Are there any kinds of topics for stories anyone feels is off limits?

DAgent

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Or at the very least, that now isn't the right time for that tale to be told?

When covid hit and people were talking about what a bad year 2020 was as it just seemed to go from bad to worse, I saw a trailer for a movie where a man was having guns pointed at him by the police and he had to yell out "I'm immune" and show of a tattoo to prove it.

I figured they either had some really bad timing with the release of this movie during covid times, or someone managed to put it together rather quickly. But thinking about that did make me wonder if there are ever any kinds of real world events, current of historical, or tales about certain people, that should not be made in to stories. Or perhaps the writer would not feel comfortable in some way to write.

I for one don't think I'd want to write a story about any kind of plague for a few years, maybe wait till after 2035 or something to even consider doing so. Just seem way to recent and way too real.
 

Phyrebrat

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Art tends to be reflective of its day, and this goes for entertainment, too. If we were to start policing ourselves in terms of taste and timing I think we’d lose out. Certainly those in the future would.

We have films about 911, Netflix docs on serial killers, book about being in love with a minor… it’s all there.

More importantly I think, is the much-needed recognition that we experience trauma differently — and from different things.

I’ve noticed since Covid, society seems to be moving into a new, healthier phase of co-regulation. People seem far more concerned or helpful (notwithstanding the issue of masks and vaccines which would break the forum rules) and friends and family seem to be making even greater efforts to support one another.

Luckily we live in a world where we can curate our own books and film collections. Eg I love horror but I hate gore, torture, slashers, etc. I shan’t watch A Serbian Film, or new French extreme because no matter how ‘cathartic’ or whatever, I do not want to have that experience in my memory.

We make our choices for ourselves.
 

Astro Pen

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The OP is an obvious leading question.
Sorry but :censored:
We have visited here, in one form or another, several times recently and the outcome has always been thread closure.
Not that I don't have a lot to say, ;) but not in the sanctuary of this church.
 

Biskit

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Without worrying about how other people would react to my writing, I definitely have a comfort zone of things I would happily write about, a fuzzy just-beyond-comfort zone where I would write if circumstances and motivation were properly aligned, and then things I wouldn't touch. I don't think any of that would necessarily be dictated by whether it touched on events that were too recent or too real, and perhaps quite the contrary, I might write a story just to let rip on the recent and real.

Would I write about a plague? My first thought was that I could see no interest or appeal in doing that, and then remembered that I wrote a novel where a plagued featured quite heavily, many years ago. Would I resurrect that story now? Probably not, because it would seem like a rather tawdry piece of jumping on the bandwagon.
 

Toby Frost

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I'm wondering how many more posts this thread will get before it has to be locked.
 

Extollager

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I don't often mention my creative writing here at Chrons, so this topic is not of specific interest to me, but I wondered if there could be some clarification.

Are you-all thinking of topics for stories that might otherwise be workshopped here at Chrons, but that might fall foul of policies that keep controversies about politics and religion in check?

Or are you thinking about topics that would be unlikely to find publishers (but about which one might publish independently)?

Or are you thinking about topics that for some reason ought not to be written about, on moral rather than pragmatic grounds?

Or a combination of these? Or something else?

As regards the present pandemic, Chrons moderators shut down a thread (about two years ago, IIRC), in which people were posting about their anxieties relating to Covid, etc., on the grounds that the Chrons members would be better served if this were a place to come in which people discussed other topics -- there being plenty of opportunities to talk about one's Covid thoughts elsewhere. But would it be a violation of that policy if one wrote about some imaginary plague -- as sf writers have done from time to time -- or even about historic plagues such as the Black Death or the "Spanish" flu epidemic?

Just wondering if some clarification could be made.
 

Dan Jones

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The OP is an obvious leading question.
Sorry but :censored:
We have visited here, in one form or another, several times recently and the outcome has always been thread closure.
Not that I don't have a lot to say, ;) but not in the sanctuary of this church.
I'm wondering how many more posts this thread will get before it has to be locked.
Come on lads, let's not make this thread into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On a practical note, if you're looking to sub to an agent or publisher, the vast majority of them will have house rules about what you can and cannot write. Usually this will cover things like defamation, inciting violence, direct abuse of individuals, use of racial epithets that isn't justifiable, explicit pornography, gratuitous violence, the sort of stuff you'd expect.

