[M] How do you feel writing problematic characters/situations?
#1

WARNING: This thread contains material exceeding the general board rating of PG-13. It may contain very strong language, drug usage, graphic violence, or graphic sexual content. Reader discretion is advised.

Specifically, this thread is marked mature because of: discussion of mature themes.

I'm not sure if this is the right way to ask, so let me elaborate on what I mean! Naturally, this sort of discussion may lead into topics that may be triggering or sensitive for some players, so please feel free to skip this thread altogether. (SA or mods, if y'all feel this is inappropriate to ask, please don't hesitate to delete this, either; not trying to offend anyone, just trying to get a feel for how others tackle issues like this in writing. :) )

We all know that our characters are not always going to abide by our own moral compasses. In fact, I'm sure a good handful of us have had characters that are violent, cruel, or say/do some pretty messed-up things. Just taking a look at older 'Souls characters, even, I have noticed some characters that are preeetty wild and problematic compared to characters nowadays!

However, I'm of the mind that good story-telling usually (not always!) involves some problematic characters or situations that can be overcome. As I myself am gearing up to bring in a character that is gonna be a lot more morally-grey than I have ever had in the past, I got to thinking about this, and I wanted to open up discussion to other players that might have some experience with this. I was gonna include a poll but I didn't really know how to frame it so I'll just leave this open-ended and free-form.

I understand that the word "problematic" is pretty subjective, so in this case, I am mostly referring to violence in all forms: verbal violence (name-calling, slurs), emotional/psychological violence, sexual violence, physical violence, etc. There are some more examples and types [M] here (note that the website is set up for violence against women but violence spans across genders, ages, races, religions, etc.).

Some questions:
  • Are you comfortable writing problematic characters/situations or threading with them? Why or why not?
  • Do you feel problematic characters/situations are indicative of the writer?
  • Do you think that problematic characters/situations are necessary for a good story?
  • Do you have any advice for those that want to implement problematic characters/situations in their own writing?
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#2
Discussion of all topics is permitted here as long as participants are able to remain courteous, so there's no issue here unless someone makes it an issue. :> Incidentally, this is a topic I have strong opinions on, so the below may be a bit strong in tone.

To be quite frank, I feel like the idea that writing "problematic" things somehow reflects on the player as being problematic themselves has come out of the last decade or so of poorly thought out purity policing culture online. There really didn't use to be this pervasive idea that writing troubling content implicates the writer in being "problematic." I find it somewhat alarming that many younger writers are straight up scared to explore topics and themes that are "bad" because they feel it's a mark on them as a person.

Fiction should be a space place to explore ideas because fiction isn't real. And as long as everyone can understand that fiction isn't real, I don't see a problem with writing "immoral" content (and I think that's what most people mean when they say "problematic" -- it is just moral policing). If someone has a problem distinguishing fiction from reality -- that's a problem for them to solve, not a problem for the author of whatever they're reading.

'Souls has its roots in embracing giving writers the space and freedom to write whatever they want, no matter how mature, filthy, or morally questionable that content was, and this is something I still feel very strongly about, personally. Sure, some of this, at the time, was due to general teenage edginess, but I think acknowledgment of the difference between a writer's personal morals and what they choose to write is something that's really important and critical to understand.

To me, a "safe space" is not somewhere that's free of certain content -- it's where that sort of content can be placed without penalty or judgment and be clearly marked. Anyone who wants to avoid it can do so easily, and anyone who wants to partake can do so.

Quote:Are you comfortable writing problematic characters/situations or threading with them? Why or why not?

Yes.

While certainly many aspects of my characters derive inspiration from myself or those around me, I maintain a healthy separation between what I think and do and what my characters think and do. There isn't much in the way of content I'm uncomfortable with writing, though sometimes I feel there's no need to get into the nitty gritty of certain details if it doesn't contribute otherwise to the story. (That said, sometimes it's fun to write the nitty gritty. It's fiction, and I don't think having fun writing visceral murder implicates a writer as someone who'd really enjoy partaking in visceral murder irl.)

Quote:Do you feel problematic characters/situations are indicative of the writer?

Absolutely not. And people that feel this way make me uncomfortable.

Quote:Do you think that problematic characters/situations are necessary for a good story?

No, but I also don't think writing a good story is needed as a justification for writing whatever you want. There's nothing wrong with wanting to write a good story, of course, but you can also enjoy writing without aiming to write a "good story." You can write because writing is fun.

Just as "porn without plot" exists as an accepted category of fiction, I don't think there's anything wrong with substituting that first part with whatever. "Murder without plot" is equally harmless. Because it's fiction. And if someone has difficulty differentiating fiction from reality -- again, that's a them problem, not a writer problem.

