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Sensitive Subjects and Fiction

Discussion in 'The Authors' Café' started by katiekitten, May 30, 2012.

  1. katiekitten

    katiekitten The Compromise

    (I would warn younger readers away from this topic, or at least the bulk of my post, it's more than a tad frank about sexual matters - I blame the romantic fiction I've been reading recently. xD It's where these issues have emerged most potently for me)

    The approach of sensitive topics (such as rape, sexual 'deviancy', homosexuality, sexism, racism etcetera) in fiction is an issue that was recently brought to my attention as well as having been bandied around in the forums, and I thought a discussion about it would be interesting. X3 How do you generally feel about the inclusion of such things in fiction?

    Personally, if themes/inclusions of rape and sexism, as well as any other form of prejudice or such topic, be it racism, homophobia etcetera, is handled well, their inclusion can add additional depth to stories, as well as explore the different facets of contemporary issues. x3 I feel, additionally, that the 'taboo' surrounding kinks and fetishes and other forms of 'sexual deviancy' is also unnecessary – as long as each side is consensual, there's nothing wrong with it, in my books, love is love, lust is lust. x3 This is my moral standpoint, however, I understand other people think differently. Approaching and exploring such 'sensitive' topics in fiction for what they are (AKA having done the proper research on it rather than working from stereotypes etcetera, writing what you know in one form or the other and all that jazz) is a neat way of exploring different parts of life and society yourself, as well as introducing your readers to them.

    On these themes, however, I would emphasise the importance of actually handling the subjects well. xD I recently came across a fiction where the rape of the female is effectively glorified after she is sold as a sex slave to two male characters. While initially her reaction to the attack is justified as previously-undiscovered masochism (delving into an interesting, darker side of lust), within an 'evening' the emotional consequences of the situation and this revelation are cast aside to allow for the character's complete submission and acceptance of the situation, with her able to light-heartedly consider different elements of it, etcetera – essentially to allow a descent into nothing other than soft porn. xD Personally, I found this a trivialisation of an actually quite serious topic- a misrepresentation of it. It's an informally published rape fantasy, I know, but it's a key example of how 'sensitive' topics are sometimes encountered, and where 'sensitive' topics are encountered, I feel caution should be used.

    If you are going to broach a sensitive subject, a little bit of forethought to ensure you actually represent your subject matter faithfully is key – but then again, isn't that important when you approach any subject you intend to write about? X3 If you don't know your subject matter well, you won't be able to portray it realistically. :3

    Although we do arrive here at just what is classified as a 'sensitive' topic. Different issues mean different things to different people. I personally am liberal when it comes it comes to sexuality, but also a staunch feminist- and that impacts significantly how I view different subjects. As you've probably gathered, the issue of rape is something I consider seriously. How exactly should we consider 'sensitive' topics, think them through, then? I personally wouldn't say 'consider the impact the topic will have on a reader' - I doubt many would disagree with me here, we are all so fond of breaking social taboos. There are things that can, and should be openly discussed, even if they aren't considered 'socially acceptable'. This includes 'darker themes' such as relationships born from incidents such as rape, and incidents of the stockholm syndrome we are all so fond of using. x3 All facets of human nature, all fascinating topics for exploration, all worthwhile. I would say myself that you should consider it through thinking about presenting the subject, like any subject, as truthfully as possible - both sides of it. It's all about the homework, in my books. :3

    General thoughts~? x3
    Last edited: May 30, 2012
  2. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    I definitely agree that exploration of sensitive topics such as rape and racism would add depth. In fact, because they're topics that should be discussed on an intelligent level, I thoroughly encourage people to pursue a discussion of them in fiction as well. Sometimes, the best way to comprehend an issue is to work through an example of it using characters.

    However, the main problem is that not a lot of people do it well when it comes to fanfiction/hobbyist writing. (To be fair, though, yeah, I know that a lot of hobbyist writers haven't really been doing this kind of thing for years.) Either it's overdone to the point where it becomes anvilicious (read: obvious to the point where it just becomes comical), or it's done without much thought put into it. To put it simply, let me break it down.

    If you understand an issue outside of fiction, you have to be careful in talking about it within fiction to avoid beating a reader over the head with your point. For example, if your main issue is "senseless fighting is wrong," you don't want to have every character watch two Pokémon duking it out to the death while saying to themselves, "Fighting isn't the answer." (Lookin' at you, first movie.) The reason why is because the more obvious your point is, the more you risk insulting a reader's intelligence. You end up spelling out the issue over and over again, so you don't give a reader the opportunity to think about it. It's much better, then, to be subtle about your point in order to have your readers think about what's going on and arrive eventually to their own conclusions. In this case, that would be a lot like showing the two Pokémon destroying everything around them and sustaining more and more injuries while at the same time gradually forgetting what they were fighting about in the first place. By showing a reader that, you end up saying the same thing (that senseless fighting is wrong), but it becomes much more powerful because the reader can see these two Pokémon hurting each other for no apparent reason and can say to themselves, "Wow, they really could've avoided all of this."

    The other problem that sensitive topics sometimes face is that not enough research goes into how a very real issue works or impacts a society, so the examples that a writer constructs within a fanfic comes out to be ridiculous by virtue of trivializing your own point. For example, let's say that you want to write a fic centered around the issue of gender equality. You want to write a strong, female character, but in doing so, you state that a woman's only worth something if she's pretty and standing on equal footing as every man. As a result, you end up trivializing the issue of gender equality because what you've done is basically state that men are naturally better than women and that it takes an exceptional woman to get the same respect as a man... which by definition is not equality. So you end up trivializing your point by saying the complete opposite of what the concept you were arguing about actually means.

    As another example, let's say your issue is rape instead, and you want to portray a character getting raped and dealing with the aftermath. But in this story, "the aftermath" isn't the psychological issues that would come from a real rape or the mess of legal proceedings; it's instead the character cutting themselves to lyrics from whatever ~dark~ band happens to be trendy these days. That's not exploring the issue or rape with dignity and intelligence. That's instead fetishizing both rape and self-harm, so you end up trivializing a whole crapload of issues. The net result of this, just like the above, is that you end up with a fic that can't be taken seriously by the progressive-minded and might actually be insulting to the victims or sufferers of either. So you end up saying nothing at all, basically.

