Editing Being More Social as well as writing both The Good The Bad and the Molly and Only If You Want has really made me aware in the past two weeks that I really seem to enjoy writing from the perspectives of scumbags. Whether they cheat, lie, even *spoilers* potentially sexually assault someone, the tempting thing to do is to write them just as they are – as a scumbag, someone who suffers in the end, and richly gets what they deserve.
But that desire comes from our belief in a just world. Sometimes, you can do everything correctly and morally and still lose. Sometimes bad people come out on top. It’s just the way things are. So what is a writer’s moral duty when it comes to writing from the perspective of a scumbag? Say you’re writing from the point of view of a rapist, one that feels no shame about what they’re doing. Do you take it on faith that your every single member of your audience understands that what they’re doing is bad and that this shouldn’t be a role model, or do you spell out how terrible the protagonist is and make the writing less real for allowing the normally-shallow character to know their own flaws?
It’s not an easy question to answer. If you think you have an immediate answer, my first rebuttal to that is to think harder about how complicated the social situation is. When I was growing up, I had a friend my age and we used to trade sex stories we liked. When we were about fifteen, he wanted to show me some nudes he’d received of this girl. When I asked him if he had the girl’s permission/consent to share the pictures, he became very confused and asked why he would need that. I asked if she established up front if this was okay to be shared with anyone but him. He was still confused. He had a bit of a… less-than-charitable view of women growing up, and often compared girls he knew to the ones in the sex stories we shared with each other. He tended to objectify girls we knew using the sex stories as a basis.
Does this mean that all sex stories are bad and objectifying, and they’re corrupting your children? Not at all. I read sex stories just as much growing up, and while I’m sure I have my slip-ups from time to time, I try my hardest to treat human beings with the respect they inherently should deserve. What I am saying is that the philosophies of scumbags have a habit of accidentally giving impressions to viewers that their perspectives aren’t dangerous and slightly malicious, but actually wise and easily imitable. (Fight Club, anyone?) So when I write a sex scene in BMS between Adam and Megan where he makes her tell him she’s nothing but a sex toy to him, I know that for every 999 readers that think, “This sure is a sex scene I’m enjoying but I realize he’s just in the heat of the moment and they both know she’s a person of inherent worth,” one reader is gonna go, “Yeah, you know what? That’s all women are. I’ve seen the light of day. Thanks, Bashful Scribe.”
Ugh. The worst part is, there’s no magical solution to this. In the edited version of Being More Social, I added an extra line in to bring Adam back to reality and remind himself how much Megan meant to him, but as my writing style evolves and I write characters that are more and more prone to scumbag-like behavior, I’ll have less and less opportunity to do this. If, God forbid, I ever write a character that enjoys sexually assaulting another character, how the hell am I going to ensure that one reader I mentioned before doesn’t develop a desire to sexually assault one of their own compatriots? Simply said, I’m not. An obvious solution to this is to never write a story like that, but where’s the line? Both of my longer stories have included some form of sexual assault. In one story, it happened to the protagonist, and in the other, the protagonist was the instigator.
Even if we leave the particularly volatile subject matter of sexual assault aside, certain characters have scumbag tendencies. Adam was a jerk in BMS. Aaron was two-faced in GBM. The Mystery Man was a stalker in Panopticon. Arguably my most morally sound story was about a girl getting bangbanged on a bus. Way to set the bar low. When I write from these perspectives, I have an obligation to communicate to the best of my ability that when these characters are in the wrong, they’re in the wrong. When these characters are doing something unfair, it should be communicated somehow they’re being unfair. True, a lot of readers can discern for themselves what is moral and what isn’t, but even if one reader is going to take the protagonist as the voice of reason and be a copycat scumbag, that’s enough cause for concern for me.
So, if you ever wonder why my writing is often moralistic or contains yet another monologue about the moral implications of the story, odds are that’s why. It’s because I’m overthinking things and don’t want to be misinterpreted, even if it means sacrificing the nuance of my story’s morality. I also write like that because I love the idea of characters being uncharacteristically blunt and living in a world where people talk how they think, but I’ll save that for another blog post. For now, I’ll talk to you all next week.