#Wattpad4 January Chat: Can't Touch This - writing about challenging/sensitive subject matter

Hi everyone! Welcome to the #Wattpad4 January Chat!
Welcome to the start of 2020! I’m Fallon DeMornay, your hostest with the mostest LOL and this is my first time creating a thread in the new community forums. Excited to start the new decade chasing all the plot bunnies - I’m sure you are, too.

But some of the bunnies are rascally, tricky little devils (looking at you, Bugs!)

So what happens if you catch one that is … complicated? Delicate? Or too hot to handle?

Especially in the heat of today’s political and writing climate, with movements like Black Lives Matter, Me Too, twitter drags and Call Out culture, we thought this would be a great topic to discuss.

We can’t wait to read your answers!

Happy writing (and chatting)!
Fallon & The Wattpad4

To check out our November chat: Productivity and Motivation, click here:
(#Wattpad4 November Chat: Productivity and Motivation! )

To check out our December chat: Productivity and Motivation, click here:
(#Wattpad4 December Chat: So you wrote a story, now what…EDITING! )


From left to right:

  • Lindsey Summers @DoNotMicrowave author of Textrovert & The Trouble with Friendship
  • Fallon DeMornay @FallonDeMornay author of The Stiletto Sisterhood & Out of Focus
  • L.D.Crichton @LDCrichton author of All Our Broken Pieces & Enchantment of Emma Fletcher
  • Monica Sanz @DistantDreamer, author of Seventh Born & Mirror Bound (Witchling Academy Series)
  • Rebecca Sky @RebeccaSky author of Arrowheart and Heartstruck (The Love Curse series)

  1. When deciding on writing a sensitive subject, how do you decide when to pursue vs. stay in your lane?


2. When writing a sensitive/challenging subject – what are the most important things to consider?


3. When deciding on a sensitive subject, how do you know when you’ve done enough vs. gone too far?


4. They say write what scares you: is there a subject you’d love to tackle but are too afraid to touch? Why?


5. If you’ve written something sensitive or challenging, how was the experience? / For those who haven’t written – what’s a book you’ve recently read that tackled a sensitive/challenging subject that you thought was well executed? If so – why?


I’m so excited to share some amazing news! @RebeccaSky’s novels ARROWHEART & HEARTSTRUCK are coming out in North America on Jan 7th!! Go here to find out where you can grab your copies: (http://bit.ly/2XTtnHZ)


Alright guys, it’s time for the open Q&A portion of the chat! If you have any questions for the #Wattpad4 or about what we’ve covered in today, let us know!

(Please no read requests!)

Thanks so much for chatting with us! We’ll be back with a new topic on the first Monday of every month so be sure to mark your calendars! Our next chat will be February 3rd :slight_smile:

Ciao for now,
Fallon

Usually, I do a lot of extensive research on that particular subject and similar subjects if I don’t have experience with it ( both more technical and emotional aspects ). If I start writing it and I realize that I can’t do it justice than I may switch to one that I’m more familiar with while I further familiarize myself with that subject till I’m comfortable I’ll do a good job.

I think the most important things to consider are the people that it affects, how to portray it accurately and how it will look/feel to the general public ( In terms of how digestible it is while still remaining true to the subject matter)

Usually, if I myself am writing it and, in the case of mental illness, find myself affected negatively by it than I’ve gone too far, but if I can read it, feel moved by the subject matter but not negatively affected, then it’s good. In subjects concerning disability or the treatment of minorities, I know I’ve gone too far when the book becomes all about those aspects of the story, and I know I’ve done enough when it can accurately reflect those subjects without making it the focal point of the story and the central point to the character.

I’ve always wanted to tell a story involving a blind protagonist. It’s a matter close to my heart since I raise Guide Dogs For The Blind puppies, and I have connections I could go to for help, but it is so near and dear to me that I would want to do it perfectly, and I would inevitably fall short in my own eyes.

