So You Want To/Avoid Unfortunate Implications

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How-To Guide

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Whether you're creating something that may or may not touch on known issues, or you're wanting to avoid creating new tropes with their own Unfortunate Implications, you may find it useful to have a simple guide to handling potentially loaded tropes and situations with care.

This guide is intended only as a simplistic overview not applicable to each and every situation (and sometimes ignoring its advice may be a good idea), and some of you may know far more than it illustrates. Its purpose is to help the average writer without much experience in social justice activism (except maybe within his/her/their own group) avoid creating unintended offense and/or badly creating intended offense.

  • If you're looking into a potentially problematic or controversial issue, do your research. Read up on it, look for accounts of those with experience, maybe even talk to people involved in those areas. The more understanding and perspective you have on the issue, the more effectively you'll be able to write about it. However, please keep in mind that no one is obligated to share their experiences and some may find such questions uncomfortable or offensive, especially if the one doing the asking is an outsider. Finally, it might be worth letting someone with experience in these areas—and whose opinion you trust and respect—have a look over your work to offer their comment; they might be able to pick up on potentially problematic areas that you have missed.
    • Even so, don't make the mistake of thinking that any one person can be the main spokesperson of an entire group. If you find yourself having to explain that you did do your research to people who are still upset, it may turn out to be, or be perceived as, a case of Some of My Best Friends Are X.
  • Treat all characters as people regardless of race, gender, etc. Are characters of a specific group being marginalized or ludicrously idealized? Is the character a legitimate part of the story or is said character in it solely for the sake of filling a Token Minority slot?
  • Write characters, not caricatures. Never write stereotypes. You can have an Asian character who is smart or a black character who is athletic, but people are more than just one character trait.
    • Behavioral or cultural characteristics are not inherent aspects of race, apparent gender, or genetics. However, this does not mean they should be ignored either. It's never a bad idea to research why social constructs such as ethnic identity exist and how they affect people (and your characters). See the second bullet point on this page.
  • Go to the Rape Tropes index. See all of the incredibly misguided at best and horrifically awful ways existing media has depicted rape or dubiously consensual sex. If after this you still wish to include one or more of these in your work, ask yourself why?
    • Is it for simple cheap fetish thrills? If it is, be honest with yourself that that's what it is, do your damnedest to make it clear that the story is a fantasy or screwed-up kink that should never happen in reality, and make use of trigger warnings. Or, better yet, go look at the ways to make it into Safe, Sane, and Consensual BDSM as opposed to actual rape.
    • Is it for a wangsty backstory or to make the viewers feel sad for/sorry for someone? Reconsider it. Look up Tear Jerker and think of ways OTHER than rape, because Rape Is the New Dead Parents. Rape as Backstory is overdone, and especially for throwaway angst, there's many other worthy ways it can happen than rape.
    • Is it for Black Comedy? Then make it as absurd and obviously unrealistic as possible. You are Crossing the Line Twice, so at least try to make it so obviously absurdly stupid, over the top, and Fan Disservice that, while it's a joke, it's a joke at the idea of rape itself and/or at the expense of rapists. And use your trigger warnings.
    • Is it really intended for Rape as Drama, with all attendant respect it deserves as a traumatic experience? Then DO THE RESEARCH. Go to RAINN, go to sites for victims, read and listen to interviews with victims, and be prepared to be depressed, angry, and sickened. Are you? That's good - you are at least aware of how bad rape actually is. Then, and only then, prepare yourself to write all of your understanding and emotions into your fully developed character, and prepare to devote considerable time in the work to this.
  • Consider who you are putting at the center of the story. Is it reasonable for a Mighty Whitey outsider to take leadership and save the day rather than native leaders with lots of experience of solving problems on their own turf? Remember that characters do not necessarily have to be white, male, or heterosexual. Every culture has something to share, and having a more variegated cast adds a more diverse outlook on life.
  • For the straight Yaoi Fans and Yuri Fans, keep in mind that real gay and bisexual people exist, and some of them are also fans of yaoi and yuri as well. This doesn't mean that all of your stories have to have aesops about LGBTQI rights or be entirely 100 percent realistic - in fact, going off on an Author Filibuster about this or driving your characters out of character to do it is one of the worst mistakes you can make, because it makes you look like a White Knight as well as showing off privilege. It does mean that having your characters be unexamined stereotypes of LGBTQI people will be noticed and taken badly, and it does mean you should understand at least a little beyond what you learn from porn or Slash Fic or manga or whatever.
  • Do not apply Exclusively Evil to a race, ethnicity, nationality, age (young or old), religion, gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, species (whether you are writing Speculative Fiction or not), or groups of sentient beings in general. It can be less problematically applied to an institution or corporation or movement or whatever, but even with that, be careful to specify that every being in, say, a nation, does not belong to that group. Most Germans in World War II weren't Nazis, for example. It's also good characterization not to make every single member of an organization flat-out evil or monstrous, as that rarely is the case in real life.
  • Be very careful in regard to children or young teenagers (or childlike looking characters) and how you choose to depict them. The Token Loli, the Really 700 Years Old childlike, and the underage-looking Uke may be nigh-omnipresent characters especially in Anime, Manga, and Visual Novels, but often these characters are created solely to pander to a specific demographic, one you may not want your work associated with (or one you may not want associating with your work or yourself). If there is no valid plot reason for their existence beyond a Hand Wave created just so they can be there, at least consider the idea of making the character an older teenager or an adult instead, especially if the character is portrayed as sexually available.
  • With respect to sociopolitical issues, absolutely avoid painting exponents of any ideology with a broad brush. Words such as conservative, liberal, democracy, and dictatorship will not mean the same thing to everyone. Two individuals with the same basic politics may still have a lot to disagree about. Also do not assume that two ideologies that seem to be at odds in some issues will be polar opposites in all things. Some conflicting ideologies may have little more than subtle differences. And being pro-something does not neccesarily mean being anti-anything else. Pride in one's culture, creed, or ethnic heritage, for example does not neccesarily say anything on their view towards other cultures, creeds or ethnicities.