But like @Phyrebrat says, that doesn't stop some really intense stuff from being made / published. He mentions A Serbian Film and I haven't quite built myself up to watch that, and I consider myself to be someone with a fairly strong stomach (I watched Men Behind The Sun and found it distasteful but not unjustifiable; in fact I thought the opposite - that it was perfectly justified in showing such brutality, and it might have been difficult for such a film not to show it).

In terms of plots, I don't think anything is off limits because of topicality. On the contrary, I think if you offered publisher a well-written MS that just happened to be directly relevant to the market and topics of the day, they'd snap your hand off. But that's down to serendipity and plain luck because it's hard to predict these things.
 

The Judge

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As regards the present pandemic, Chrons moderators shut down a thread (about two years ago, IIRC), in which people were posting about their anxieties relating to Covid, etc., on the grounds that the Chrons members would be better served if this were a place to come in which people discussed other topics
No. It was nothing to do with people posting about their anxieties concerning Covid itself. A thread was locked and other actions were taken because members kept bringing politics into the discussions, something we don't allow. As I said in a long post explaining the issue:

Because of the profound impact of Coronavirus on everyone’s lives, we thought a thread on the subject would act as a safety valve, allowing members to vent. But governmental decisions and their ramifications are simply too political and potentially divisive to allow it to remain.​
We don't lock threads for no good reason, and we've no reason to close a thread in which there is discussion of topics which we might or might not want to write about/might or might not be happy for others to write about, whether that's plague, paedophilia or petunias. What will get the thread locked is someone pontificating on what "they" (ie the usual unnamed others who are meant to have total control over, y'know, everything) won't allow us to write about. Bring politics or social politics into this thread and it's gone. Otherwise, the topic itself is fine.
 

Dave

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I'm not quite sure of the question:

1. Is it that the subject matter in a book/film or other medium can be too vile, too graphic, too violent, that it should be censored?

I saw that SFF Chronicles was mentioned. We prevent discussion on politics, religion and world affairs on this forum, simply because the arguments became too divisive, and there was a real danger that our lovely community here might be split. Additionally, the moderators here are volunteers and we don't need that kind of workload. We are a Science Fiction and Fantasy forum, there is nothing to prevent you talking about politics, religion and world affairs on other more suitable forums or on social media, which also have paid staff to deal with it.

That has little to do writing a book or making a film or TV show. There are laws on censorship, but they are there to protect the vulnerable, the immature, the mentally ill, and to protect society, so for some subjects it is certainly necessary. However, censorship is defined as the suppression of ideas, images, or words that some people find to be offensive to them in some way, and that doesn't only mean by governments. Any group can organise boycotts or make their own constitutional rules, just as SFF Chronicles. An argument that these rules are too severe is pointless, because they are made by governments, or by members of organisations, and that is just how they are. Additionally, such an argument about censorship here on this forum is likely to bring out strong views on both sides, and yes, that will lead to the the closure of the thread, because we just don't what those kind of arguments here.

2. Or, is it that the subject matter in a book/film or other medium is not right in terms of taste and timing?

That is a totally different question altogether. The Covid-19 pandemic has been mentioned. I'm sure you noticed how the adverts at the start of the pandemic that had been made before the pandemic had people on long-haul holidays, not socially distanced, and taking part in activities that were banned. These began to annoy because they underlined everything that was missing. Later on, however, every advert took pains to mention the pandemic and how hard it had been, and how everything would soon be back to normal. These were just as annoying for their condescending and patronising manner.

What people really want in a story during difficult times is surely escapism? So, the endless TV shows that will be coming about care homes and not being able to see relatives or hold dying mothers, will not be welcome. Another time, yes, we will be ready for them.
 