Currently, I am writing a book with a theme central to the trauma of war and the different ways it affects my protagonists in a realistic and raw way. It is very emotional for me, especially considering that many of the ways they are experiencing this trauma is similar to ways I have dealt with my own trauma in the past. There have been many nights crying over my laptop while apologizing internally to my characters. It is definitely a story that needs to be told, and told realistically, but there are times where I just have to sit down and write something nice and fluffy to get myself through the darker parts.

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Blockquote Usually, I do a lot of extensive research on that particular subject and similar subjects if I don’t have experience with it ( both more technical and emotional aspects ). If I start writing it and I realize that I can’t do it justice than I may switch to one that I’m more familiar with while I further familiarize myself with that subject till I’m comfortable I’ll do a good job.

Yes, extensive research is ALWAYS a must but most especially with a delicate topic/challenging subject. I also like the idea of setting something aside until you’ve reached a certain skill level/comfort. Not every idea has to be rushed. Sometimes it’s important to let it soak in a bit.

Blockquote I think the most important things to consider are the people that it affects, how to portray it accurately and how it will look/feel to the general public ( In terms of how digestible it is while still remaining true to the subject matter)
Absolutely!! It’s essential to remember that when tackling things like disability/mental health, etc, that there are individuals in the world who living these experiences who deserve to see themselves accurately portrayed because harmful rep hurts/is very damaging.

Blockquote I know I’ve gone too far when the book becomes all about those aspects of the story, and I know I’ve done enough when it can accurately reflect those subjects without making it the focal point of the story and the central point to the character.
I couldn’t agree more!!

Blockquote I’ve always wanted to tell a story involving a blind protagonist. It’s a matter close to my heart since I raise Guide Dogs For The Blind puppies, and I have connections I could go to for help, but it is so near and dear to me that I would want to do it perfectly, and I would inevitably fall short in my own eyes.
I love the idea of a blind protagonist but wow imagine the challenges of stripping away all visuals in a narrative voice, and enhancing the other senses to compensate! That would be so fascinating to read.

Blockquote Currently, I am writing a book with a theme central to the trauma of war and the different ways it affects my protagonists in a realistic and raw way. It is very emotional for me, especially considering that many of the ways they are experiencing this trauma is similar to ways I have dealt with my own trauma in the past. There have been many nights crying over my laptop while apologizing internally to my characters. It is definitely a story that needs to be told, and told realistically, but there are times where I just have to sit down and write something nice and fluffy to get myself through the darker parts.
That’s the wonderful and difficult thing about writing - it does take such an intense emotional toll, which is why self-care is sooooooo important. To balance out the intense lows so you don’t get lost in the dark.

Thank you for contributing to our chat! I loved reading your answers. Lots of great things to think about/discuss :slight_smile:

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Hmmm, it’s depends on how passionate I am to the subject. If I’m passionate enough, had enough information and am convinced EVERYBODY ELSE SHOULD KNOW THIS, then I’ll push it hard and hammer it home.

And then, also, it kinds of depends on what I think is controversial, and what has been done before on this movement, what new can I bring into the conversation. Sometimes what other people think is controversial is the norm for me. And then, if I set on the topic, I’ll decide to push it or not by reflecting: Can I do it smoothly, or it will be a hamfisted effort? Can I explore it in any other means? What’s the endgoal, the message, the epiphany I want to explore with this topic?

I don’t think there’s ever a “you’ve done enough”. If you have done enough, the topic itself shouldn’t be consider controversial in the first place. So.

Understanding what is the limit, I think. I know for a lot of people, Muslim/Black/POC in general rights and representations, violences against them and etc., are things we should speak more of. I want to speak about it, too. But I won’t impose myself on the representations or emotions I don’t know, or even tempted to say all POCs experience the same thing. I think, the most I can do is simply write from what I observe in real life, as an outsider to groups that aren’t mine. So for things I will never know enough and express it fairly, for challenging topics, I’ll do my best to support it and pursue it, but I know there’re things I’m not the right person to spell it out.

