Six Common Forms of Bad Writing Advice

A Medieval painting of a university lecture.

It probably won’t surprise you that there’s a lot of writing advice out there. Everyone seems to have their own take on this endeavor we call storytelling. That’s to be expected, but it’s often hard to tell the good tips from the bad. Without the hard data of more technical fields, how can new authors tell what advice is worth following? I can’t give you a complete list of what you might find, but I can go over a few common suggestions and explain why they should raise red flags. When you hear one of these, be on the lookout!

1. There’s Nothing Wrong With Prologues

Prologues get a lot of much-deserved derision, to the point that “don’t use a prologue” is almost a truism. Unfortunately, we can’t just leave it at that and end this section early, because prologue-fans often get riled up in defense of their favorite book-starter. These defenses can go to some fascinating places; my personal favorite is that prologue-hate is forced on us by capitalism so we can get to the profitable violence faster. However, they all boil down to the idea that prologues are a perfectly legitimate storytelling device and you should use one if it fits your story.

Here’s the problem though: that isn’t true. Prologues present unique problems for storytellers; namely that by definition, they appear before the rest of the story. That means one of two things is likely to happen. In one scenario, the story hasn’t started yet, so the prologue is really boring. In the second scenario, the prologue has its own story and the reader loves it, but then they have to stop reading about that story and be jerked into a completely different one. You can see why neither of these is a great experience.

Because of this dynamic, authors usually end up either dumping a lot of boring exposition in the prologue or filling the prologue with action to try and prop up their story’s slow beginning. That’s where prologues get their bad reputation, and it’s well deserved. When readers start a story, they want to start the story. They aren’t interested in reading what is at best a completely different story.

On occasions when a prologue doesn’t have this disconnect with the rest of the story, then it’s probably not a prologue in any meaningful sense. Rather, it is simply chapter one. Calling it a prologue is just giving false expectations at that point. While it’s always possible you could find a good use for a truly disconnected prologue, that’s always going to be an edge case at best.

2. Don’t Care What Other People Think

I hear this one all the time in various online writing groups. Someone voices their fears of a bad review or of readers not liking what they’ve written, and then someone else loudly proclaims that you shouldn’t care about how anyone else might react to your work – speak your truth you beautiful auteur!

This one is a little complicated because the sentiment can come from more than one angle. On the surface, it’s obviously silly. If you’re writing a story for other people to read, by definition you care what they think, let alone if you want them to pay money for the story. If you actually don’t care what anyone else thinks, then you don’t need writing advice at all. Just jot down whatever makes you happy and call it good.

On that level, not caring what other people think is just code for not doing the work to tell a good story. Even worse, this tip is often used to silence criticism from marginalized readers. Why does it matter if people say a story hurt them? You’re not supposed to care what other people think! I’m assuming that most Mythcreants readers don’t want to hurt their audience, so it behooves us all to care what other people think in that regard. If you don’t care about that, then keep in mind that as progressive values become more mainstream, stories that hurt their readers will be harder and harder to sell.

However, it’s also possible for this advice to be used for good. Many marginalized writers past and present have had to tell their stories in defiance of what the privileged majority think. In that case, a certain amount of not caring is appropriate, just like it would be if you were to make the bizarrely controversial statement that every human being deserves enough food to eat.

3. What Even Is Story?

Words can be difficult to define, especially when any type of art is involved. Mythcreants has its own terms and definitions, but we recognize that not everyone uses them. Until a truly universal standard is adopted, we’ll all just have to muddle through. But then you get think pieces that go on and on musing over what various terms even mean. That’s an obvious red flag, and you should probably head for the hills.

If someone has a nonstandard definition of “story” or “plot,” fine, maybe it’s a useful one. If it takes them multiple paragraphs to explain it, not so fine. At best, this is the sign of someone more interested in musing on philosophical topics than giving actual advice on how to tell stories. More often, it’s a sign they don’t know what they’re talking about and are using a lot of words to obscure their poor understanding.

In most cases, once you fight past the endless waffling over a definition, you’ll find advice that is either really pedestrian or completely off the rails. I once read through over a 1000 words of an article trying to define what “story” meant, only to find a revolutionary suggestion that I should start my story with something cool or interesting to hook the reader. Thanks? And I was relatively lucky that time. In other instances, I’ve found similar articles that ended by explaining that the only proper way to tell a story was to consider everything through sexist stereotypes. So helpful!