    So how do you rectify that? Google the crap out of issues that you want to talk about. Although there's plenty of social justice warriors out there who will look down on you for asking questions about the basics, there's a lot of resource material put out by plenty more people who actually realize that not everyone knows everything about the important things these days. Finding out more about both sides of an issue takes a lot of research, and you just can't talk about sensitive topics or do them justice in fiction without making sure you understand what people are talking about. Otherwise, you end up triggering your audience, provoking them, or worse.

    And by "Google the crap out of issues," I mean "read articles, change your keywords in your search, read more articles, rinse, and repeat for a good few hours." You can't learn all about social issues by sticking to one site (or one side's site), and you can't learn enough in an hour of reading. Don't ask just one person; ask multiple. And when you write about sensitive topics, be aware that what you say could offend someone if you don't handle it with respect, so be respectful. Don't portray a sensitive issue by joking about it, and have the common courtesy to put up warnings that show you take triggers seriously. Otherwise, we don't really have a reason to treat you seriously, you know?

    In short, I guess this means I agree with you. I know that fiction is a great way to explore issues because it's so easy to create a metaphor for what you're trying to talk about. (Science fiction loves this idea in particular. Everything is a metaphor for human suffering or development. Everything.) But! If you're going to do it, you have to do it respectfully and with the right balance. You can't be too obvious about your point, and you can't be unread about it. You have to do a lot of research, you have to go into it wanting to do that issue justice, and you have to understand how to entice a reader to think about them (rather than sit back bored because you're spoonfeeding them issues or -- worse yet -- lose respect for you because you don't take real issues seriously).

    Hope that made any sense whatsoever.
    Last edited: May 30, 2012
  3. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie "It is my destiny."

    I swear, it should be an official rule that whenever Jax replies to a thread, it automatically answers everything, and thus the thread should be locked because nothing can top her responses.

    I feel unworthy to reply... and so late at night, too, where I may end up coming off as an ignorant person due to a slip-up or something...

    Well, writers take risks, so I'm taking the risk.

    Sensitive topics should always be brought up in some form or another, you can't ignore these things; mainly because conflict is part of nature, and another is because the media won't leave these things alone (a personal pet peeve of mine, the media never shuts the hell up, but that's something else entirely). I can see why a novice writer would avoid such topics the best they could due to the inexperience, but at some point in their life, they will have to touch upon it. And generally, and I'm pulling this out of my behind here even though I'm sure this has truth to it, the works that do cover these sensitive topics tend to be a notable piece of work, for the good or the bad. Why is that? Could it be that conflict such as rape is what keeps the story rolling? There has to be conflict in every story you tell, otherwise you won't have a proper three-act structure.

    Since katiekitten is more focused on topics that show up in romance fiction, I'll go ahead and focus on that as well. I have to say that the conflict of love and lust is one of the main themes in my current story, mainly because it just happened that way. I have no experience except for witnessing different people and my own parents. But I wanted to write a story about what love is, since I was tired of how love was being portrayed in fiction these day, and I didn't want to sit around waiting for one that appeals to my views of love--because honestly, that may never ever happen. Either it's from my religious upbringing or what, but I have a rather naive view on what love is, you can say. I believe in pure love, and as far as I know, there's three types: familial love, friendships, and relationships (couples). Love is one of the purest of emotions that represents the good of humanity--heck, if you want to be religious about it, love comes from God. And who's the opposite of God? The Devil, a being of hatred. Hate is Love's opposite.

    So where does lust fall into place? Lust is not true love, because lust is temporary while love is forever. But is lust hatred? Perhaps--you don't wish for the body you crave to die, but you don't love it either. You can say lust is in that so-called gray area where everyone draws the line differently. Of course, these days it's hard to distinguish between what is love and what is lust. It doesn't help that "passion", which tends to fall in line with love a lot, has "lust" as a synonym. And I've read stories where two characters clearly love one another, but then the word "lust" is added in one of their fits of passion, and that really throws it off. I'm sure some people find it adds to the sexiness, but it turns it off for me and makes me abandon the story. There is no way love and lust can be together in a scene like that.

    I think I ranted myself to exhaustion or something, I can't remember what else I wanted to touch on about. But that was what came to mind the most when I saw this thread, so I suppose I'll leave it be for now. But it at least got something off my chest XD.
  4. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    I don't think there's ever been as perfect a summary of the answer to an Author's Cafe question so quickly before. Well done, you two. ^^;

    I'll have to disagree on one thing, though, Kutie Pie. Maybe I'm misinterpreting your comments, but I think I disagree that sensitive topics should "always be brought up." There's really a time and a place for everything, and sometimes the context simply doesn't suit a sensitive topic such as the ones we're discussing here. One of the important rules for using such topics, I think, is to make sure the subject you're tackling fits into the story, otherwise, no matter how well you approach it you will end up with something awkward.

    katiekitten, I agree with you that the taboo surrounding kinks/fetishes is unnecessary, when you're talking about normal kinks and not anything illegal or whatever. On the subject of love and lust, I think that question is quite simple to answer; in my mind, love is what you have for the personality, lust is what you have for the body, and both can (and do) go together in an ideal situation. The topic of love, lust and how they relate to each other can be a fascinating one to explore.

    Racism, sexism and homophobia should be tackled as ills of society, in my opinion. These are problems fostered largely by group thinking and have effects on more than just a single person, so addressing them with their wide-reaching causes and effects is necessary. While you want to avoid implying that biased attitudes are a good thing, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't have characters that believe such things - you just simply have to present that everyone in your world have their own opinions. It only becomes a problem when a certain attitude such as racism pervades a work to the point where all the characters express variants of the same thing and their actions match up with the problematic attitude.