Quote:Do you have any advice for those that want to implement problematic characters/situations in their own writing?

Internalise the fact that what you write is not who you are. Ensure as much as possible that those you RP with also understand this -- that what you write is not who you are.

I also think it's worth pointing out that your thoughts are also not who you are. Who you are is what you do and how you interact with other people. Things like rape fantasies and murder idealation are really, really not uncommon in people, but people are always ashamed to talk about it because they feel it reflects poorly on them as a person. But having rape fantasies doesn't mean you actually want to be raped. Kinks are meant to be had in safe places. People's minds can be one of those places. Fiction can be one of those places.

This is also not to say that writing rape means you have rape fantasies, either. And there are some related topics that can tie in here, like the idea that writing "idealised" or "glorified" scenarios of immoral things diminishes the severity of those issues irl. But again, I think recognising that fiction is fiction is the key here. There, in fact, exists a lot of rape victims that write "glorified" rape scenarios. Some find it therapeutic. Some just enjoy it. (Being a rape victim also isn't mutually exclusive with having a rape kink.) You can feel incredibly strongly about the morality of something but still enjoy writing it. Humans are weird. It's okay.
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#3
I don't have trouble with others writing this sort of thing, nor do I have trouble writing some of it, or referencing that it happened. I might not feel comfortable writing out an entire scene of something incredibly violent, but I'm not against other people doing so. I just choose not to read the stuff that I don't want to read, ha.

I think what gets me with this sort of thing is a lack of research into how scenarios with characters who do immoral things would truly affect the victims, as well as how perpetrator character itself might be. This mainly plays into mental disorders for me and how they're represented in writing, specifically "psychopath" and "sociopath," which are not real diagnoses. They are representative of one diagnosis: Antisocial Personality Disorder. In other places I've written, Schizophrenia has been used in stereotypical ways, too, without a complete understanding of what someone might experience. For this reason, I like that on Souls, the recommendation is not to specify what disorder the character might have.

Quote:Do you feel problematic characters/situations are indicative of the writer?

I guess for me, it's not the writing of the actions that make me frown, but the in-character outcomes of the events. And of course writing a character that does immoral things does not make me think that the writer does/wants to do those things.

Quote:Do you have any advice for those that want to implement problematic characters/situations in their own writing?

If they're basing the character on a real event or disorder, research, research, research! :)
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#4
Kiri has said things super well!

As someone who has been writing “problematic” characters since...oh, I don't know, I was a child – I think that it's a hugely important part of the writer's experience to confront these sort of things. Yes, there is certainly a place where you'd want to avoid “dark” elements (ie: writing for children) but look at what's presented in media aimed at kids (Frozen tho??? my man said “bye Ana”). Fairy tales originate from dark places (super dark), because writing is something that allows us to explore those elements in a safe way.

Fiction allows that because, of course, you aren't that monster in the story. Violence is a part of nature. The way that humans often anthropomorphize animals is something that can sometimes bleed over into our game, or animal writing in general – nature is far more brutal and traumatic than I think it is sometimes given credit for. People, as classic literature and modern media suggest, are fascinated with exploring these places in the wild and within themselves. Classing Greek plays, for example, touch on all of this – incest, violence, rape, murder, etc. We have “murder porn” television for a reason.

Writing is all about exploring places like that, and creating stories where we get to take these things we have to process and do so in a healthy way. I think policing “thought crimes” is a dangerous path to tread in regards to censorship. You aren't your character(s), nor are you the things they do or say.

I think that the best thing to consider when writing antagonists or “problematic” characters need to consider the thought process of your character. You don't need to delve deep into psychological profiles, but approaching their thoughts and actions should be more complex than mere “shocking element for plot device”.  I try and approach every character with an idea of their goal, what they would do to reach that goal, and what my own intentions are as far as the writer/player goes in the broader scope of how I want to play them. Why do people root for the villain? Because something about them connects with the audience. As a writer, that's what I aim for.

Controlling these “problematic elements” also means that we can decide both what happens (consent) and, often, allow for characters to get their just rewards or “divine punishment”. I think that's something that can help when it comes to deciding what you want to do with the character.
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#5
Myst brought up some really good points about writing "problematic" content poorly, or from a poorly-informed place. This definitely comes up a lot with regard to mental disorders and as mentioned, is why we strongly prefer players refrain from giving characters explicit diagnoses.

