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

Lumens

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If I believe in something strongly enough, I will step outside of my comfort zone to explore it. I think that some stand-up comedians illustrate this the best, where they have a message that makes them passionate enough to challenge their audience who might still laugh, but awkwardly.
 

KGeo777

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I do not think any story should be off limits but there's things to consider, like do you want to get harassed or killed? The pen is mightier than the sword, but the latter hurts more, especially if you are stabbed with one. As the host of Dave Allen at Large once said, the most prolific writer in the English language is Anonymous.

Another thing is, I don't think political screeds make for good stories usually. I don't need a lecture on socialism every other page of In The Days of the Comet. Same with Dennis Wheatley's warnings about Satanism. I get it Dennis. I am on my guard. I will be prepared against the forces of darkness.

Ultimately, artists are just going to do what they feel they should do. Money and fame will help shape what they do, but I think it's about passion and individual impulses and experience.
And I believe very strongly that biology has an enormous impact on how one regards a story and its contents. There are certain expectations in behavior.

The reason people had such a bad reaction to Luke the cynical loser in the recent Star Wars movies is because most of the audience that were familiar with the character saw him as optimistic, somewhat heroic, and successful young Arthur type character.
It's an expectation. The warrior youth coming of age.
In reality, the character was already starting to be turned into a cynical loser by the latter half of the Empire Strikes Back. He arrives on Dagobah and becomes an impatient jerk. Out of character. In fact, Hamill was said at the time to be unhappy with that change. He fought with the director about it.
In Return of the Jedi, Obi Wan Kenobi is a cynical loser too, he's a failed teacher-he created Darth Vader and Luke is not a warrior anymore--but he believes love will save the day.
I don't remember Errol Flynn turning to love to defeat Basil Rathbone.
 

DLCroix

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Now, properly speaking in this thread, I think that all these things are raised in one's own position as an artist in front of the world. Well, if you think about it. But, for example, we all talk about hell but nobody really knows what it's like and this, I think, also occurs because somehow we need good to always triumph in our stories and in the same way we don't need to show evil or villains just as they would be in real life. So it is an evil and some evil characters, let's say, "aesthetic" or who have passed through a sieve from good customs and in reality they are not so aberrant or frightening precisely because our need as authors is to use them rather as a lever or an excuse to that our stories work, that is, they are antagonists only as adversaries for our main characters. The same can be said of pornography, war or violence itself. It is sweetened not because we are prudish but because we really do not need to make an apology for one thing or another, because that, as I imagine everyone knows, is no longer literature but written psychoanalysis or even the worrying manifestation of some kind of pathology. :ninja:
 

Dave

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I understand that as an artist you do not want to be restricted by society's conventions, however, if you are serious about wanting to be a best-selling author, rather than a hobbyist, then you need to sell a great number of books to a wide section of the population, and that may mean pitching it to the lowest common denominator.

It is, of course, possible to still be popular by shocking people. I'm thinking of Shades of Grey which gathered popularity by word of mouth, and had people reading pornography that they wouldn't have otherwise picked up. Also, 2D and 3D Artists frequently use shocking images in their work and installations, so being shocking can certainly be popular. Obviously, real-life accounts of War, torture, and violent relationships would be given a disservice if they were sanitised to make them more acceptable. People reading those accounts expect to learn the actual facts.

In writing fiction you do get to have a choice. There are several threads on these forums with discussions about Grimdark. Clearly, many people love it, and many abhor it. It is like chalk and cheese. You are restricting your audience by writing it, but then you will gather many fans from a niche group if you do. It is your choice.

I also think it needs to be relevant to the story and not just there to be "edgy". For example, I've seen comments about the amount of cussing and swearing by some of John Scalzi's characters. If it is used to differentiate characters then I don't have a problem. If it is unnecessary then I do.
 

DAgent

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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.
I can't remember whose advice it was about sex scenes, but they advised not to to get too detailed or creative, as any of your friends or family reading it would end up picturing you being the one engaged in those acts. Which makes me wonder how people in general look at the writer of "Fifty Shades".

I do recall hearing about a man who wrote a smut piece online about the girl band "Girls Aloud" losing his job because of it. Apparently the story was considered to ruin the reputation of his ex employer. I don't know the details as to how graphic the tale was or if it was even violent (I'd certainly understand them firing him for that kind of writing), but there has been plenty of various slash fanfic for various characters, both real life and fictional over the years. I can't imagine too many people losing their jobs or doing time because of that.

That said I don't think anyone would end up picturing the author of a story about the life of a fictional Olympic athlete, and see it being the writer taking first place and stepping up to get their gold medal on the stadium :D
 

Mark_Harbinger

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I understand that as an artist you do not want to be restricted by society's conventions, however, if you are serious about wanting to be a best-selling author, rather than a hobbyist, then you need to sell a great number of books to a wide section of the population, and that may mean pitching it to the lowest common denominator.
I don't disagree with that assertion. It's sort of a 'shortest distance between two lines' stance. Makes sense.