    Rape is another thing entirely. Whereas racism, sexism and homophobia are societal problems, rape is something that is almost entirely horrifically personal. It's an incredibly sensitive subject, and rightfully so. I actually would not recommend that most people try a rape storyline, even though I'm going to do one myself, purely because getting it right requires such extensive preparation and careful planning that it is far too easy to mess it up. That story you describe, katiekitten, is an absolutely wrong way of approaching the subject of rape, if you ask me. There was potential in the idea of the woman trying to discover herself further as a way of dealing with what happened, but by the way you describe it, the author of that work did not handle it well at all.
  5. unrepentantAuthor

    unrepentantAuthor A cat who writes stories

    I believe that issues such as those described in the OP are not just acceptable subjects for fiction to focus on, but essential. It is through narrative that many people learn about the world, and it is worthy to sensitively portray things like atypical sexuality. A world without 'homosexual' literature is a hostile one for most gays and some straight people. If it isn't there, it's alien, Other. However, sadly, it seems that a great deal of writers fail in adequately doing so. I've seen absolutely horrendous failures to write gay characters, and even worse ones with regard to characters who go through rape. It's obscene, the way rape is - as JX says - fetishised in some literature. Hell, many writers in Anno 2012 can't bloody well write decent female characters, a fact which is as reprehensible as it is incredulous. It is therefore all the more important for other writers to cover those kind of subjects - like rape - in as sensitive a way as possible, that in no way dehumanises the experience of survivors. Personally, I'm not ready to do that, and I know it. Maybe I'll get there eventually. Nevertheless, - as you may have inferred - it is possible for less able authors to mishandle such topics, not necessarily out of malevolence, merely out of ignorance. That doesn't mean it's not possible to learn how, though. Being a writer means writing characters who are not like you, inevitably. It's possible - essential - to learn how to write characters of a different sex/gender, sexuality, ethnicity etc to your own. Doubly so for characters who experience traumas you never have, like rape.

    tl;dr: People often fail to write sensitive topics well but it can and should be done.

    That was a rather aimless babbling, but I hope it was at least interesting. Might come back and be more coherent once I've woken up properly.
  6. Sid87

    Sid87 I love shiny pokemon

    This seems an intriguing subject, so I feel the need to add in a few thoughts:

    Rape: I feel like the inclusion of rape in fiction (not just fanfiction, but movies/TVs/novels) tends to most often be included for sensationalism. I also feel that rape is usually included from a one-sided perspective; it is either used to show the psychological effect on the victim or the heartlessness of the perpetrator. But rarely (if ever) have I seen a case where I felt both sides were explored equally. I'm not saying we need to present a "side" to the rapist; that almost sounds like I am apologizing for the rapist's actions. But it's not always as cut-and-dry as "there is an evil man; he rapes someone". Rape is incredibly extreme decision, and I feel it should be explored as to why the rapist did what he did. Was he abused as a child? Does he have mental health disabilities? I find that rapists are oftentimes presented as faceless, nameless villains. Even in real life, that's almost never the case. In the vast majority of cases, the rapist and victim know each other beforehand. That relationship should be explored, and usually, it isn't. Also, quite often the biggest problem of rape is not even the rape itself--it's the emotional abuse a victim can take afterwards. Being called a liar or being probed by doctors or being challenged by cops or lawyers or being shunned by family or friends (if the rapist was a family member or friend, thus causing mutual family or acquaintances to have to "take sides"). This should always be explored as well. There is a reason the majority of rape cases go unreported, and it's due to the stress the comes afterwards.

    Also, there's another side to this that could be explored, and it occured to me while typing out the dividing of family and friends: what about instances of a woman crying "rape!" where none occured. Whether it is post-coitus regret or just attention-seeking or trying to distract from something else. As much as rape victims take abuse after the act, think how much exponentially worse it would be for an innocent person to be accused of such an egregious act. What if it's hard to tell who's telling the truth? I've seen this explored in Law & Order, but infrequently anywhere else.

    Homosexuality/Homophobia: I don't think there's any real cause for homosexuality to be a "sensitive issue". It exists, and it is widespread, and it is a normal thing. I think our generation is past the point where seeing homosexuality in the media is a big deal. But that said, allow me to defend homophobia. I feel that in the media, people who oppose gay marriage or gay relationships are made out to be fringe psychos, and that's simply not the case. Personally, I am a staunch supporter of gay rights and equality, but I also know a lot of people who aren't. And, despite what fictionalized media portrayals might have you believe, the average person who still disapproves of homosexuality is not some Bible-thumping, archaic looney (though I'm sure I have called them as much). They are completely normal people who honestly feel like homosexuality is a sin and immoral and has no place in society. They honestly believe homosexuality is not genetic and is, instead, always a choice. They have a genuine concern that "normalizing" homosexuality will have a degrading effect on society. They don't assault gays or heckle them or even dislike them as people. I worry that anti-homosexual characters are often represented as purely villains without any realistic character traits. That's neither validworthwhile to include in a story.

    I think that in most cases the way rape and homophobia are portrayed in fiction, they really AREN'T sensitive issues. Obviously no one supports rape, and the majority of people in our generation (or maybe YOUR generation since I'm an old man compared to most people here) don't believe homosexuals should be treated unequally. But what about issues that are truly divisive? I'd think those are the most "sensitive" I can think of.

    Religion and politics are INCREDIBLY hard to write because if you are handling those matters, it is IMPERATIVE that you do them fairly (unless you have an agenda, in which case, knock yourself out. But I really dislike reading that kind of stuff). How do you write a story centered around politics without making one side "better" than the other? How do you write a story involving religion or spiritual beliefs that doesn't come out as either preachy or blasphemous? It takes a GREAT deal of care and, as has been mentioned previously by Valentine and others, research, to make those subjects work. There are two political parties in my country; it is easy to think that, by-and-large, one side is "good", and the other side is "bad" (or, at least, "stupid"), but they aren't. They are just made up of people who honestly view the world and its problems through different lenses and see different things. If you are going to present political characters, you should open-mindedly research the ideals of both sides and have the characters embody the actual beliefs that they have. And sometimes that is uncomfortable to do. You may think "Well that's ludicrous!" when you are finding out why either side believes the way they do on a matter, but to the people who believe that, it is anything but. That should be respected.