Hahaha, a lot. Sometimes I touch on it but not enough.

  • Infidelity
  • Polyamory
  • Lack of emotions/Struggles to identify emotions because you just can’t seem to process it (even though you don’t have any emotional damages/mental health. you just CAN’T feel the same things others are experiencing)
  • Asexual
  • hahaha, romance.

I’m writing a toxic incest relationship, and I think I’m handling it delicately with care.

It’s a hard subject to talk about without being overly-sexualized. I want to make it clear that it’s toxic, and it’s not the endgame or healthy to stay in that kind of relationship, although it is not un-normal for a lot of dysfunctional families where siblings have to lean into each other.

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Understanding what is the limit, I think. I know for a lot of people, Muslim/Black/POC in general rights and representations, violences against them and etc., are things we should speak more of. I want to speak about it, too. But I won’t impose myself on the representations or emotions I don’t know, or even tempted to say all POCs experience the same thing. I think, the most I can do is simply write from what I observe in real life, as an outsider to groups that aren’t mine. So for things I will never know enough and express it fairly, for challenging topics, I’ll do my best to support it and pursue it, but I know there’re things I’m not the right person to spell it out.

This - not all POC/Disabled, etc are monoliths and everyone’s experience is different/valid. When writing outside our lane, its def crucial to keep this in perspective - and stay in our lanes on things we can’t speak to directly especially when it comes to things that are painful/traumatic.

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I’m writing a toxic incest relationship, and I think I’m handling it delicately with care.

It’s a hard subject to talk about without being overly-sexualized. I want to make it clear that it’s toxic, and it’s not the endgame or healthy to stay in that kind of relationship, although it is not un-normal for a lot of dysfunctional families where siblings have to lean into each other.

Absolutely this is such a challenging subject, but I appreciate that you’re emphasizing the toxicity of it, and not romanticizing it (as too often happens in books, it seems). Jamie and Cersei Lannister are a great example of the toxicity of incestuous relationships (in the novels Cersei was vicious/manipulative and not at all in love with her brother - it was about power/control) but the show producers/writers completely romanticized in a way that made me eye roll so hard.

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Everything gets romanticized a lot these days. It gets blurry very quickly. It’s scary, like our society is desperate for juicy, glossy romance for the sake of it.

I think it’s interesting to play with the dynamics. But then it’s important to do a reality-check, step back and say, Hey, is this really romantic? Is this “love”? Would I be happy in this relationship? Sometimes I struggled with it, but it keeps me grounded and stay true to portray the story as how it should be.

I used to be very open-minded when reading a story about sensitive subjects by people who haven’t experienced them. That has since changed, at least when it comes to sexual assault and domestic violence. I have found books that portray these topics wonderfully, but the vast, vast, vast majority of them are deeply offensive. I am now fully on the “stay in your own lane” train.

I do think it’s possible with research, interviews, etc. to do it and do it well. I know it is because I’ve read a couple here. But I can only assume most people aren’t willing to put in the time.

So… even though I’m willing to put the effort in, it’s basically always “stay in your own lane” for me.

RESPECT. Understanding that what you’re choosing to incorporate is a real life issue that real life people have actually lived. Everyone’s experiences are different, sure, but I can think of quite a few examples off of the top of my head where I was like “nope. There is not a single person on earth who has experienced this and would not find this insulting.”

So, portraying it accurately and respectfully.

Personally, I haven’t written anything that I feel is “out of my lane” so I find that if re-reading it makes me uncomfortable, I’ve gone too far.

I do tackle triggering topics and the goal is to be uncomfortable to an extent, because it’s a real, raw, gritty experience, but what I mean is the kind of discomfort that makes your heart sink.

Experiences that aren’t my own. I’m willing to put in the research and time to do it right, but because of how offended I’ve been about topics important to me, it’s made it hard to consider topics I haven’t had first-hand experience with.