Of course the degree of luck (or connections) it takes to become a "best-seller author" is a bit off-putting. Kind of like hitting open mic nights every night just in hopes of becoming the next Chappelle. Sure, it might happen, but...

To get back on topic: For me, I try to focus on making the story-telling as good as possible...and "off limits" is anything that interferes with that (short of something I find irresponsible to society-at-large, per my previous post); I am trusting, eventually, that that will lead to the best outcomes despite the truism that 'better' isn't always 'more marketable'. I realize that my approach might be at odds (maybe even the polar opposite) of many who are looking strictly to commercial success.

The sublime part of the sub-topic of being a best-seller is the high proportion of best-selling—and even game-changing—works that are uniformly rejected by the industry-at-large at the time (S. King, SR Donaldson, JK Rowling, F Herbert, A Vachss, J Bancroft, etc...nearly all of my favorite authors, when I've bothered to look into it).
 

Mark_Harbinger

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I can't remember whose advice it was about sex scenes, but they advised not to to get too detailed or creative, as any of your friends or family reading it would end up picturing you being the one engaged in those acts. Which makes me wonder how people in general look at the writer of "Fifty Shades".

I do recall hearing about a man who wrote a smut piece online about the girl band "Girls Aloud" losing his job because of it. Apparently the story was considered to ruin the reputation of his ex employer. I don't know the details as to how graphic the tale was or if it was even violent (I'd certainly understand them firing him for that kind of writing), but there has been plenty of various slash fanfic for various characters, both real life and fictional over the years. I can't imagine too many people losing their jobs or doing time because of that.

That said I don't think anyone would end up picturing the author of a story about the life of a fictional Olympic athlete, and see it being the writer taking first place and stepping up to get their gold medal on the stadium :D
That's hilarious.

No, but, that's a good distinction to make; I'm not the least bit put off by graphic violence (or, goodness knows, sex) so much as I'm put off by that being the entire point. If someone's point is just that there is no point: ie, nihilism nihilism nihilism so, here's some violence nihilism nihilism hey, look how graphic this is, wow, see all the blood nihilism nihilism nihilism graphic sex scene nihilism did I mention the violence? nihilism...

...then, that's when I have a problem with it. Unappealing and unimpressive to me, not to mention unhelpful to society at large.
 

Dave

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I do recall hearing about a man who wrote a smut piece online about the girl band "Girls Aloud" losing his job because of it. Apparently the story was considered to ruin the reputation of his ex employer. I don't know the details as to how graphic the tale was or if it was even violent (I'd certainly understand them firing him for that kind of writing), but there has been plenty of various slash fanfic for various characters, both real life and fictional over the years. I can't imagine too many people losing their jobs or doing time because of that.
I know someone who writes about her work colleagues being killed off in various different imaginative ways. It isn't going to be published though. It is just a kind of therapy and is kept hidden in a drawer somewhere. Writing terrible things about people who can be identified is certainly going to be off-limits.
 

mistri

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I don't so much as think about things being completely off-limits, but rather what will people want to read in certain times? Do you think your own story is a good fit for the times we live in and the readers all around us?

I write mostly SF/F but for some reason had a contemporary romance-ish WIP at one point and sent it around just before COVID. The book had nothing to do with viruses and people do like escapism, but after the first few rejections I stopped sending it out. It just didn't 'feel' right to me - all these scenes of people being crammed into concerts together, mourning a single death years ago when suddenly death was all around us, no reference to COVID or living with it/after it - it just didn't feel timely. And now we're out the other side (mostly), I feel like it's too light and fluffy and a bit dated!

I also had an SF story about a virus launched over Europe that led to mutated children... that definitely didn't feel right post-COVID.
 

Christine Wheelwright

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....they advised not to to get too detailed.......as any of your friends or family reading it would end up picturing you being the one engaged in those acts.....

As someone who has written plenty of erotica, I think this is good advice but the reasoning is wrong. Arousing the reader is always most effectively achieved in setting the scene, exploring the motivations and expectations of the participants, hinting at acts that might occur, establisihing where power and control may lie (perhaps setting the scene for surprise), hearing the characters' words prior to the event, perhaps indirectly implying their excitment (showing not telling). Then give the reader some leeway in imagining the actual details of the event.

Otherwise-capable writers often mess up when it comes to erotic descriptions. Hence the existance of the Bad Sex Awards:

 

DAgent

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I know someone who writes about her work colleagues being killed off in various different imaginative ways. It isn't going to be published though. It is just a kind of therapy and is kept hidden in a drawer somewhere. Writing terrible things about people who can be identified is certainly going to be off-limits.
Yes, I had read something about agents and publishers asking if any of the characters are based on real people, for fear of any possible legal action that might happen if the character ends up showing the real person in a bad light. Which reminded me that when they made the "X-Files" and started coming up with character names they were surprised to find there was only one real life "Fox Mulder."
 

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