    Religion might be even more difficult. I can empathize on this because in the fantasy novel I am working on, one of the main "villains" is the Church which has come to power in a post-apocalyptic world. And it's a very hard balance to strike showing that BELIEF isn't necessarily bad, but the men who've risen to power are (I try very hard to portray the Church in such a way that you could really plug in anything you want to see in the Church, and feel you are right in my idea. You could look at it and say "Oh, I see! Religion is evil!" or "Oh, I see! Government and beaurocracy is evil!" or "Oh, I see! Big Business is evil!", and no matter what is is, you are right. I try to balance this by having two protagonists: one is very devout and religious, and the other is not. They are both battling what they see as corruption in the Church, despite their opposing views. I often hope that makes the story fair, but I worry it doesn't.
    Last edited: May 30, 2012
  7. Though I am conservative on the issue of homosexuality, I have two characters in my Pokeverse who are indeed gay and are even partnered to each other (Yes I have a gay couple in my verse). They don't get married in the future but in my 10yrs later part, they still are together; 5 years later however they do have a union that binds them. The issue with homosexuality in fiction is that many authors try to force it upon the reader and make it unrealistic. Same sex couples are pretty trendy among fandoms and it ends up in a character not acting as themselves. Especially when it comes to the uke/seme chart that most writers use. This is why I like to use either characters I made up or actual Pokemon. The relationship comes natural that way and it isn't that anime stereotype.

    On sexism... I treat females with the same respect. Some hold respectable positions in this Pokeverse. I have a girl who is widely admired in Unova for what she does to help other Pokemon. I have a character with a parent who speaks on behalf of female Pokemon (a Poke feminist). I also have some have their own baggage. I have a girl who obsesses over how she looks and is insecure and gets bullied alot, I have a girl who is a typical mean girl because of her envy issues and I have a girl (beauty queen) who is seeking the comfort of an older man for a companion because she doesn't get enough love from her folks at home. I also have a girl who is very docile and this is in her personality. As for the guys, yes I do have a character who is dun dun dun, a male chauvinist. He doesn't hate women, he just thinks his gender is better. Yet, I treat this guy with the same respect as my almost politically correct males. He is even admired by two of my female characters. He's not perfect, but no one is. Everyone is judgmental, some are just more so than others.

    So on sensitive topics, this is how I feel.
    Last edited: May 30, 2012
  8. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Personally, I haven't touched on rape in any of my stories, and I don't think I plan to...

    I have, however, dealt with homosexuality in a few characters. I try not to parade it around, but it's there. See, that's my main issue on dealing with social issues and sensitive subjects in fiction. Some writers talk about it only to appear to have an opinion on the subject. Take, for example, the Wicked Years. While I think the idea of what happened in Oz before and after Dorothy came and went is a fascinating one, Gregory Maguire's pretension is clear. I mean, first off, his prose, but that's not the point. The series (or at least the first three books) try to address every social problem that exists in our world today in an Ozian context. And while if this was done in moderation it would be compelling, he carries it too far and gets lost in it, thereby detracting from the story.

    Essentially, it's good to comment on these sensitive subjects, and often they can enrich and add depth to the story, other times the writer becomes too bogged down in the message to tell a good story. Maybe I'm off the mark here, but I hope what I'm saying makes sense.

    Anyway, as to my experience with it, on both occasions where I confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a character of mine was gay, I actually received some backlash (or at least incredulity) from some of my readers. Perhaps one that set me off the most was one I received on my original fic, Fire Eternal:
    I know, it's not much, but the intolerance was rather blatant and (to me) saddening. I try very hard not to make a big deal about my characters' sexuality, but sometimes a scene calls for it and I will bring it up. I'm not pushing the fact that Lucian or Prometheus are homosexual, but yes, they are, and that's a piece of their character that makes them who they are and influences their choices.

    Another subject(s) that I don't think people have mentioned here is war, and the brutality therein. The Blazing Heart Saga focuses on a drawn-out global and guerrilla war between several factions. So naturally, I've done my research on war crimes, PTSD, and looked at interviews and commentary from soldiers in the Vietnam War and WWII about their experiences. In a few instances, I've had to look up things about concentration camps and gulags, both for the Saga and for Hero's Path. In fact, the arc of Hero's Path where the protagonist is confined to a work camp by Team Magma was supposed to be an allegory to the Russians who were forced to work until death in the gulags during WWII and the rise of the USSR.
  9. AquaRegisteel

    AquaRegisteel Face Oblivion

    I think that it shouldn't be included if it isn't necessary to a plot, but if it is, it should be dealt with with a deal of maturity. I wouldn't ever accept a comment like the quote in the post above, but that's down to my personal hate of homophobes X3

    They do, of course, add detail to a character, and do sometimes work well as strict "plot enrichers". For example, take a male character called Timm. If he had ever had any bad experiences with his sexuality, and someone came across and insulted him for it/ reminded him of it, it would be a good thing to not bring it up until the insulting/reminding actually happens. This could end up creating a deal of tension between the characters, and could spike up tension before a climax.

    However, any subject applies to what I've just said, but it does require maturity. But sometimes, stereotypical homosexuals do make a story more comical if wrote out that way, and do entertain, so long as it isn't taken too far~~
  10. Kaiserin

    Kaiserin please wake up...

    I agree 100% with the seme/uke stereotype being largely godawful, especially with male/male pairings (but it's not unheard of in female/female, and it presents itself as strict gender roles in male/female pairings as well), but I don't think taking characters OOC for the sake of a ship is exclusive to homosexual ships. They just happen to get more flack for it, because they have a wider variety of awful **** to their name.

    Most of my thoughts on this have already been much more eloquently addressed, in regards to how (not) to write something like this, and whether to do it at all, since things like rape shouldn't be thrown in carelessly to add drama and angst... or even to drive a ship through romantic/sexual healing for a rape victim, that is a big no and I've seen it happen far too much. Fiction is a good avenue for exploring the repercussions and many angles of things like rape, racism, abuse, etc., especially when these aren't things you'll want to delve into all sides of in real life in conversation with others, for the most part. It's possible to explore the side of the "bad guy" for these things if you know the psychology behind them well enough, though it's all too easy to start glorifying or sounding apologetic for any of them if you don't keep your wording and the overall tone in careful check, regardless of how heavily the theme factors into the actual story.