Fiction has a bad habit of portraying certain disorders in a really fantastical way, but we think it's fine to have the fantastical portrayal as long as everyone is clear on that fantasy aspect -- hence why "fantasy-style multiple personalities" is perfectly fine, but we'd rather players not specifically say their character has MPD or DID.

It's also the case that people can experience even the same mental disorder very differently. I believe we've had many cases in the past where players are writing about their own disorders through their characters, and their portrayals of the disorder might be different from what someone would expect, etc, and some may even consider it damagingly stereotypical. Those cases are a little trickier, but ultimately I think that comes down to whether something is a good faith/personal portrayal VS a portrayal based only on assumptions and no research. We typically take players at their word on this if they do want to give a character a specific diagnosis.

I also think Myst's approach is the best way to go if you aren't a big fan of some subjects -- just don't partake, but don't judge others for partaking. This is part of why we're big sticklers for mature warnings on threads, and why I hope more people will use the new functionality to specify what they're warning for. Just as important as I think it is to allow people to write whatever they want, I think it's equally important for those topics to be well-marked and easy to avoid for those who wish to do so.

Also, yay Mel for bringing up how to think through and actually portray these sorts of characters instead of yelling about morality and fiction like me. 8D
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#6
It took me a bit to come back to this and organize all my thoughts out, but I so, so appreciate y'all's responses to this!! They have given me a lot to think about, and I think I just about agree with everything y'all said. I'm glad others have some opinions about this, as well; in some spheres it feels just so taboo to even mention some of these things (which, as Kiri mentioned, is kind of a product of our current Internet era). Some points that really stuck out to me:

Kiri Wrote:Fiction should be a space place to explore ideas because fiction isn't real. And as long as everyone can understand that fiction isn't real, I don't see a problem with writing "immoral" content (and I think that's what most people mean when they say "problematic" -- it is just moral policing). If someone has a problem distinguishing fiction from reality -- that's a problem for them to solve, not a problem for the author of whatever they're reading.

Agree! It just seems kind of silly sometimes to get hung up on the fact that A wrote XYZ, so they must be a total weirdo and there's something wrong with them. Never mind the fact that fiction is just that, fiction; you should judge them on their actions and how they interact with others if you want a true indication of who A really is.

Myst Wrote:I think what gets me with this sort of thing is a lack of research into how scenarios with characters who do immoral things would truly affect the victims, as well as how perpetrator character itself might be. [...] If they're basing the character on a real event or disorder, research, research, research! :)

YES, 1000% this. Mental illnesses are so often sensationalized and stretched into something so fantastical in fiction for entertainment/shock value, and it's pretty ridiculous nowadays. I think some authors have realized this and scaled it back or even done away with portraying mental illnesses altogether -- or, if they do, it's like you said; lots of research has to go into it for it to even be close to accurate or a true portrayal. I'm so glad you brought this up, honestly.

Mel Wrote:Writing is all about exploring places like that, and creating stories where we get to take these things we have to process and do so in a healthy way. I think policing “thought crimes” is a dangerous path to tread in regards to censorship. You aren't your character(s), nor are you the things they do or say.
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I think that the best thing to consider when writing antagonists or “problematic” characters need to consider the thought process of your character. You don't need to delve deep into psychological profiles, but approaching their thoughts and actions should be more complex than mere “shocking element for plot device”.

^ !! Absolutely! So-called 'thought crimes' are such a weird thing to navigate, especially when there are certain thoughts that we all at some point have -- thoughts don't equal actions, nor do they mean we are bad people for having them. And I think having something like writing as an outlet is really helpful in that regard.

Walking through that thought process also sounds super helpful, especially if you want to have an evil character that actually has stakes and goals and feelings; it's good to have some "I just wanna kill everyone" characters every once and a while, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I think generally characters are a bit deeper and more complex than that, ha ha. xD



We also had an extension of this conversation in NC's discord last night, and there were a few points that I think are worth bringing up, as well; I don't necessarily have solutions to these things here, but they're more like my interpretation/musings of the problem at hand. Feel free to response to these as well with your own thoughts!

- It is difficult sometimes for us to separate the art and the artist, especially when we see a work that we really identity with, only to find out later on that the author of this work has done some nasty things in their life. I'm not really sure it counts as a double-standard to be fine with it the other way around (normal person writing abnormal things), but it is something to think about! I personally don't really have any issue distinguishing a piece of work from its creator and I can still enjoy those things on their own, but I can see why others might not feel that way, or maybe the work they really enjoyed might be soured after finding out some external information about the author or circumstances surrounding the work. Although, this could be an entirely different conversation entirely, tbh.