My current series touches on a sensitive topic and it was both draining and therapeutic. My next project, that I’ve been working on in the background, is fully about the subject of domestic violence, rape, and our justice system. That has been a very emotional and triggering experience. There are a lot of feelings dug up that many people just simply can’t understand, which is why I think it can also definitely make it hard for someone without the experience to write.

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Gosh, this is a little hard to cover. For me, if it’s a book I would be totally mind-blown by reading (which, for me, tells me I have little-to-no knowledge on the subject), I would probably stay in my lane and put those efforts towards writing something that could potentially blow someone else’s mind. I could never write a The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali (one of my 2019 favs!), or the awe-inspiring A Heart in the Body of the World (READ!) Still, I potentially could bring to life something like The Music of What Happens, if I were to work really hard. I know what kind of story feels right for me. I guess intuition is huge.

Consider how noobs would react! LOL, but, in all seriousness, imagine what someone who doesn’t know anything about your topic would think. Say I’m reading a book about non-cis persons or – like The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali – a book about a religion I’ve had fairly little interaction with, and a culture I’ve never thought much about. These are fairly sensitive topics in today’s society, so just understand that not everyone knows something about them. Don’t expect inherently negative or positive response — just write something honest and kind, and hope that your readers feel the same. Realising that patience may be key to your writing is huge, as difficult as it may be. Also, you should never be preaching your theme (the message your story portrays) from the rooftops. Be sneaky! We like sneaky!

This is difficult to answer. In fact, I don’t think there is an answer. One of the first things you need to realise as not just a writer, but as a person, is that it is incredibly unlikely you will please most everyone. You’ll always have gone too far for someone, not far enough for another. Complete satisfaction is improbable. I will say that beta readers — if you’re down to the title, sensitivity readers, too — are invaluable to your process. Get opinions! I’m sorry to have to say this, but just you are not enough to decide how appropriate your writing is. This might seem blunt, but you’ll thank me. Get. Varied. Opinions. It’s crucial!

Honestly, personally, not really. If there’s something that’s really tugging at me, then I’ll probably drop by it some day. (Doesn’t mean it’ll be shared, though that’s a completely different matter, lol.) For example, an exploration of asexual romances is something I’ve been yearning to explore for a few months now. One day, I for sure will write an asexual romance, especially because representation is invaluable. I trust myself to know where my limits lie, so if I feel confident writing something, might as well see if I was correct in my assumption!

Oh, gosh, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali (AGAIN), The Music of What Happens, and A Heart in the Body of the World. Actually, The Music of What Happens was probably my favourite read this year. Oh, and I just read The Handmaid’s Tale yesterday – SO! BRILLIANT!

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HECK yes.

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A: I have to do plenty of research of the subject. If I know more about it, I would write about it. If not, I stay in my lane.

A: Some of the most important things are accuracy, relatability, reality.

A: If I’ve gone too far, I probably made the storyline sound far-fetched and over the top. It has to be able to fit with what’s going on in the world today. History repeating itself.

A: I’ve wanted to write a story about sexual assault or domestic abuse. I haven’t yet because I think it’s really sensitive. Maybe I don’t have the heart for it because it’s painful.

A: I’ve written a short story inspired by my past in middle and high school about indirect bullying, rumors spreading about me because I flashed my breasts to a few of my male friends. For me it was refreshing to tell it, reliving it brought back memories I don’t want to think about because it hurts. It made me the strong person I am today. I read The Hate You Give. Angie Thomas told the tale of the reality of police brutality in am amazing flow. You feel Starr, being Starr and witnessing what she saw and having the hard choices to make.

Happy New year, wattpaders! Stay blessed and lovely always!! :pray::pray::pray::pray::pray::heart::heart::heart::heart::heart:

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I’ve decided to pursue some topics I’m familiar with because I have gone through a similar situation so I know what I’m talking about. Like for example, my story deals with PTSD. I have PTSD currently, generalized anxiety disorder, and primary insomnia.

I’m learning to surpass the difficulties I faced after four years. I’ve finally felt in a better mental place to write and share my frustrations and hate that I felt for a long time. It’s not something you get over in months or years. It’s now part of who I am and I’ve learned to not be angry at the world.