    Oh, and here's another big theme that seems to get used a lot in especially squick-inducing fanfic AUs: World War II and the Holocaust, or "tributes" to 9/11, or some other horrible real-world disaster used in an even more horrible context. Holocaust AUs are never, ever a good idea, outside of series that actually touch on or are set in it (Hellsing comes to mind, maybe Hetalia if you want to tread ground even the artist doesn't seem to want to, probably others too), and I have seen a good number of fanfics that have tried to "tribute" 9/11... mostly by setting the characters of their chosen canon in the World Trade Center on the day of the disaster, having them remember the event somehow despite probably not even being American in most cases if it's for an anime, or just otherwise making a huge elephant in the room out of it.
  11. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie "It is my destiny."

    Oh my gosh, YES all across the board. I can understand that people don't want to forget, but it's like they either forget that there are victims of 9/11 out there that do come across these stories, or they don't remember very well how disastrous is was to the world. I was only nine when it happened, and even though I do understand what it was all about now, I wouldn't dare write a story touching on 9/11 without a good reason, or with having a cartoon character remembering it. The Ninja Turtles I can understand, and perhaps other characters that grow up around New York like Spiderman, or even some other American fictional characters, but in all honesty, it should be left alone.

    I've run into a couple of 9/11 tribute stories, one that dealt with the Ninja Turtles that I thought was okay (though I might have a different opinion today if I go back to find and re-read it). The other was from Land Before Time. Seriously. Some jackass thought bringing in the Land Before Time characters to the present day shortly before the events of 9/11 occurred, and have them experience it would be a great tribute. It was awful and very disrespectful. Of course, the idiot re-uploaded it a second time because he "fixed the plot-holes" and got rid of the very inappropriately-placed Chomper/Ducky romance, and we still got mad at him. He begrudgingly took it down, and I haven't seen it since.

    I haven't seen any stories that revolved around WWII yet (except for some rather infamous stories), but I imagine it's just as bad. It's like these writers are afraid to do research on what happened during that time period and what went on in the concentration camps. But just because these two events have gone down in history as some of the most bloody in world history doesn't mean fanfics, let alone fiction in general, should be written. If someone wants to write about it, then they must do the freakin' research until the skin is peeled from their fingers (well maybe not that extreme). If they don't have the energy or the heart to do that, then they shouldn't bother with the tributes and write about something that's not non-fictional.
    Last edited: May 30, 2012
  12. ^ that and especially if the author ships a fictional character with a real life person from those events. Call me crazy but I've seen alot of people ship Anne Frank with Sonic and other characters. Yes I read a Sonic/Anne Frank fic and it was horrible....

    Someone in the Pokemon fandom did it to and they shipped her with Ash, I think.
  13. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie "It is my destiny."

    I thought the only fic that dealt with Anne Frank was Anne Frank and Goku Until the End of Time o_O. Damn it, why won't people leave Anne Frank alone?

    Gosh, I don't know what's worse: fics about Anne Frank, or Josef Mengele. Or both. Oh to hell with it, real-person fics in general.
  14. katiekitten

    katiekitten The Compromise

    That brings up something quite interesting, actually - as fanfic-ers who write using other people's characters/settings/worlds etcetera, what is your opinion on people who write 'real-person' 'fics? Using real people as characters in fiction is certainly not anything new, but like anything else, it depends on the research, I guess. x3 An interesting dilemma arises, though, in a consideration of how far you can take that character outside of what they were actually documented to have done - the ethical quandaries of taking a real person and using them as an original character, to varying degrees of authorial licence. This arises in particular when it comes to fiction written about people who are still alive: how ethical is it to write about them in such a way, how many liberties can an author take? To tell the truth, the same issue arises with people who are already dead, they just happen to be unable to ever read what you've written, so it makes it seem less of an imposition (although the person in question's descendants shouldn't be disregarded, either). To an extent, that is what tabloid newspapers and magazines can be seen to be doing when they cultivate rumours on celebrities, isn't it? Just a different form of fiction. xD

    Interesting case: I had a friend who wrote 'My Chemical Romance' fan fiction, literally pairing together the different band members. It was well written, and played out the emotions fine, it was just... weird, since she was placing real people (with personalities and back stories carefully researched) into hypothetical, dark relationships. Other fan fiction of that pairing went even darker, examining psychological abuse, etcetera - and it just struck me as odd and morally interesting, as they were taking people who are still alive and could easily stumble across such fiction - and some of the assumptions they were drawing about their personalities were quite extreme. xD She, on the other hand, found it difficult to understand why I wrote fan fiction of fictional works, presenting the argument on the moral issues around taking someone else's characters and ideas for fiction.

    Two different sides of the same coin. x3

    The debate above has been really interesting - the point on sensationalism, and how writing that deliberately labours on issues to make a point actually misrepresents and distorts, commonly, the original topic under discussion, in particular. :3 <3
  15. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    I like the Puella Magi Madoka Magica fic in which Anne Frank turns out to be a magical girl.

    ...Oh wait, that's canon. *shot!*

    On a serious note, a few words about homosexuality in fics.

    Alas, I wish we were, but we're not quite there yet. There's still a notable lack of respectable (non-camp) homosexual characters throughout media (especially television and film), and when it comes to fandom, although there's a lot of fic pairing up characters of the same gender, there's still plenty of people who take issue with the idea of slash fic, yaoi, yuri, and so forth. That's unfortunately why the warning still exists.

    I also have to speak up about this. It really depends on who you're talking about. I absolutely agree with you that the majority of homophobics or anti-gays are quiet and civil about their opinions, and I do agree that media tends to fail at representing the majority, probably because there's no real way to do so. (I mean, if someone's quietly against an entire group of people, how do you talk about their position if they never bring it up?) Meanwhile, there's most definitely a minority of people who are quite vocal and violent towards the LGBT community in this day and age, and a lot of media that covers the topic of anti-LGBT is attempting to raise awareness towards that group. Granted, it also exaggerates and makes that group look bigger than it is, but it's mostly meant to vocalize the fact that they exist and that violence still happens.

    But you are right in saying that it's rather uncomfortable that the media only represents the vocal minority because people aren't taught to recognize prejudice within themselves, basically. It basically teaches people to say, "Well, I'm not violent towards gays, so clearly, I'm not actually homophobic." So you've definitely got a point in that it tends to trivialize the issue at hand by dehumanizing the problem.