- In your own writings, it might seem easier to implement an 'evil' character and have them interact with your characters in a way that you can control the outcome/consequences of. Maybe it's not so easy to do in an RP format such as this because you have to clearly communicate with other players just what kind of character they are dealing with, if that makes sense?? Though I guess at a certain point an evil character just doing whatever they want willy-nilly would be creeping into powerplaying territory anyway, so to avoid that you would just have to be super upfront and clear about what your character is willing to do to meet their goals, and what boundaries they are willing to cross as a result, which might make them more difficult to play and get others to go along with it, and which also may or may not negatively impact other characters. And not every player wants their characters going through troubling things all of the time!

- Kind of adding onto one of Myst's points, it is okay to have limits, and you shouldn't feel bad about not wanting to read/write certain things! There can be so many reasons why someone wouldn't want to read certain content, and Kiri brings up a good point with the new [M] tags specifying just what kind of mature content a thread contains here on 'Souls. If there's a type of thing you just aren't comfortable reading, there's no reason you should! But, on the same coin, there's no reason you ought to think to yourself that the writer of that thing is somehow flawed or immoral just because they wrote it. Writing is a creative outlet, not a direct link to that person's soul and what they would do in a certain situation just because they wrote a character that acted immorally.
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#7
EDIT Shadowposted by veldt! Ahh!

I think Kiri, Mel, and Myst all said it really well, and I'm in agreement with them! Especially when it comes to having a safe space to explore problematic topics through fiction.

Personally, I think it's really really important for people have to have the room to analyze, speculate, challenge themselves and each other in a non-judgmental capacity. Higher education offers this to some extent, but as in many places the cost of education has gone beyond reasonable, making the only other avenues for inquiry, unfortunately, social media. I think forums like this are a bastion, not only creatively but therapeutically, in part because of the lack of condemnation.

One argument that I see a lot is how creating fiction that includes topical problematic elements is "normalizing" said elements. I think normalization occurs when an ideology is represented uncritically by the creator and is accepted uncritically by the consumer, but both have to happen by the vast majority of people. Including problematic elements in a story does not normalize the topic, just like talking about sexual assault doesn't normalize it; most would agree what's being said is important to contextualizing that conversation. Therefore, I think both creator and consumer hold agency and responsibility when it comes to media. It's been concerning to me that a lot of people are eager to slough the responsibility of consumption onto the creator, when they have no way of controlling who views their work and how they will perceive it.

Are you comfortable writing problematic characters/situations or threading with them? Why or why not?

I'm comfortable with reading/threading to the extent that I don't find myself getting triggered by the topic. Mature warnings are great, especially now with that new customizable feature!

Do you feel problematic characters/situations are indicative of the writer?

Overall no, not in the sense that my character = me.

I do want to qualify this by saying I think it's indicative of the writer to the extent that anything you produce creatively is indicative of the questions that you, as a person, are interested in exploring. I don't think that this reflects on the person negatively or positively; to me it's like what genre of movie a person enjoys watching.

And while I don't identify with my characters, I do try to imbue them with things I have experienced or explore areas of a character's psyche that I have encountered in other people. It's very interesting to me, and helps me to understand a variety of perspectives, but it's not me.

Funnily enough, I did go through a period where I didn't know what to think about this question, and being part of Souls helped me to arrive at something of an answer.

Do you think that problematic characters/situations are necessary for a good story?

I don't think that it's necessary for a good story for a few reasons, mainly because I think what makes a good story is ultimately up to an individual's tastes. Something that speaks to me won't speak to everyone.

Personally, the way a story handles a problematic character/situation can elevate it to good or bad, the key thing being that the subject is considered critically. The most successful stories for me that have handled complex topics have been more inclined to ask about the topic rather than hammer home/reaffirm an answer. I don't think life has an easy answer, and that's a personal thing. Some people might disagree, and I think a good story for them might be media that says "yes! you are vindicated" rather than "maybe vindication isn't always possible in the world we live in."

I do think it's important on a basic level for a narrative to have conflict. I can't even think of a story that doesn't have a conflict in it, even on the smallest, most inoffensive scale.

Do you have any advice for those that want to implement problematic characters/situations in their own writing?

Mel covers this pretty well! Research is always going to be key in understanding what you want to portray.

Who I am now, I would approach something by asking myself a lot of questions (before I used to run at everything headfirst and trial and error'd my way into growth, LOL comes with the maturity/experience?). Why do I want to investigate this problematic thing, what do I want to say about it, what do I think the effects would be of this portrayal? Another good thing might be to approach it on a small scale, or in a private way with a trusted friend.

