[For the purposes of this lesson, I’m going to create a country called Piplynia (a combination of my two granddaughters’ names), so as not to single out any particular real country.]
Here’s an excerpt from a bit of writing that might appear in the Writing Challenge (or elsewhere) about Piplynia:
God has blessed Piplynia with the finest resources in the world; no other nation has such an abundance of twickles and snizzits and froppers. Other nations have always looked to us in wonder and awe for our godly prosperity; we must continue to be an example to the rest of the globe.
Before you read on, think for a moment, and see if you can determine what the problem is with those few sentences, which may appear on the surface to be a lovely tribute to the nation of Piplynia.
If you’re not sure, imagine that you’re a resident of Katerica, a few countries away. How would you feel now, reading those sentences? Maybe you’d feel that the writer is a bit arrogant; after all, God has also blessed your lovely country. Maybe you’d also feel as if your country had been subtly insulted—after all, if you’re not quite as prosperous as Piplynia, is the writer inferring that God has not blessed Katerica?
There’s a fine line to tread when writing about your own country. There’s nothing wrong with being patriotic, with loving your country—but you must do so without sounding superior or arrogant, as if the world revolves around your country, or as if all cultures other than your own are somehow lacking.
In addition, be careful in writing about topics that are so country-specific and so topical that they’ll be meaningless to a reader from another country, or to someone reading a few years from now. If you’re writing in a blog or as a journalist, you should feel free to write about your country’s current political, social, or cultural happenings. But if you’re putting your writing somewhere (like FaithWriters) where it’s possible that someone will read it five years from now, events like that don’t work particularly well.
The internet has truly created a global community; this particular site has writers from all around the world. If your writing feels as if it's shutting out your readers by its geocentricity—well, many will just stop reading.
This is not to say that in order to keep your readers, your writing should not have an identifiable setting in a particular country. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I’ve very much enjoyed reading articles and stories set in countries other than my own, and I’ve also appreciated other writers’ obvious love for their countries. The key is to include some sort of broad appeal and relatability. I’ve never lived in a desert or in a mountainous region, or in a 3rd world country, or in a small one, but if the story, poem, or article that is set in one of those places is one that can also apply to me, I’ll be happy to read it. If the characters have universal feelings that I’ve also felt, I’ll be happy to read that, too. The key is to include your reader. After all—that’s why we write, isn’t it? To be read by others and to make them feel things? There’s no point, then, in shutting others out by an attitude of superiority.
Just to be clear—it’s fine to write with local flavor, and to set your articles and stories in a specific country. It’s fine to write about your country with patriotism and love. We even had a quarter in 2009 when each week, the theme was a different country or geographical region, and there were some wonderful articles, stories, and poems that quarter from all around the world.
Here is what I wrote for the ‘USA’ topic—if you read it, I hope you can see that you can write with great affection for your country, but not in a way that excludes all other countries.
1. When you write about your country or region, don’t do so in such a way that implies (or outright states) that your location is superior to all others.
2. Avoid writing about people, events, or issues that are very topical or country-specific and that will quickly be out-of-date.
3. Feel free to set your writing in a specific country or location and to write about that place with fondness and local flavor.
Questions or comments about this lesson? I’ll be glad to respond to them.
In the next two weeks, I have quite a few different things pulling on my time, so I’ve asked FaithWriters VIP Joanne Sher to write two lessons on her specialty: writing for children. I know you’ll greet her warmly and have a great time reading and interacting with her lessons. If you know someone who’s interested in children’s literature, please direct them this way.