Originally it wasn’t going to have it but after my experiences and long talks with my therapist, I decided to go through with it and write it. It’s still the same storyline I originally planned in mind just added more issues to mental health.

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i haven’t written one yet :see_no_evil:, but i do think there has to be an element of empathy and realism to your interpretation of a certain subject. sometimes we romanticise things in a way that downplays the real trauma people have faced. sometimes we overhype things, and make it so much worse than it may be because “readers need to be left shook, not educated.”
i think i’d stay in my lane if i realised i was telling the story to gain readers and not shed light or present a new perspective on the actual subject.

i think it’s really important to consider how someone who’s been through the sensitive subject would feel reading your story. it would be pretty horrible to write things just to trigger people. it would be horrible to make the situation seem so trivial and not ever actually look into the resulting effects of the trauma experienced.
i think it’s important that someone who’s like your main character is able to read your story and think, “yeah, this was a pretty good representation of what i went through”, or even “hey, i learnt a new perspective, i didn’t know others suffered/went through this like that”.

i’ve kind of hinted at this above, but i think you’ve gone too far if it starts to feel forced, dramatised or romanticised.
in short, if you’d feel terrible handing it to someone who’s been through what your MC has been through, you’ve probably gone too far.

i’d love to write a story that goes into the heads of cheaters, abusers, bullies, any-phobes, etc.
i’m a big believer in understanding all kinds of people, so it’s always interesting to me to think of how these people came to be like that and maybe shed light on their POV.
that being said, i’d feel like i was justifying or even condoning their actions, and more than that, asking my readers to condone their behaviour.
so i guess i’m afraid to touch it because it’s likely to end up sounding like a ‘FREE X’ campaign for people who do terrible things.

i’ve recently read a story here on Wattpad that did a pretty good job tackling PTSD. the author didn’t overhype or downplay it - it felt authentic and like they’d actually done their research on the subject. bonus points because it was a male POV (Lord knows we need more male POVs in general)

my question would be to people who are ‘sensitive subject’-ees: do you think there are enough stories that accurately represent what you’re going/have been through? what has been your experience with the stories (and books) you’ve come across?

  1. When deciding on writing a sensitive subject, how do you decide when to pursue vs. stay in your lane?
    I ask myself why I want to write it and if I’m even the right person to write it. If both are positive, then I would pursue it, but if not, then I would let it drop and support someone else’s story which is better suited. I think it’s important to point out that just because you CAN write about something doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

  2. When writing a sensitive/challenging subject – what are the most important things to consider?
    First of all, research is key. And don’t just look at one resource from one POV. For example, if researching Chinese history don’t just read history books from a Western/white point of view. Search for history books from Chinese authors and always use multiple references. Second, think about what you’re trying to portray in your story. Are you feeding into stereotypes? Is it harmful to the subject matter? And thirdly, look into sensitivity readers. Of course, not everyone has the same experiences/view points but they can give you a better understanding of where you exceed or fall short.

  3. When deciding on a sensitive subject, how do you know when you’ve done enough vs. gone too far?
    I think that’s a very hard question to answer because it depends on the person but if you think you’ve done enough, I would say do another round of whatever you need (research/sensitivity readers. etc.) just to be sure. Being careful won’t hurt you but failing the community you’re trying to represent? That’ll hurt not just your career but yourself and the topic as a whole.

  4. They say write what scares you: is there a subject you’d love to tackle but are too afraid to touch? Why?
    100% yes. There’s a topic that I’ve been wanting to write for a while now but it’s a very polarizing/heated topic. I’m afraid to alienate part of my readership. If I do decide to pursue it, I will most likely write it under a different pen name.

  5. If you’ve written something sensitive or challenging, how was the experience? / For those who haven’t written – what’s a book you’ve recently read that tackled a sensitive/challenging subject that you thought was well executed? If so – why?
    I wrote a book on a sensitive topic and the biggest compliment I received was someone asking me if I went through what I wrote about (I hadn’t) because the story mirrored their experience/feelings. It felt great but also heartbreaking because she went through something so awful.