    That and it would be interesting to see how media tackles changing a good guy who happens to be quietly anti-gay into someone who's more accepting of those around him.

    Also, moving right along, I just have one thing to say about the seme/uke thing. Well, two. First, this sometimes depends on the fandom. I've read a lot of fics by pretty awesome people who could argue reasonably that the characters they were writing about were completely in-character according to their interpretation, and plenty of fics don't follow the seme/uke format. It's just that the characters are in a relationship and happen to be the same gender. This goes especially for non-anime fics, although there's actually a surprising abundance of that happening in this fandom too. In fact, I'd say it's much, much easier to find a fic about a homosexual pairing that treats the nature of the relationship as no big deal than it is to find a fic about transgendered characters that have the trans character be more than "so I'm a trans character."

    Second, what Kaiserin said was completely correct: it's most definitely not a problem exclusive to same-sex pairings. I do have to disagree that it's because fics about same-sex pairings have a wider variety of ****, though. In actuality, I've seen a lot more heterosexual fics that were actually better at finding creative ways to suck. (Sometimes literally and figuratively at the same time. Protip: There are very few porn fics out there that are actually not stupid.) I'd think that it's probably because a lot of characters are not overtly homosexual, so it's harder to argue that a character is for the sake of a fic. Take, for example, the abundance of Iron Man/Captain America fic out there. There's literally no reason within canon (movieverse or comicverse) to believe that either character is absolutely homosexual, but there's plenty of reasons to believe that they're heterosexual (least of which being their canon relationships and how all of them involve women). So, you really have to bend over backwards to figure out a way to pair them up that makes sense and skips past the self-discovery part of figuring out you're gay. Unfortunately... pulling that off isn't exactly easy.

    However, to meander back to the point, there's another problem with the seme/uke concept that I'd really like to bring up and expand upon: it is, by nature, basically gender roles applied to a pairing that has no variations in gender. Think about it. What is seme/uke? Seme is the dominant, masculine member of the pair; uke is the submissive, feminine member. So it ends up failing completely for the same reason crappy heterosexual romances fail: because no healthy relationship defines both partner's roles so strictly. You don't have damsels in distress, and you don't have macho men rushing off to their rescues. You don't have girly girls sitting on tough guys' laps. You might have a girl who's interested in girly things or a guy who's femme, but they should still be seen as people, not as sets of traits that fill specific roles in a relationship. And that's really a problem that a number of romances that deal with any kind of sexual orientation face. It becomes less about people interacting with each other and more about roles to fill. Which in a way I guess could be covered with "this sucks because characters are OOC," but you could probably have a completely in-character relationship that still fails because of the whole "let's focus on roles instead of interactions" bit.

    Sorry. Had to rant for a bit. I am just against the idea in general of people being treated as a relationship instead of just people. And there's so much of that all over the place, regardless of sexual orientation.

    I also have to +1 Kaiserin's bit about 9/11 memorial fics. I mean, okay, I get that it happened ten years ago and that a lot of fic (even the ones that came out months after September for some reason) is meant to be honoring that fact, but let's face it, guys. You just can't get away with that kind of concept the way you could if you had Japanese characters celebrate a western-style Christmas. Because, yeah, it's kinda tacky. Especially if you have a memorial fic come out in May.

    Edit: As for RPF, my only thought about it is that it's pretty much the same as ordinary fic. It certainly isn't new. People have been doing it basically since humanity started writing in the first place. I mean, depending on your beliefs, a lot of mythological and religious text could be interpreted as RPF, satire was thinly veiled RPF, and there's a lot of fiction out there that involves historical figures kicking ***. (Example: The Seven Per-Cent Solution teams Sigmund Freud up with Sherlock Holmes. It really is about as awesome as that sounds.) When it comes to modern-day fiction with characters who are still alive, there are most definitely ways to pull it off, just as there are ways to write a crack-filled comic book about Barack Obama fighting zombies. (President Evil. Look it up.) If you want to be taken seriously, yeah, definitely do your research, read or watch interviews that person has done, try to find out as much information about them as possible, or at least come up with a consistent "character" for them that's based on what their fans know about them, but it's really not as weird as some other things a person could write. (Like fetish fic, for example.)

    But mostly, I just love it for its crack. Or how many fics run on the sheer power of awesome. Example? Obama + steampunk + airship pirates + massive fantasy setting full of dragons, ***-kicking, and apocalypse-inducing everything = Obamadämmerung. You're welcome.
    Last edited: May 31, 2012
  16. Sid87

    Sid87 I love shiny pokemon

    When I say "our generation", I mean people 30 and under (wow, which isn't even me anymore. Waugh!). Not "everyone alive right now". I think that's about a 50/50 split according to most polls. But in the younger generation, I think the vast majority doesn't care.

    And I take issue that there is a lack of respectable homosexual characters. Mitch and Cam on Modern Family. Northstar in Astonishing X-Men. Steve Carrell's character in Little Miss Sunshine. Those 3 just popped into my head at 6am. I'm sure if I had a few more minutes before showering for work, I could come up with me.

    And I hate slash fiction, so I avoid it and have no idea if it as truly awful as I think it is. :)
  17. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    Actually, that's exactly who I meant as well. There are still plenty of people my age and under who take issue with homosexual pairings, which is why people who write them in fanfic still warn for them. It's sort of backwards, but if you think about it, it makes sense. While people over the age of eighteen tend to be open-minded because they form their own opinions separate from those of their family and society, people under that age tend to maintain the same opinions as the people they were raised around. So it's really not unusual to find a lot of people under that age who are uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality.

    It also depends on the culture, of course. Certain countries produce people who are more open-minded than others, to put it simply, and both types of people are your online readers.

    Except those are only a handful, and Mitch and Cam could be questionable with regards to the "non-camp" qualifier. The majority of characters in media are heterosexual. Sure, you could argue that the majority of people offline are, but it's really disproportionate to reality. (It's a lot like media's representation of minorities in general. There are far less of most of them than there are in the average population in real life. Ever notice how New York City is almost always portrayed as a place full of straight, white people?) Moreover, there's also a notable lack of homosexual characters in fiction that could be equivalent to the "strong, female character" that feminists are always talking about. You don't really have too many queer characters (if we extend this to the entirety of the LGBT spectrum) who are main protagonists, well-developed, and not camp. Especially if comparing that number to that of how much straight, cisgendered characters get represented in media.