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#8
I think it's super important to distinguish reality from fantasy! For example, fetishes. Just because I do not partake in xyz fetish doesn't mean I'm going to judge someone else for having that fetish, as long as when they act on that fetish is is between two (or more) consenting adults. I follow that same philosophy with writing. Just because I don't write super sexually explicit scenes that often, for reasons I will expound upon below, doesn't mean that I'm judging others for doing so. And, if I didn't like writing about characters murdering each other, then I wouldn't judge others for enjoying writing that.

Quote:Are you comfortable writing problematic characters/situations or threading with them? Why or why not?

I am! I haven't yet, on 'Souls, but I do a lot of writing just on my own, too! (And I'm planning on my next character being a horrible piece of shit, just for fun-sies) I don't really enjoy writing, for example, sex scenes in RP, just because it can feel stilted and awkward unless you're with someone whose writing style really meshes with yours and/or you aren't afraid to do a bit of PP. But, I 100% do not mind role playing murder/violence/etc, and a lot of my own writing incorporates that. Less for the act/moment itself, but instead because it is really fun to work with your character's emotional development after a traumatic event. But, to do that, there has to be a bad guy.

Telling a good story doesn't need to include bad guys. For those of you who've watched The Boys or don't mind spoilers, please read on. Otherwise, skip to the next paragraph. One of their main characters sexually assaults another main character right at the beginning. It's an awful, despicable act, and he's horrible. However, he isn't just a bad guy. He's not a villain cloaked in darkness and mystery. We know him, we get to know him, and as the show goes on, the more we understand his reasoning behind the act. Not that that excuses his actions, and in the end, he's still a pathetic little man who deserves what he gets. But isn't it fun to write out a complex character who does bad things, not because he's 100% evil, but because he's a naturally flawed human.

The appeal to me is not the act of violence itself, though it is very fun to role play your character murdering someone, but instead the affect the violence has on the perpetrator, the victim or survivor, and the community. 

Quote:Do you feel problematic characters/situations are indicative of the writer?

No, definitely not. I mean, I'd be a total psychopath if that were the case. I do believe that in some cases you can read into the writing a little bit. For example, some people (including me) write as a means of escapism that allows you to use your brain while escaping, rather than turning on a show or something. Personally, I write a lot of my own stories and a lot of fanfic, both to pursue intriguing story lines that I think of and as a means of relaxation, generally when I'm feeling triggered. For those of you who've seen Glee!, right at the beginning of the first season (spoilers!), Quinn gets pregnant. How she got pregnant was revealed later and it made me pretty uncomfortable. It involved her being significantly more drunk than her partner, Puck. I dunno why, since the encounter was technically consensual, but I always felt like it really could be seen both ways. Either they got drunk, had sex, and didn't use protection, or Puck got her drunk and took advantage of her. Part of the reason it made me uncomfortable was because the writers were unwilling for her to just cheat on her boyfriend at the time, so they used ambiguous consent as a way to get the audience on Quinn's side. But then they never dealt with the fact that she got taken advantage of. Anyway, I wrote a fanfic (which I haven't shared and probably won't share) looking at it from the second perspective. Does that mean I support sexual assault or wish that she had been assaulted or have rape fantasies? No. I just think that it would be an interesting story that they could have pursued.

Quote:Do you think that problematic characters/situations are necessary for a good story?

Nope! I think that they can enhance some stories and absolutely ruin others. It is 100% okay to have every single character be a goody-two shoes and still make the story fun/interesting. I can totally picture a cast of perfectly good characters being thrown into totally absurd, though not squick-y, situations and see how they handle it, and I can see that be a super fun story. And I can think of plenty of stories that involve horrible characters/situations that are absolute shit.

Generally, the problem isn't the problematic characters/situations themselves, but instead the writing that makes a good story. If the first idea I said above is well-written, it doesn't matter that there aren't any problematic characters. Alternatively, if a dramatic story filled with problematic characters/situations is not well written, then it's gonna be shit. It comes down to making the characters believable and relatable. Going back to The Boys (again, skip to next paragraph if you don't want spoilers), that horrible guy was well-written. The sexual assault wasn't just something that happened because the writers wanted to objectify women or have rape fantasies or whatever. It happened to further the plot and to make the audience understand the superhero industry a bit more. And, after the assault, they made that horrible guy relatable. We could see his insecurities, his fear of Homelander and his general lack of self-worth. Again, not saying that to excuse what he did, but instead to show that they worked really hard to make both the perpetrator and the survivor relatable and show the audience what kind of world they lived in. The sexual assault was used as a plot device so that the audience could see how heroes can get away with anything. It was used to show that the survivor didn't have anywhere to go, nobody to turn to, and how she suffered emotionally from being taken advantage of in that way. It also was a sharp dose of reality for her (and the audience), discovering how heroes really were. That's good writing.