Phyrebrat

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Point of order,@Dave, :p I don’t read horror for escapism; it’s my comfort place :D

Back on topic - I assumed the OP had been here long enough to know the rules on current affairs and was asking about what topics in our writing/arts might be beyond the pale for some. As far as the other interpretation goes, I’ve no interest in what others think ;)

ETA: please note judicious use of emojis
 

CupofJoe

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For me there are many topics I won't write about. But that is just me.
Other people will have other points of view and perceive things differently.
 

Dave

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I only meant the 'for escapism' to be as an example in what the OP described as having been trying times for everyone. Your point is taken. I can't think of any others right now, but I'm sure I could think of other examples where the time isn't right to publish something, but a different time could be perfect. I think that it being the right time to publish or release something in terms of taste was certainly a possible interpretation of the OP, but he'll have to confirm that. Everyone else seems to have run away with the idea that it was just asking about censorship, but you also need to have an audience willing to receive it.
 

Extollager

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No. It was nothing to do with people posting about their anxieties concerning Covid itself. A thread was locked and other actions were taken because members kept bringing politics into the discussions, something we don't allow. As I said in a long post explaining the issue:

Because of the profound impact of Coronavirus on everyone’s lives, we thought a thread on the subject would act as a safety valve, allowing members to vent. But governmental decisions and their ramifications are simply too political and potentially divisive to allow it to remain.​
We don't lock threads for no good reason, and we've no reason to close a thread in which there is discussion of topics which we might or might not want to write about/might or might not be happy for others to write about, whether that's plague, paedophilia or petunias. What will get the thread locked is someone pontificating on what "they" (ie the usual unnamed others who are meant to have total control over, y'know, everything) won't allow us to write about. Bring politics or social politics into this thread and it's gone. Otherwise, the topic itself is fine.
Note that I wasn't saying the moderators' decision about Covid discussion was improper, btw. Since I don't disagree with the decision (on whatever grounds it was made), I won't ask for a review of the messages posted then, if they are archived somewhere.

It might be of historical interest someday, if those messages are archived somewhere, to publish them as documentation of a strange time folks here went through and, for a time, discussed.

Still hoping for thoughts on the questions I posted earlier on the present thread, even though it's not personally relevant.
 

Phyrebrat

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I only meant the 'for escapism' to be as an example in what the OP described as having been trying times for everyone. Your point is taken. I can't think of any others right now, but I'm sure I could think of other examples where the time isn't right to publish something, but a different time could be perfect. I think that it being the right time to publish or release something in terms of taste was certainly a possible interpretation of the OP, but he'll have to confirm that. Everyone else seems to have run away with the idea that it was just asking about censorship, but you also need to have an audience willing to receive it.
Joking aside, even horror is escapism. I wonder if it’s the same endorphins that you get on, say, a roller coaster etc.
 

pogopossum

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As for several of the posters above I have no interest in reading gore, extreme abuse or brutality. Even Joe Abercrombie tests my limits, but that has more to do with the extreme throw away value of life in his books than the torture, gore, and sadism, which is thrown in to not in advocacy (or even explicit portrayal) but to characterize a society that most of his heroes are not part of. Still, I've read all of them. Might not again.
But I do not read or watch horror per se. I realise that others have a different reaction. Chacun a son gout. Effects are different from advocacy or enjoyment per se.
Active advocacy for political systems that present a disdain for humanity, humans, or particular classes or types of humans are beyond my tolerance. I am not saying the existence of such systems in a work, I am talking advocacy. This includes bland acceptance of such systems and ignorance of their reality. Still they may have a purpose, even if is the readers rejection. Others can read them. I spent 35 years as a public librarian and was asked for things that made my skin crawl. I can only remember walking away once when asked for Nazi **** by an advocate. I did ask someone else to help him.
As far as something being "too soon." or too close to home, that's not a problem for me in theory. Proximity to events is fine, although that does not mean that I would necessarily search it out due to that feature. I love Kim Stanley Robinson, significantly due to the relevance of his presentations. But that does not necessarily make others attractive. People can choose what to write or read.
 
