I have this thing where I gravitate towards stories that I know are terrible. Case in point: the romance (sigh) that I'm outlining. My boy Akram is very problematic; he loves lying to get what he wants and cannot keep secrets. He falls for Suzanne, who thinks of herself as this sad broken masterpiece (which she is definitely not). He thinks he can win her though cheating and lying as well, but it doesn't work out. Then- he learns how life works. I basically need your validation (cont)
(cont.) to decide whether I should commit to it or work on something else, maybe other ideas could better with this attention. I’m asking you this because you inspired me to take on actually drafting something and going through the outline process etc. I ask you for some more help, some insight. (Trust me, this took a lot of guts to send.)
To be honest, I’m very disappointed with the way the writing community has started to understand and apply the concept of ‘problematicness’.
I won’t say there aren’t books that aren’t in fact problematic, because there are. There are things like harmful tropes and romanticization of abuse, stuff like that, which are harmful to include in our stories.
However, I honestly can’t support this idea that a character has to be morally pure or they are problematic. People are complicated, and people often think or do problematic things, and trying to snuff that from out stories only ends up with a bunch of vapid morality plays and none of the complexity we want from literature.
It’s not your fault you feel this way, because the reviewing climate is so toxic right now and authors are shamed for the tiniest things.
It’s like we’ve lost scope of the fact that tone exists, and tone is what matters when writing ‘problematic’ content. If you romanticize it, okay, I can understand why we’re commenting on this, but if the main character simply does or says or thinks bad things which are congruous with them as a person and the story itself…that’s storytelling. That’s not problematic.
We all know that complex, flawed characters are interesting, but in the past few years we’ve gotten so obsessed with moral purity in media that we’re taking away the ability for fiction to do what it’s meant to do, which is show us the most honest and authentic capture of a character and their life.
People think bad things. People do bad things. Even overall good people think and do bad things sometimes. Your characters are people, and so even if they are overall good people, they will probably think or do bad things at some point. It bothers me that this is a mindset we even need to highlight based on the current community and publishing landscape because it should be obvious.
It’s so frustrating to me that I feel so censored over things which I believe are natural and organic parts of life, that a character needs to be morally pure in their thoughts and actions even if that is completely incongruous with their personality and situation.
The author is not the narrator, and something happening in a story doesn’t condone it. This is the basic mantra of storytelling and it’s been completely lost sight of.
I encourage you to write the story if you’re passionate about it. I believe that most things can be written and what matters is the tone. If your tone towards this situation is one or romanticization, putting toxic people on a pedestal, then it’s more a problem. I don’t think the characters and their actions in their essence should deem your book problematic because you’re only trying to write these people authentically.