But having a character be a survivor of sexual assault just because, that's bad writing. It's really fetishized, and overused in our society. It has become a kind of go-to dark and horrific history for the female character. It's used as an explanation for why their character isn't willing to have sex, to avoid them being thought of as a prude, because they also don't want their character to have "too much sex" and be thought of as a whore. It's a crazy double-standard that pervades our culture and seeps into movies, book, and TV shows, and is especially visible in fanfiction.

Quote:Do you have any advice for those that want to implement problematic characters/situations in their own writing?

Research! Understand both the perpetrator and the victim/survivor! Make the villain relatable, because the audience loves trying to figure out what's going on in their heads. If they're just 100% evil, then they're boring. Make the audience feel uncomfortable as they sympathize with the killer because they can understand their actions. With every evil deed, make ripples of change tear through the community as they struggle to process what's going on! And try to figure out new ways to do things! Incorporate more than just "well, his dad beat him when he was a child". Plenty of people got beaten as a child and didn't grow up to become serial killers, right? Maybe add in that the problematic character also suffers from, for example, post-concussion syndrome and experiences loss of memory, triggering bouts of panic and confusion. Perhaps the character gets into fights easily, and ends up killing someone accidentally, then losing all memory of the incident. Or, perhaps they get so drunk/stoned that they don't even recognize their partner telling them to stop and have to deal with the aftermath of sexually assaulting someone that they love. There are all kinds of ways to have problematic characters/situations that further your character's or the plot's development. And, to me, that's the important thing. Character or plot development should be the reason that a writer is writing, after all! It's boring to write the same character doing the same thing all the time.
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#9
I don't have a huge well thought out post to give here, but I DO have, and have had some pretty "problematic" characters, and hey I just wanted to say this. Souls is a crazy story, and everyone loves a good villain.

I don't think that writing bad things means you're bad, no, I do think that maybe a problematic person might use problematic characters as outlets, not saying that problematic writing is never from a problematic author, BUT, I myself enjoy writing problematic characters the same way I enjoy writing good noble characters, it's all about escaping reality and doing something crazy and adventurous, and how can some warrior go face to face with a monster if no one's playing one? xD These kinds of things just work best when you have a bunch of different kinds of people writing a bunch of different kinds of characters.
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#10
I think everyone has made pretty good points here!  One thing I'd like to reiterate that I've seen some others mention is that I personally think that narrative framing is important.  Writing problematic themes isn't always automatically bad but it's not always automatically harmless either; there's a difference between a story criticizing a culture of toxic masculinity and misogyny, for example, and a story exalting it and positing it as the correct view to have.

So I personally think that when people are writing problematic things, it needs to be done carefully.  I think for some topics, like murder, this can be done more loosely since everyone basically agrees that murder is wrong and you don't really have to go to great lengths to show that you also think it's wrong.  But I think when it comes to things like societal problems or marginalized groups, or topics like child grooming and inappropriate or toxic relationships, it's important not to romanticize these things.

An example might be Twilight (not the best example but this is the first thing I thought of).  This hundreds-years-old vampire "falls in love" with a high schooler and acts possessive of her and creepy with her (to the extent of obsessing over her and sneaking in her window, etc.)  But this is portrayed in the story as sweet and romantic, not as inappropriate and characteristic of grooming.

I think it also depends on your audience.  I think a mature audience is more likely to pick up on themes in your work and realize hidden depths than an audience of kids would.  Kids tend to absorb everything like a sponge, and if you aren't careful that your story isn't romanticizing something dangerous or harmful, this can make them internalize harmful things too.

Re: things like mental illnesses (or any other identity), I think if you aren't writing from a place of personal knowledge, you should do extensive research.  I think it's harmful to those groups if an inaccurate or demonized portrayal crops up in fiction as it so often does - the "schizophrenic psycho killer" (even though schizophrenics, and almost all with mental illness, are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators), the "sexy intersex person that 'has both'" (even though almost no intersex people "have both" and there are dozens of intersex variations all belonging to people, not sex objects), the "mystical magical Native American", the "crazy trans person obsessed with pronouns", etc.

