Stay in your lane

Or thoughts on the plane. This topic is brought to you by the current voting round for Smut Marathon. “Imperfect” character sketches is the current assignment. It brought up personal responsibility when writing fiction among other things. Here’s just a couple of things on my mind. Go *vote* by the way.

So a few things I’ve been considering lately.

One I offered up as a discussion question on Twitter the day before. It centered around intent and perception. My thought process was in reference to writing. Does intent matter in light of someone’s perception of your writing? If the intention wasn’t harm, but the person receiving your writing was harmed (or felt offended or the subject brought up some hard feelings), does that perception supersede intent?

I tend to avoid topics that bother others. My erotica may have parts that aren’t necessarily everyone’s kink, but I don’t stray too far from what’s usually acceptable for people. Even when I do, my intent is usually to write stories that appeal not offend. I want people to read and be aroused, but that gets tricky if people are leaving in disgust.

So of course the discussion raised some other thoughts. Mostly in reference to a phrase I see tossed around by those who are social justice warriors (not a derogatory term). The idea that people need to stay in their lane.

You read a book about an issue or topic, dislike an aspect of it, check who the writer is, see they aren’t (black/a woman/disabled/trans) and immediately dismiss them. Or go on a tirade about how utterly unsuitable they were to write the book/piece because they have no lived experience to write on such things. Cis/white/male get hated on for this a bit, but someone writing about something they aren’t? You stay in your damn lane.

Many a book boycott has started this way lately.

This isn’t without merit, staying within the boundaries of writing things you are knowledgeable enough to write about. Some people are hugely problematic in their approach or understanding of particular groups. How many erotic novels written by men have female characters so absurd it’s almost offensive. Or the writing of the grossly stereotypical black person. Those things need discussed and pointed out so that people are fully aware that what they’re putting out isn’t accurate.

But… some of that is silly too.

I don’t need to be a serial killer to write novels about serial killers. I’ve written a story or two from the point of view of a man and I got no dick. If you look closely at many of my stories, I either write my characters neutral enough they could be anyone OR they are white. Last time I checked, I am not white. I’m writing what I am/have been surrounded by and know most of my readers are white.

Many stories are about emotions. You can write others correctly without lived experience to go with it. Research, asking questions, interacting, and being mindful and intentional in the writing of those characters that are different than yourself.

To tell people not to write a different type of person because they aren’t that type of person is grossly restrictive. It denies someone the opportunity to learn and make an attempt to understand someone who is not them or like them. It can be done right, well, and with a delicate hand.

It’s okay to navigate outside your lane and do so successfully. It’s also okay to make a point of directing people to those books that are better examples of the group you’re trying to represent in your writing. Be an advocate within your writing, show your research, and (if or when you make a misstep) admit you messed up.

Brigit Delaney (@BrigitWrites) said something spot on worth repeating.

I will not stifle my creativity because it might make someone uncomfortable. I am bound to offend someone at some point. And I am okay with that.

Some things are taboo, but that doesn’t make them off limits. Some things offend and that’s necessary. As *RG mentioned* in her talk at Eroticon, we should go to those places not stay away from them. We should tackle things without fear, but be willing to take the pushback when it comes in order to explore scary subjects.

I’m a chicken, admittedly, but I do want to be braver writing those subjects I’m not necessarily versed in. I do want to measure my understanding against my intent because I can fuck up badly if that’s misplaced. To know when not to write something as much as when to give it a go. I’m not exactly the pillar of “do the right thing”, but I try.

Hopefully, if I’m asked, I can explain my intent and with that conversation learn where I’ve messed up. It’s about making mistakes, learning, and making more connections, right?

I’ll venture out of my lane just a little.

Cara Thereon Banner icon


  1. Elliott Henry

    I enjoyed your post, Cara. I recently had this experience, as a friend wanted me to write a story about rape, brutality, and degradation. That’s not me, but I did it as a favor for her. I also did for my Smut #2 story one from a gay angle. I guess you could say I was out of my lane on those topics, but that doesn’t mean I can’t write them, it’s all part of a writer’s growth. I liked your thoughts about being respectful and wanting to write true. My biggest fear is making a fool of myself, I hope I don’t do it too often.

    1. Post
      Cara Thereon

      Making a fool of yourself just helps improve your writing. My first stab at erotica wasn’t the best, but I learned from it.

  2. Marie Rebelle

    Back when I started writing, I always stayed in my lane. I never wrote about things that I had no knowledge of. But, I wanted to grow as a writer so had to venture outside those ‘safe’ lines. I have done a couple of those, like the one on my blog today. I don’t say I am successful with it, but I definitely like to challenge myself and my writing. Also, I know that there are stories I write that people don’t like, and I am okay with that, even though it does make me feel uncomfortable most of the time. If that makes sense…

    Rebel xox

    1. Post
      Cara Thereon

      Erotica was my venturing out of my lane initially. I agree that it definitely makes you grow as a writer trying other voices. It’s worth trying always

  3. Mrs Fever

    I work with people who are members of very specific marginalized populations (I’m choosing that term on purpose), and as an ally/advocate, I’m often horrified by the characterizations I run across, of similarly-identified people, in {inept} fiction writing.

    It’s easy to say “it’s only fiction” and/therefore “it doesn’t matter.” But I don’t agree. It DOES matter.

    It matters, in the same way that 50 Shades matters.

    And in the same way that the absolutely horrendous skewing of reality within 50 Shades matters.

    Because while people can, in general, parse fact from fiction WHEN THEY KNOW THE FACTS, it is much more difficult to do when they are a novice in the field being fictitiously explored (whether that’s Spanking 101 or Vocational Education for the Blind or The Reality of Dialysis, etc), because people form attachments to the stories they read, and they associate believability of circumstance with like-ability of character. (No, I didn’t make that up. It’s a research-supported fact. Look it up.) So in creating fictional pieces “outside our lanes,” we are influencing uneducated readers (not ‘uneducated’ as in ‘without degrees’ – ‘uneducated’ as in ‘don’t know otherwise’) and *that* is a responsibility I’d like to see more people take seriously.

    Does it mean people can’t step outside their comfort zones? That they can’t “change lanes”? No.

    But neither should folks be driving 90 mph down a pitted-track dirt road at midnight with no lights on.

    Because that’s how damage gets done.

    1. Post
      Cara Thereon

      I hope my post didn’t give the impression that it was okay to just blindly bumble in?

      A writer having the awareness of their lack of knowledge about the topic is important. If they don’t know accurate information, they shouldn’t write about it. I’m hesitant to say never write what you aren’t though. The better option is to encourage those in that group to write their experience.

  4. Pingback: Art & History #SoSS #21 - Rebel's Notes

  5. marc van lier

    I totally relate. Especially with erotica it is easy to offend. I have deleted some of my blogs, because some people were offended by it, even though it wasn’t my intention. I once wrote about an encounter between two patients in a mental health clinic and that offended some, although I did do the research and I was sure that what I wrote about was actually happening in mental institutions.

    As a writer you must be free to wrote about whatever you want. It is the context of your writing that makes the difference. Is it fiction, is it erotica, is it realism? And the tone of voice is another factor. Erotica isn’t necessarily sexy. It can also be rough and uneasy.

    What I really like about your post, is that you show that you care and take things into consideration. You think things out before you start writing. And that is a very good trait.

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