    Depends on the fandom and where you look, really. The Pokémon slash you'd find on LiveJournal is actually better than a lot of het romance you'd find on forums and FFNet, for example, but there's also a lot of Pokémon slash that isn't worth reading elsewhere. Star Trek, meanwhile, generally has better slash than the Marvelverse fandom. It's a lot like any other genre, I think, in that it's got its good fics and its terrible fics.
  18. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    I tend to feel that it is not necessarily fiction's job, so to speak, to try to really deal with real-world issues. By which I mean that if you want to try to say something about the reality of some issue in a work of fiction, knock yourself out, but saying all fiction should be dealing with real-world issues or that in general real-world issues should be there to be 'dealt with' at all really rubs me the wrong way.

    Morphic talks about abortion quite a bit (with the first chapter featuring a debate on it), for instance, but it is not a commentary on the issue of abortion in the real world in any way, shape or form; it's just a plot element that some characters have opinions on (and varying ability to defend them, which incidentally leads to my personal side on the matter losing the debate). The villains also belong to a fundamentalist church, and some of the more vocal main characters are atheists. This isn't commentary on religion, either; again, it's just a bunch of characters having their own opinions. Morphic has no message or moral for the real world whatsoever: it is just a story. And I like just-stories.

    Fiction can tackle controversial real-world issues in an intelligent, interesting and even revealing way, but I find frustratingly often that it just manages to fall over itself in the attempt. I think both Narnia and His Dark Materials, for example, while being imaginative and enjoyable fantasy, just make a terrible false analogy that kills their relevance to the real world where they start to try to make a point about religion. (Writing a book where there is an evil church out to do things no real churches are doing for reasons that have nothing to do with real churches is not in any way an argument against real churches, and Susan is just being an idiot when she suddenly starts denying the existence of Narnia because she was there and she's seen the evidence, which is kind of the opposite of why atheists are generally atheists.)

    (I have similar thoughts about all fantasy and science fiction that tries to make a real-world point by changing the real-world thing to make it obviously good/evil. If you change the real-world thing, it is no longer the real-world thing! There are plenty of valid arguments to make against drinking alcohol, for instance, if that is your thing, but the moment you make alcohol actually a poison that lets aliens take over your brain, you have made it irrelevant to actual, real-world alcohol. By all means do it if you think it makes for a good story, but don't delude yourself into thinking you've made some kind of a point. You can only make a point about the effects of real-world alcohol if the substance involved actually has the same or very similar effects to real-world alcohol. The other thing is just bludgeoning the reader over the head with "BEER BAD" while refusing to make any actual argument as to why: mindless propaganda, not saying anything real. No matter how much I approve of your message, that kind of thing will just annoy me.)

    Again, I stress that I think it is perfectly possible for fiction to make good points about real-world issues, so long as it keeps the relevant parts of what it's trying to take on actually parallel to how it works in the real world. While mutant superheroes are significantly different from Jews or gays, for instance, a lot of aspects of persecution can still be parallel to the persecution of real groups, and that way you can explore persecution in a way that comments on the real world even in a story about mutant superheroes.

    But there can also be issues in fiction that have no parallel in the real world, and I think those are worth exploring, too - what about the things that would be very different about the persecution of mutant superheroes, who unlike real-world persecuted minorities are dramatically more powerful and dangerous than the people who persecute them? In some ways I think that's a more interesting issue than what parallels real-world persecution, precisely because it isn't real: while we have actual real-world examples to show us how real-world persecution plays out and provide a basis for discussing it, which makes fiction about it in some sense redundant, fiction can take situations that haven't happened or couldn't happen and explore how they would (or might) play out if they did. That's the real beauty of fiction, to me. I'm fascinated by things like how the ethics of a sapient, social species that preys on other species they know to also be sapient might work - it's an issue completely irrelevant to humanity and with no implications for the real world whatsoever, but that's exactly what makes it interesting as far as I'm concerned. I don't think fiction that explores abstract questions like that in an interesting and intelligent way but does not comment on issues in the real world has any less depth or worth than fiction that takes on actual real-world issues with the intention of saying something about them.

    Homosexuality in particular is something that may to be a simple background element more than it needs to be dealt with as an issue. Characters who do all the things straight characters do while happening to be gay are very possibly more helpful towards the cause of getting homosexuality accepted as normal than characters whose homosexuality is made into an issue, simply because when it's an issue, it's not being treated as normal; even if the handling of the issue is overwhelmingly gay-positive, it isn't contributing to gay characters being treated the same way as straight characters, which should be the ultimate goal. Same with female characters; when writers go out of their way to create a Strong Female Character and a feminist message, the result is often not actually nearly as girl-positive as a work where there are generally varied and interesting characters and many of them just happen to be female.

    Subjects such as rape that aren't controversial or political so much as delicate and potentially triggering mostly need appropriate warnings and tasteful handling. Again, though, I don't think any instance of rape in fiction must be there to deal with the issue of rape. Not every story has to save the world. Rape is a horrible, horrible thing that a truly frightening number of people misunderstand - but it is also an interesting subject for fiction because it has interesting effects upon the victim's psyche, interesting implications about the perpetrator, and interesting consequences for the future direction of the story and character development. I think it is okay to write about rape (or anything else) just because it is interesting, provided appropriate warnings are in place and it isn't being fetishized or otherwise portrayed in a manner that actively trivializes the reality of it.

    Yeah. This has been long and rambly, but I just really, really love fiction as the pure art of storytelling, much more than I like it as social commentary.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2012
  19. Psychic

    Psychic Really and truly

    My philosophy in writing has always been "write what you know," and that especially applies to sensitive or controversial topics.

    So, what if you don't know anything about the topic you want to cover? Educate yourself.

    What if you think you already know everything about the topic you want to cover? Educate yourself some more.