I think it can harm those groups immensely to have these dangerous and insulting portrayals presented uncritically and without thought - plus, reading these portrayals as a member of one of those groups can be extremely hurtful and make you feel like you're just a plot device or a cluster of stereotypes and not an actual person.  So I do think that when it comes to marginalized identities, you need to actually research - and read what the group itself has written rather than what others have written about them.  This is the best way to get accurate information and to really listen and care about the group as people rather than just "plot devices".
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#11
So, in reading this thread, there isn't anything that's already been said that I wouldn't agree with, and I'm actually quite glad that Souls is a place that we can talk about this.  Whatever I may have to say on the subject most likely has already been said in some form or other, especially points that I've read in trying to catch up in the discussion.  Still, I feel strongly enough about the topic(s) mentioned to try and contribute, at least a little.  Also, I apologize for being long-winded.
Quote:Are you comfortable writing problematic characters/situations or threading with them? Why or why not?

In short, yes.  For the most part, characters I've played I do so in with the intention of playing as a more morally grey character, not so much as in a willingness to do both good and bad things but more so with the perspective that good and bad are almost inherently subjective in nature, though likely due to my own moral compass, they usually tend to lean towards 'good' with some minor exceptions (more on that later).  The point being, in either writing problematic characters/situations or threading with them provides me personally with a good juxtaposition, to either explore the possibilities of another perspective or to challenge the values a character believes in, simply for the fact that they were taught to adhere to those values.  As it has been previously mentioned, the important thing is to keep in mind why a character is working towards this goal, or what their reasoning would be for operating outside what we would consider morally acceptable.

I'm definitely not the first to point out that while we project some human values onto these characters, they are still very much wild in nature, and life can be difficult on a daily basis.  Characters that may have that moral compass could easily find themselves asking if their morality is worth starvation, injury, or any other situation that could spell death for them.  Survival is paramount in the general sense, and if Character A finds surviving easier by playing nice and helping others would not intrinsically be any more good or bad than Character B learning the hard way that the only one they can rely on for survival is themselves.  If Character B came across Character A and Character A found Character B to be "problematic", it's also perfectly reasonable for Character B to assume the same thing of Character A.  In terms of their own ideology, neither character is in the wrong, but to the other they are "problematic" all the same.

However, a character that is problematic for the sake of being an antagonist is something different for me personally, and I'll go into that a bit more later on as well.

Quote:Do you feel problematic characters/situations are indicative of the writer?

In short, no.  While nothing is clear cut, black and white, saying that problematic characters/situations are indicative of the person writing them at the very least could be seen as logically flawed.  As others have said, just because someone writes a particularly violent scene, that would in no way lend credibility to them going out and enacting that same violence.  That'd be the same reasoning as saying you could skip flight school and fly a commercial airliner just because you watched Top Gun, or any other movie or video game with flying airplanes in it.  Writing fiction is by and large escapism in it's essence, and would not imply that someone could or even want to do what they write about in reality.  If someone had blurred the lines between that fiction and reality, that's another situation entirely, but as far as Souls goes, I wouldn't say there's any danger of that happening.

Quote:Do you think that problematic characters/situations are necessary for a good story?

This is one of those times where I'm going to be touching back onto a point from earlier.  At a core level, no, a person could write a perfectly good story that's just a character being born, living their life how we would consider to be moral, and then passing away in a respectable manner their writer saw fit to give.  That was most certainly my original plan for my main character, and if that's someone cup of tea right there, I would encourage them wholeheartedly.

Having said that, including that problematic character or situation could certainly change the dynamic of that good story, causing it to spiral off in a direction you could've never imagined.  You could certainly consider that to be a better version of the story, not so much for the simple sake of "oooo plot twist!", but rather having the character become more organic in nature by interacting with elements that are either out of their control, much like in real life.  Personally, I find this to be a more engaging and active method for storytelling, but it's not necessarily better than the first.  Conflict is a concept we understand on a deep level, and even if we avoid it intentionally, it can help us relate to the story more closely.  This can be a good or bad thing depending on how it's done, but typically a skilled writer can always use this to their advantage for the better. 

That's why I personally enjoy seeing a "good villian", or a character that is well thought out and written with a clear reason and goal for the way they are, to reference what Corie said.  As much as I'm actively searching for positive ways to change my stories, I also would greatly enjoy having such a character involving themselves as well, to have not only opposition for the type of character I most often write, but also a compelling person that can also challenge the why of what makes them so different.  It's not so important for me personally on how quickly or definitively a character can answer that question, or if they can answer it at all, but that moment where they stop and truly think about themselves and their life.  Those are the situations I find that I can write the easiest, the ones I connect with the strongest.

