writing? The Places in Which We May Fear to Tread

  1. Thanks for these insights, Lisa. I had a review recently that took offence to my very light hearted book, albeit with a satirical bent. I knew when I was writing it that some wouldn’t like it but you’re right, I had to stop that urge to self edit. It is what it is.

    1. I’m glad you didn’t edit it and remained true to what you wanted to write, Brydie. Reviews most definitely are going to either signify offence or possibly offend the writer. It never ends!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

    1. I hope this post has helped you in some way. Do you mean you’re struggling with using some of the topics in your writing? If so, the best advice I can give is to stay true to yourself and write as the person you are not as a worried censor.

      Thanks for commenting. I hope it helps.

  2. Brilliant post Lisa. You hit the nail on the head. My personal opinion is that writers have a responsibility to write about taboo subjects. There are stories which need to be read and heard. Don’t feel ashamed for writing about your personal experiences.

    1. Thanks Caroline. You and I can most certainly relate concerning the power of writing to help shatter stigma and taboos. Keep on doing what you can, when you can. You’re making a difference.

  3. Laughed 20 times as usual at this one! We learn so much more stepping outside our comfort zones – yet going down that rabbit hole can be tough because who knows what we’ll find? We become tougher and softer all at the same time I think by keeping an open-mind and heart.

    1. Always glad to make someone laugh rather than offend! Comfort zones are strange places, rabbit holes even more strange, but it worked for Alice didn’t it?

      Thanks, as ever, for reading.

  4. As stated by Robert A. Heinlein,”There is only one true sin; hurting someone else unnecessarily. Everything else is invented nonsense.”

    He also wrote that deliberate rudeness was the only unforgivable behavior. I agree with both.

    1. It is a tricky business being a writer because we know what we want to write but we will always have an awareness of the reception our work will receive. I’m glad you like certain types of writing others may shun.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. Great post! I will say, however, that some of us are born without that sarcasm gene! Took me years to develop the ability to understand and use it. I do use it rather frequently now, but there were some frustrating times when I was younger and people found joy in teasing me about my inability to understand it.

    1. I did say some of us are born with it and some of us aren’t. I do feel sorry sometimes for those that don’t understand it as it can come across as them, being teased or ostracised. It’s all about how well the sarky person employs it. I never use it to be nasty.

      Glad to hear you’re a sarcasm convert!

      Thanks as always for your support in reading my posts and commenting Heather.

  6. Loved this! It’s important to understand what is deemed as offensive and when you’re being subjective. Then when things back fire on our content we get upset, but we need to realize that we chose to make it a not so private life.

    1. That’s an important point; we will always offend someone but we also have to understand that if we put our writing out there, the offended recipient will often let us know! I don’t have a problem with people doing that if it’s done politely and they explain why. I have no time for the offended who swear, troll or are nasty about it. It’s not productive and all they are doing is offending me in return. That’s not helping anyone is it?

      Thanks for providing more insight into this Lauren.

  7. I agree with your declarations in your blog. We cannot please everybody, so it is better for us to be just true to ourselves. I also tend to be personal in my blog. I think it makes our reader feel more connected to us if we do so. We are not perfect at all. We also have our own flaws.

    1. We do need to be true to ourselves particularly if we are writing about the personal. Personal writing is often cathartic. If we censor it as we write we don’t give ourselves a chance to heal and we also aren’t being genuine with a reader who really needs to hear the truth to relate to the experience.

      Thanks for your interesting comment Ana Rose.

  8. Offensive isn’t always bad! I mean, think of great literature. Huckleberry Finn caused controversy, especially in schools, because it contains the n-word. But of course, it’s still a great work of literature. Great post!

    1. That’s a really good point. Think of all those banned books that were classics! So many were deemed offensive and yes, in this more enlightened world and modern world, some are outdated and therefore can be seen as offensive. But context is important here also. Thanks for that insight Samantha! I’m pleased you enjoyed the post.

  9. Great post! Sometimes I have the opposite desire- to write something very neutral that everybody would like because it doesn’t trigger any controversial feelings. It can be overwhelming to have debates under my posts because they are mostly on various societal issues. I think it is still important to stay true to myself, we are not helping in resolving any problems when muting our thoughts and feelings.

    1. I know what you mean Anna. It can be exhausting on social media dealing with a backlash from offended people when you certainly never considered what you wrote would be seen as offensive. For that reason I tend to consider what I write carefully on social media sites as not to invoke trolling more than anything.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  10. Personally I never understand why people use **** in the middle of swear words. We all know what it says – I don’t think the stars make it any less offensive to those who are going to be offended. We don’t read it in our head as F STAR STAR K for example, we read the swear it’s supposed to be. I think if you’re going to swear in your writing you should unashamed and unabashed of it.

    1. I have to say that I’m guilty of doing this with the word f**k. See? It’s not because I am concerned about using swear words, heck my posts are full of ’em, but it’s ingrained that it’s a hard word for me to use. There is a history and a lot of reasoning behind it which I won’t bore you with!

      Usually I’ll use swear words if they suit the tone and how I need to express myself. I try not to overdo them but don’t always achieve it. I’m a work in progress!

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