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For question one I pursue it. Let others be offended if they don’t like. One fandom threw me out of their groups over an old fic I wrote. People should understand that writing about sex, taboo and toxic relationships does not make you a pervert, molester or pedophile. Writing about murder and horror doesn’t make you a terrorist or an axe murderer.

The internet seems to love a good witch hunt. Someone I know got accused of being a molester because of things they wrote.

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:raised_hands:t3::raised_hands:t3::raised_hands:t3: This.

My trauma is not for someone else’s gain. Readers can tell when you don’t actually care, especially if they’ve been through it.

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I write to entertain, so this is one advice I set aside as N/A. I don’t really want to explore sensitive or challenging issues, I want to have fun when writing and reading, so… I prefer to neither read nor write anything out of my comfort zone, and get hot under the collar when clubs make me read on the topics I find uncomfortable.

I wholehearted agree with you. In fact, I’ll shameless take these exact wordings and put it on a poster board above my head because you described society nowaday exactly like how it is.

Nowaday how much we are all about “the show”, “the performance”, it is very hard for consumers to truly separate acting vs. reality. We leap into conclusion about an actor’s real-life personality just because we only see the character they portray in movies, we leap into conclusion about a writer just because they assume the narrator and the characters and the content the writer is writing must be what the writer thinks or condones.

(Which, also makes me thinks advice like “Write What You Know About” may contribute to the whole deception. Because not all of the challenging topics we writer can specifically experience. Some of us want to explore or think more about in different ways, but being hold back.)

It’s definitely one thing to bring sensitive topics to light, but one can go overboard in my opinion. If you aren’t personally affected by something (whether it’s you yourself or someone you’re close to) it’s important to do research whether it’s actually talking to people or see if the topic has been previously addressed, even a google search works too, and stick to the basics. If it’s to shed a light on the topic you want to address then pursue it, but stay in your lane by not over sensationalizing it.

I’ll repeat something from my previous answer and that’s to at least educate yourself with the basics of the topic and to not over sensationalize it. If dramas or other media that exaggerate sensitive topics are sources or inspiration for writing a scene or story, one has to keep in mind that some things are toned down for network television/audience (because censorship), or exaggerated with special effects to draw out emotion. The same can be done with text by using words (loaded for sure) to be heavily descriptive of a scene.

Audience reaction is one thing, but one person who reacts to something either positively or negatively is just one person. With the internet, you have someone tell a joke and many people find it’s funny, but a small group of people may not but still have the power to rally enough people to make the joke go viral in order to condemn the source. Even with this possibly happening I still stand by going with audience reactions. Audience can react positively and share the story with others and praise can come from that.

I could also suggest to leave the writing alone for some time and if you go back and realize how it may be offensive, then it’s too far. The caveat with this is if in one’s mind they’ve done nothing wrong with tackling the subject, they won’t admit they’ve gone too far.

It’s not much the topic but more of the reaction that scares me. Will I have portrayed something accurately or have I crossed a line into using something as a basis for a fictional condition that closely reflects a real-life one and am capitalizing on an experience that isn’t mine? I think there’s a topic that floats around IYW (maybe this one? or this) that tackles diverse characters in stories and those with privilege capitalizing on experience that aren’t theirs. I mostly write for fun but I still like to improve when possible as I’m still telling stories.

I have a clingy ex-girlfriend of a character featured in one of my stories and someone related to that. I guess that counts

As for overall thoughts on sensitive topics, no matter how sensitive a topic is, someone somewhere is going to be offended. Someone may have had a bad experience or the topic is taboo. It’s important to push boundaries but not too fast. Little by little is fine as we grow to accept what used to be taboo not taboo. It’s also good to educate as if there’s no way to teach, eventually someone will make stuff up to compensate for that lack of knowledge and false information gets spread around.

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