I’ve found this site recently and enjoyed reading your mapping of writing conventions and all of your advice.

I’m writing for myself and it’s an extended fanfic of a certain sword and sandal planetary romance portal fantasy pastiche that was made extremely poorly back in the 70s. I’m reordering and redoing a lot of what I find objectionable, including a massive amount of misogyny that the series has devolved to, as well as a great deal of the fantasy element and wordcraft, as I don’t believe that the original author was that good at it. Essentially, I’m making a sequel/soft reboot to the series.

Do you think it’s possible to remake an extremely objectionable story into something that’s worthwhile to read?


Hey Vadim, thanks for writing in! 

In a vacuum, the answer is yes. With sufficient changes, you can turn even the worst story into a good story; that’s the beauty of revisions. The key word here though is “sufficient,” which varies a lot by story, depending on what exactly the problems are. 

For example, it’s not hard to fix the sexism in Lord of the Rings. There’s nothing inherent to the world that makes women inferior to men; Tolkien just wrote with certain assumptions about what an adventuring party would look like and what pronouns everyone would use. 

In contrast, it would take significantly more work to fix the racism in Lord of the Rings, because orcs as inherently evil are baked into the setting. We could change their aesthetics to make them less obvious stand-ins for Black people or Mongolian people (depending on how you read certain passages), but you’d still have an inherently evil, sapient species, which is always going to be dicey. 

To be clear, that problem could still be fixed, it would just take more work, especially if we’re preserving the core aspects of LotR that people most like, such as the dark lord Sauron and his cursed land of Mordor. 

I’m not sure what story you’re working with, but the more baked in its problems are, the more it will take to fix them. You might find that it’s hard to keep the things that fans liked from the original. In a story like Wheel of Time, it would be very difficult to fix the sexism because stereotypical gender dynamics are built into the magic system, and that’s something a lot of WoT fans specifically liked. That’s why the TV show is extremely vague on how the gendered magic works, at least in season one. They don’t want to put off new viewers who won’t like WoT’s built-in sexism, but they don’t want to drive old fans away either. 

So while it’s always possible to fix a story’s problems, social justice or otherwise, it may not always be practical. That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself, based on how big the problems are and how much energy you have for this project. 

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing!

Keep the answer engine fueled by becoming a patron today. Want to ask something? Submit your question here.