Questionable Material


Writers are not responsible for morally condemning the immoral actions of their characters.

I’ve seen writers who think that they need to make sure their readers know that certain actions are inappropriate or reprehensible, and I could not disagree more.

A basic lesson you learn in writing classes is “don’t over-explain; trust your reader to be smart enough to understand what’s happening without spelling it out.” I also apply this to trusting my readers to be smart enough to tell when a character’s actions are morally dubious.

I’ve seen some writers online nervously put in their notes that they don’t personally approve of X or Y that happens in their story, and if that’s what makes that writer comfortable, okay. But I will defend to the death anyone who chooses not to do that and gets flack for it because someone somewhere thinks they should have made sure everyone knows.

Are there stories that do make you wonder what the writer thinks? Sure. Sometimes characters reflect the author’s opinions, but it’s only bad writing if there’s no character with a different opinion to balance it. Sometimes every character in the story decides that one person was right and one was wrong, and the wrong person hangs their head and agrees even though it doesn’t make sense for them to change their mind (I’ve seen this in romance novels, and it’s a cheap way to wrap things up). And sometimes the writer has one moral for their story in their head but it comes across as something completely different for their readers (that’s embarrassing, but it happens).

There’s a lot of ways to deal with a story when you’re concerned that the writer might think something awful, but the best way to handle that is to ask, “Hey, do you agree with X in your story?” or “Can you tell me your thought processes when you wrote Y?”

It is highly disturbing to me when a writer is personally attacked for their content. Our work does not define us and should not be used to make assumptions on who we are or what we think.