    There's really no such thing as knowing too much, and when you're writing to diverse audiences, especially audiences who know nothing about the topic or who are experts on it, you must be sure to have the facts. There's no point in covering a difficult subject if you're only going to half-*** it. In doing so, you run a lot of risks, such as teaching readers the wrong things or coming off as dumb or ignorant.

    You don't get brownie points for trying to cover a subject if you do so inadequately. It's great that people want to try, but unless you're going into it with a comprehensive understanding, and you make it show, you could just wind up in trouble, upsetting your audience, or, again, just making a bad impression.

    Unfortunately, it's simply easier to do something the wrong way than it is to do the right way. I read the start of a Trainer fic where a teenager's butt and bust suddenly inflated while she was showering, and a Hunger Games fic that included prostitution and underage sex. The first was absolute schlock, and the second was tasteful and heart-wrenching. It doesn't have to be a difficult, controversial subject for it to be mucked up, but putting in the effort and making it tasteful can absolutely pay off.

    Does every writer need to cover a delicate or controversial subject at some point? Of course not! Your writing does not automatically become deeper or better or more meaningful just because you've touched on something difficult. It can be, but I don't think it's a necessary step in every writer's evolution. Each writer has their own strengths, and that's what you should focus on. If you want to cover something in particular and feel ready to do the research to tackle a harder subject, power to you! But it is by no means necessary.

    It goes right back to what I said from the start: write what you know! :)

    Dragonfree makes an interesting point (or so I assume based on how this thread's gone silent), and I don't exactly have an answer to it. Personally, I don't mind fiction becoming another avenue to look at or discuss a topic. The "if you change the real-world thing, it is no longer the real-world thing" point is valid, but I don't think that entirely stops you from being able to comment on it anyway, especially if it's relatively unchanged. Plato's philosophical dialogues are technically fictitious, but it worked to get across his points (at least enough so that we still talk about him).

    I also say a resounding "yes!" to her and Jax's concerns about portrayal. Making an issue out of something that doesn't need to be a big deal doesn't help your cause such as, as mentioned, trivializing gender equality so that men are naturally better than women and only "special" women can be as great as men (kind of looking at you, Hunger Games), or making a big deal out of a homosexual character instead of letting them just be there (c'mon, Glee).

    So, again, it goes back to researching the topic, and it can help to look at other portrayals of your topic in the media and reading responses to them. This can give some pretty interesting and helpful insight that can really make you think twice.

  20. katiekitten

    katiekitten The Compromise

    I agree with Dragonfree on the manner in which issues are dealt with: thrusting moral maxims and messages into a reader's face is a particularly indelicate way of approaching such issues. Particularly in the case of putting forward actually human, realistic women and including LGBT characters: the goal is to present them how they are in actuality (simply to create a realistic portrayal of the composition of the population of a school/town/city etcetera, to simply use as a character the same random manner you choose a name and present them fairly, or even to press a subtle point) and undermine in this way prejudiced, stereotypical perceptions of them - simply through being true to life. Creating a 'fic that makes it a Big Deal that the characters exist and are doing the same things as any white, straight male would be - makes them exceptional, still distinguishes them, and in its overt attempt to counter every single stereotypical element and highlight these achievements elevates the perception to a truth that this character is special for avoiding the 'natural faults' of their gender/sexual preference/etcet. But this is a moot point in this thread.

    The whole idea of exaggerating something to undermine it/exaggerating its effects is by no means new, although its effectiveness varies, I suppose. If you're approaching the subject seriously and deliberately misconstrue it to emphasise your point - well that is certainly an all too common political tactic/general argumentative fallacy, and depending on how it's presented, has a relative amount of success. A lot of satire/parody is built around doing just that - it doesn't present the issue fairly and is based on the author's view point, but it can succeed in making its point. It doesn't necessarily make its argument valid, (certainly it is a fallacy) and it certainly warps its topic, but that doesn't stop people writing them/using them, or, sadly, the effectiveness of its use. While I'm personally a fan of truthful representations (with the exception of comedy I suppose), it is nevertheless a common tactic. What impacts the reaction to the mutation is how 'valid' the point they are making is considered, frequently... Gulliver's Travels blows humanity's faults out of all proportion but it makes a valid comment on our nature, does it not...? That is a parody, however, and I do personally agree with you, analogies/distortions that misrepresent issues commonly fail to deal with the subject they were intended to. To regurgitate the main theme that has emerged in this thread: write about what you know, and make sure you represent it fairly, even if you disagree with it - with the exception of parody/satire. xD

    Of course a fiction's worth isn't dictated by whether it tackles an issue or not. I believe it's a valuable avenue, but it isn't a necessity. You can't completely disassociate fiction from all moral messages, however, and I think the example of the critique received by fictions that inadvertently promote prejudiced messages is evidence of that - such fictions don't claim to putting forward any purposeful messages, but nevertheless their content reflects their personal beliefs and preconceptions, as does the reader's identification and offence reveal their own. In a delightfully post-modernist rejection of the possibility of true objectivity, you can't really disassociate fiction from moral messages as much as you can't fully disassociate it from the way you think - your interpretation of the world and life is going to emerge, whether you like it or not, and even stories centred on two distinctly alien races will still be, if not overtly coloured by the authors beliefs (if they can watch their writing close enough - even then, however, our understandings and knowledge is shaped by our experience as humans, therefore it is nigh-on impossible to successfully comprehend how another race perceives the world, alien, animal or otherwise - even humans in earlier time periods differ integrally. The manner in which you present these alternate life forms will be shaped by the manner in which you understand the world, the way you think - inescapably), how the story is read and interpreted by its audience will be impacted by their own moral beliefs and understanding of the world...

    Edit: That said, there is a difference between the placing of distinct morals and the imbuing of a text unconsciously with your own beliefs/the notion that your words are directed and limited, no matter how cautious you are, by the manner in which you understand the world... but the difference between them is one of definition, isn't it? What is defined as a distinct moral belief, and a belief in itself. If anyone has followed me this far.

    But I'm just being nitpicky.

    Neh, not anything else to be said that isn't just further bolstering what's been discussed already. Just wanted to respond now that I have the chance to properly address some things - freedom is nearing...! xD
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2012

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