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DAgent

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Back on topic - I assumed the OP had been here long enough to know the rules on current affairs and was asking about what topics in our writing/arts might be
beyond the pale for some. As far as the other interpretation goes, I’ve no interest in what others think ;)
That's exactly what I was getting at. To give a couple of examples, both "Dad's Army" and "Allo Allo" faced some serious complaints when they were announced as some thought it was inappropriate to have sitcoms set during WWII as it might belittle the events of that war.

Both were very successful and are considered classics.
 

Astro Pen

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A few years back I wrote this passage in a short story. Now it reads far more like critical commentary, I would hesitate before submitting it.

"All for the “Tabula Rasa”. Your great new beginning, the technological Eden.
The eradication of documented history was necessary of course. The children must never know of The Levelling, the reduction of global population to the two billion you deemed ‘sustainable’.
They must never know of the genetically engineered virus that sterilised large tracts of the population, no blood, no bombs, so humane."
 

DLCroix

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Well, it's difficult, because also the plot, even if you have it sketched, always changes mainly due to things in the story itself: you can come up with another solution for a scene, for example. Anyway, I still think that it will help you to think about your line of fundamental premises in order to establish, as if they were principles that can be expressed in a single sentence, not as many as you want, but the ones that you see fit best. For example, in the fable of the frog and the scorpion the moral principle (or teaching) is deduced from the story, Aesop does not explain it. In fact this system is the one that gave rise to literature itself, from the allegory to the ode, the epic poem or song, from there to the abstract exposition and everything else; But the problem is that today people don't have the predisposition to be preached to, many can't even stand their parents to find them in a book. They call it evasion for a reason, right?

Which brings me, by the way, to the question of your narrator, and perhaps explains why Houllebecq, Gibson, Pérez-Reverte almost always use omniscient narrators precisely because first-person narrators are limited. Unless, of course, they speak in retrospect and then it is the wisdom of the years, or what they learned later through other characters, that allows them to affirm things that were impossible for them to know at the time.

In any case, arm yourself with patience, because the best thing when writing is that you first feel comfortable, that is the mayonnaise of the matter, because if you enjoy what you are writing that will give you ease, creativity and freshness and therefore the reader will also enjoy reading. But to get to that, you have to climb a huge gap that only the years give so that it occurs almost automatically, because at that point the author no longer cares about things of narrative voice or style, he just writes. However, a first method to find a shortcut is to set mental goals. For example:
1. I must ensure that my narrator only states the facts (where there is a metaphysical question in the middle) whether he or the characters, not analyze them.
Well, that's enough. The reader is intelligent enough to guess the rest for himself. In addition, care must be taken when the narrator begins to advise the reader, even when using a character telling it to another as a pretext, since this is very close to pamphlet or propaganda. That is, you have to be persuasive as if it were a letter to a lover, not an exhortation.
2. I must try to create a narrator that is funny or even ironic but never hypocritical.
In line with the above, remember just why your grandfather or an uncle drove you crazy. Because he knew how to be silly or sometimes even frivolous, he did not try to convince you of anything, he told the stories as a fun adventure, he taught with joy.
3. I must not want to cover everything with a single novel.
Unless you're an octopus. And sometimes not even like that.
Etc. :ninja:
 

Mark_Harbinger

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In Neil Gaiman Masterclass on Storytelling (which I heartily recommend), he devotes an entire lesson to "Responsibility". That is what this topic makes me think of.

I once critiqued (on another site) a short story about a mother who was prostituting her teenage daughter. The kicker was that they were both enjoying it. That was it. That seemed to be the point, in fact. It was chilling.

My instinct was to not even bother; but, then I realized: in this environment where (supposedly) dark equals mature, weaker/younger minds see it as a green light to engage not only in writing such filth but they might also use their own writing (and any positive feedback they got from it) as justification for real-life terrible acts. The same way bombers post crap on social media before committing atrocities.

So my crit became an intervention: I crittted it harshly, but mostly focused on suggesting that they seek some counseling help for thinking that even writing such stuff was an okay thing to do. They took the story down. After that, who knows...?

Sorry, that's probably a tangent. But I think Gaiman's lesson is an important one. What we write matters in the larger sense, too.
 

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