And in saying that, as much as I am an advocate for good, compelling issues or characters, I'm not overly fond of the idea of a character that is 'bad' for the sake of being bad.  Mostly, because I don't understand that sort of mentality.  Sure, Character A can be the most unimaginably awful person they could be, but the only thing they'd have to show for it is a list of enemies as long as the coast of Nova Scotia.  Consequences, either good or bad, are key when writing any sort of character.  For sure, even in real life, consequences are not able to reach everyone, but in the realm of fiction, where's the fun in not getting caught?  Especially if the daily thought is on survival, a character is likely to try and avoid bringing down negative consequences on their heads.  Now whether that means the character has to become more crafty to avoid those consequences, or if their sins will catch up to them like a vengeful flame, that's up to the kind of story a person would want.  They thing to keep in mind is, even if they are subtle, consequences are there, and the way they affect said problematic character and others involved could have a butterfly effect if the cards are played right.

I want to clarify as well, I'm still speaking about this as escapism, so by no means am I trying to say that there is a right or wrong way to do things, just what I personally find enjoyable.  As long as it's within the realm of Souls rules, the world is your metaphorical oyster.

Quote:Do you have any advice for those that want to implement problematic characters/situations in their own writing?

I feel like most of my pages I wrote up there, as well as answers others have given can be suffice into answering this question, so I'll just share my personal experience on this, so by all means feel free to skip if you'd like.  For my main character, when I first wanted to give him his personality disorder, at first I admit I was more fascinated with it as a trope than a real thing.  It wasn't exactly the mainstream portrayal, but there were very clearly themes to highlight that he was 'different', even crazy.  He wasn't necessarily violent to anyone but himself, with exceptions where self-defense or similar action needed to be taken.  My greatest saving grace was I didn't try to emulate the material most easily at hand, and instead felt it appropriate to personalize the narrative a bit.  But, before I really began to delve deep, I had done research on what I was aiming to portray, as a lot of players I knew at those earlier years recommended to try and be as accurate, respectful and real as I possibly could about it.  At first there didn't seem to be much about the subject, but I did my best to find out what I could, and eventually I found myself asking, "Why is this a thing I feel that needs to be a part of him, and how can I do this in the best way I can?"  Once you commit to implement something into a character, be it a disorder, a new direction in their life, anything, it has to be for a reason, and a valid reason.  Personally, there's a lot of things about me that I don't know, and I've always explored those things through my characters, or in other situations I write to reflect how I feel or things that I'm going through, with the most consistent example being a sense of helplessness with loved ones.

Combining that with the already traumatic backstory and the ever looming threat to survival in some form, I was able to mold my initial idea into what I can only hope is a respectful and accurate depiction.  Because of all of those qualifiers, the research, a history where developing such disorders is plausible, and what I knew personally, I feel that I was able to do the best that I could for that portrayal.  And it's not a one and done thing either, I had to keep updating and refining the narrative I told to make it the best and most accurate I could.  And because I kept working on it, someone who had a personal connection to the disorder actually complimented the effort I put into the writing and the accuracy I strove for, and honestly, I feel that was the best feedback I've ever received for my writing to this day, it really made me feel like I was doing my character and the portrayal of the disorder justice.  And in saying that, I know that I would never write a character like this, or rather this disorder again.  Not in a "this is the pinnacle of this portrayal" type of way, just that I personally would not feel comfortable with having another character with that same disorder.  The identity that formed from my character was as much made out of my own feelings of helplessness as it was his, but for the most part, that particular brand of helplessness has faded in my life.

There is so much that goes into this type of narrative, and a multitude of ways that it could go wrong, or in the least be misguided.  And due to the diversity of mental disorders, even saying that I could recreate all of that process perfectly, or at least in an acceptable manner, feels like I'd be lying to myself.  I could not ever hope to replicate, nor do I think I should.  I've said all that I need to say about that particular topic, so to try and prolong that, I honestly feel like it would be a mistake. The only thing left for me to write about the disorder itself is a fitting and respectable resolution, however best I can.  

So, in summary for this point, yes, absolutely as the others suggested, research, research, research, especially those that are within the group you are researching, constantly and consistently ask yourself why you are wanting to portray whatever you may be interested in, and if you're doing the best job that you are humanly capable of writing to promote an accurate and respectful image of the group.  Don't be afraid to write the problematic character, just ensure the way you write them isn't problematic.

(Side note, sorry if what I wrote gets a little jumbled/rambly/convoluted the further down it goes, I've been writing this post all day in intervals between work, this latest edit being at 1:20 am almost, so I apologize again at the end of this for trying to squeeze an entire day's worth of thought into one post.)
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