Insights, News

Insights: Why It’s Okay to Write About Dark Topics…and why I Edited a Scene Post-Publication

I’ve debated this post for awhile, as well the decision I ended up making.

In our current culture, there many sensitive topics. Which is good. We need to have conversations about these topics. But, it does leave creators with uncertainty: is it okay to write about sexism? What about violence or assault? Do I have put warnings on my books?

I do think warnings, such as what we have in film and TV, would helpful, especially for those who are extremely uncomfortable about these topics for various reasons. But that’s not what this post is about today.

Today, I wanted to address one thing: it is OKAY to write about dark topics. It does not normalize them, but instead allows us to explore these topics in a way that is health for human nature. If we never discussed these topics, never depicted them, then how would we know? Fiction lets us explore, to reach into the deepest confines of our minds, and create something…no matter how disturbing.

Some people will prefer more pure and “fluffy” type of pieces. There are areas of writing just for that. But do not condemn those of us exploring these topics, especially if we are doing so out of criticism.

I like to explore sexism in my writing, but not because I am (inherently) sexist. As woman, this is an area I can write about, even if I haven’t experienced it to the degree. I chose dark fantasy because it allows us to explore these areas. My villains are notably sexist, they’re being called out for their actions, and main characters fight it. Assuming you are rooting for the main characters, then you should be wanting to fight sexism too. So this is ALRIGHT. This is the goal of fiction.

Where depicting sexism or other dark topics does not work is for two reasons: shock value or when it is not condemning the action. If a scene is there for no reason, then the writer is just trying to draw out emotions, and it might seem gratuitous. But, what I think is even worse than that, is when a writer seems to believe what they’re saying. A writer who shows a woman not going to war in a statement of “historical accuracy” because “women belonged at home”, might actually be fueling sexism. Fantasy and sci-fi give us a chance to explore these topics, but we also have the freedom to create something miraculous and unique. It comes down to the author’s views.

That being said, I decided to alter a scene in my book.

Isn’t that going against everything you just said? No.

The beauty of self-publishing is the ability to change your work for the better.

This scene, and some people might know what I am talking about, became misinterpreted. I had spent countless hours trying to make it work. Multiple beta readers and my editor went through it with me. I no intention for it to be used for shock value and it wasn’t supposed to be interpreted the way many have read it.

I’ve gone back and forth with changing it, since I have faith in the story I want to tell, but the amount of times people misinterpreted it left me with heavy bouts of anxiety. That is not the legacy I want to hold.

Being a self published author means I can recognize these mistakes and change them. So I messaged my editor, and together we spent time review the small scene. We altered a few words, giving a scene a more definitive meaning, without altering the outcome that my character faces. It wasn’t supposed to be for shock; it plays into her development in the next book.

But with the scene so close to the ending, I didn’t want to keep it that way.

I won’t go into details on what the scene is, as I am sure some of you can deduce what this scene is based on what I’ve been talking about. I am happy to be making the change though. It reduces some of my stress over it. I usually don’t even read my reviews, but just this reaction left a taste in my mouth…about myself. Rather than fight the reviews, or respond to them, I made the effort to change the scene.

It’s amazing what altering a couple words can do.

I hope this will garner better reactions from the audience. If anything, I know I have done what I can to remove something gratuitous and shocking.

If you have read The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice, or already have a copy but haven’t read it, and want to see the change I made, feel free to email me at esbarrison (@) gmail (.com). If you have proof of purchase, I am happy to send along an updated digital copy. I can also just send along the updated chapter.

Until next time,

E.S. Barrison