This is a friendly reminder that nothing that you write is wrong.
I think that when writers who are concerned that their story may include aspects that are subversive or bigoted or unoriginal and that these aspects make their story wrong, what they are actually concerned with is whether or not their story is reaching their desired audience.
Here is the truth: No one needs to give you permission for you to write a certain way or about a certain thing. Therefore, nothing you write is wrong, it simply does not appeal to everyone in the whole world.
Let’s look at a few examples commonly mislabeled as wrong.
Example One: Lesbians as the villains of a story.
- If the characters are villains because they’re lesbians, then you will likely appeal to the anti-homosexual community, even if you don’t think of yourself as anti-homosexual. That isn’t inherently wrong, it’s just that your story is resonating with an audience that you may not have anticipated.
This applies to any minority, really. If you write a story with a POC villain who is evil because he or she is a POC, you will likely attract the people who want to read stories that include POCs-as-villains-because-they’re-POC, while simultaneously repelling the people who believe that stories with POCs-as-villains-because-they’re-POC are ignorant. This might sound wrong to your ears. It’s not.
Polarizing topics like race and sexuality tend to create extreme opinions of writing that covers such topics, so it shouldn’t surprise you that people feel strongly. When you write a character and examine it through plot and character development, and this examination leans into one side or the other of these topics, or basically any topic, someone will try to tell you that you’re wrong. You’re not wrong; your story and your voice and the experiences that have informed you as a writer do not appeal to that person.
- If the characters are villains and also lesbians, then you are merely listing a character trait and no one can fault you for that. The characters’ homosexuality has nothing to do with their evil actions any more than they would have to do with their good actions if your characters were heroes.
While this sort of story might repulse the anti-homosexual community we talked about in the scenario above, it may actually appeal to the homosexual community, who are still underrepresented (though their inclusion nowadays tends to be thought of as fashionable or edgy), because it includes homosexual characters. And sometimes it’s nice to have the minority you’re a part of represented in the stories you read.
In both of these examples, you can see that a group of people is not happy. Good. Get used to it. Not everyone is going to like what you write, but no matter what anyone tells you, nothing you write is wrong.
As writers, it is important that we write about the injustices that we see in the world (or, at least, to make observations about the world around us), because if we don’t, who will? Write the things that are unfair, that are dirty or unkind, that hold up a mirror to the face of the world. Step on toes. Bloody some noses with your words. After all, you are the only person who has ever had your unique perspective. You are the only one with your particular human experience. Don’t waste it.
Example Two: My story is similar to a published story.
- If you have plagiarized a published story, put down your pen and go sit in a corner and think about what you’ve done. Even so, you haven’t written anything wrong because you haven’t actually written at all. You plagiarized.
- If you have written a story with tropes, names, or other things in common with a published story, then your are in good company. Those published stories have tropes, names, and what-have-you in common with other stories, and those stories share similarities to other stories and on and on to back into a time when we couldn’t even write our names with sticks in the sand. Originality is pretty overrated. In fact, if you share some aspects of your story with another writer, it might even be a relief to know that your story is more likely to have a reader base.
In short, outright plagiarism notwithstanding, there is nothing wrong with having aspects of your story in common with other writers. However, if you are worried that your story is plagiarizing, have a few people to read it over and tell you what they think. If they think you’re unintentionally plagiarizing, then you’ve got some changes to make.
To conclude this friendly reminder, I’d like to ask you to stop trying to think about your writing in terms of “Is what I’m writing wrong?” and instead try to think in terms of “Am I writing to my desired audience?” And even if you’re not, that’s okay, too.
Read the rebuttals here.