Difficult themes

CC by PSMandrake on Flickr

CC by PSMandrake on Flickr

Sometimes when I write I worry what readers will think. I know that’s not something you should care about when you’re writing, and I don’t usually start to think about it until I’m in the editing phase.

I’m not bothered by swearing in my stories. At first I was a bit squeamish about writing sex scenes, but now I’m totally wotevs about it (well, that’s not entirely true, I get embarrassed by perverted sex in my stories! But normal sex is totes fine). It’s tackling difficult themes that makes me anxious.

For instance, I have a story in the wild right now that could so easily be picked apart and labelled misogynist (even though it isn’t, it’s set in a misogynist society and reflects things that are commonplace in some areas in real life, but the actual story is not misogynist). I worry that my female protagonist doesn’t have enough agency… that I’ve used her to tell a story, and have done what so many sexist writers do without thinking (written a passive female character). I agonised over the way the story had to unfold.  I tried to give her some agency. I’m a feminist and here I am writing a terrible story because I needed to get it off my chest after seeing something truly horrible. I’m anxious that it will never be published but I’m almost more anxious that it will.

And then there’s the story that explores the darkness of motherhood, using my own experience of PND, but I took my character into hell and left her there. I wonder, will people read this as being purely about mental illness, or will they read it the way I intended? And if they read it as being just about mental illness, what does that say about me, to them? I suppose in a way I’m lucky that parenting-themed stories are a hard sell!

There is another story I have in the editing phase that is really horrifying to me. I sometimes write stuff as a kind of therapy, using symbols and tropes to explore my psyche and my trauma (FWIW, I don’t always, so don’t bother trying to figure out which stories are and which stories aren’t!) This story is icky and it worries me what people would think after reading it… I wonder if I have the guts to send it out into the world. Again, the fear of it being published probably outweighs the fear of rejection, but I think it’s a story with legs. I would be doing myself a disservice to keep it on my harddrive… right?

It’s pretty silly to worry that my readers will think I’m sexist/racist/a bad mother/twisted and perverted when I am writing speculative fiction, but as other authors have said, the reader doesn’t always know me and my beliefs so I will just keep putting my stuff out there, blogging here, and wait for the day I get accused of heinous crimes via review ;).


5 thoughts on “Difficult themes

    • I agree. I did read about the reviewer who had a massive rant over one of her stories though, that would definitely make me feel bad as a writer. Thankfully, newbies don’t get that much attention ;).

      • Excuse my typos above. I read the same article, then read Goosle I think his rant says more about his personal issues than anything about the author. I think if an author provokes a strong reaction it can be an indication they are doing the right thing.

      • Very true! I read Goosle long before I read his rant, and yes it was an uncomfortable read but that’s the whole point of that kind of writing ;).

  1. And even if you do make a mistake, I think being open and honest, say… admitting a previously subconscious bias, is all that you can do. To explain what you were trying to achieve.

    It’s very easy to commentate from the sidelines and pick apart an author’s foibles, cultural bias and claim its patently obvious that they should have done this or that.

    That’s not how I write, examining the story from every angle. That’s why I can often end up with female characters with less agency than I would like.

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