Some ideas are complicated and take a long time to explain, but a definition of basic terms shouldn’t be one of them. Concepts like story, character, and plot are all well-trodden ground. If it takes someone a long time to define them, that person likely doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

4. Follow Another Culture’s Storytelling Rules

Thanks to improvements in information technology, it’s now easier than ever to consume stories from around the world. That’s a great thing, but it does have a downside: every once in a while someone will decide they’ve solved storytelling with this one weird trick from another culture’s lexicon.

The first problem with using another culture’s storytelling method is that at least half the time, whoever’s giving you the advice doesn’t understand the very thing they’re recommending. Storytelling is complicated, and it’s even more complicated in a different cultural context. Instead of a true understanding, you’re often dealing with pure exoticism, where some other culture* is put on a pedestal for being wise and mystical, so much better than our mundane Western stories.

Assuming the advice giver does understand the storytelling device in question, you have to ask if you can understand it yourself. It’s hard enough to learn the ropes of your own culture’s storytelling conventions; are you ready to put in the work to learn a whole new set of them? If you don’t, chances are high that this shiny new concept will fall flat, missing some essential element you didn’t even know it needed.

Then of course there’s your audience to consider. If you give them something steeped in a culture that isn’t theirs, you’re rolling the dice. They might love it the way so many Americans love Japanese anime, or it might just confuse and frustrate them since they don’t have the cultural context to understand it. This is a problem even seasoned professionals struggle with, so it’s a lot to take on if you’re still early in your career.

5. Set Your Story Somewhere Non-Western

This comes up most often with fantasy stories, though you hear it in other genres as well. The advice goes that you should use non-European culture for your worldbuilding inspiration, either because readers are tired of Europe-inspired fantasy or because our stories should have greater diversity. This advice is usually well meant, but it’s misguided.

First, there’s no evidence that I’ve been able to find that audiences are in any way tired of fantasy based on European or Western history. If readers are tired of anything, it’s the same slice of Medieval England that gets used over and over again, but there’s a lot more to European history than that. Of course, readers are also more than happy to accept a non-Western setting, but this isn’t something you need to do for the sake of your sales.

Then we get to the question of diversity, and that’s where things get messy. A lot of white writers try to use non-European cultures as worldbuilding inspiration because they want to craft a more progressive story, but it often doesn’t work out because representing someone else’s culture is hard. If that culture is at all marginalized, then any mistakes by privileged authors can cause real damage. Marginalized people have seen their cultures appropriated and mangled for generations, and many of them aren’t interested in more.

It’s tempting to think you can solve this problem with more research, but the level of research required to do so is simply beyond the reach of most authors. But this isn’t obvious at the start, so a lot of authors follow the advice to use a non-European culture and then feel betrayed when the negative reviews roll in. At Mythcreants, we recommend that privileged authors use marginalized characters rather than marginalized cultures to make their stories more diverse. It’s simply much easier to portray a few characters respectfully than it is to portray an entire culture.

That’s why in most cases, portraying marginalized cultures should be left to authors of those cultures. Looking for more ways to support diversity? Great! Buy marginalized authors’ books and spread the word about them. Those direct contributions help people financially benefit from their heritage.

6. Your Process Should Look Like This

This section is a little broader than previous entries, but that’s okay because we’re dealing with a broad selection of advice, and that’s anyone telling you how you should be putting words on paper. But wait, isn’t that Mythcreants’ entire reason for existence? Close, but at Mythcreants, we focus on craft advice and tread lightly with process advice. We tell you what needs to be in a story, we don’t mandate how to get that story down on paper.

Process advice is incredibly common. People will tell you that you need to write every day, only write in the mornings, or write even when you feel like garbage. They’ll give you very specific requirements for when you should or should not go back to correct mistakes in your writing. They’ll expound that outlines are always necessarily or that you should never let yourself be constrained by an outline. The list goes on.

The problem with all of this advice is that it’s incredibly subjective. The rules of storytelling are consistent and broadly applicable, but which process works best depends on the person. For some, writing every day is a requirement. For others, it kills their motivation and leaves them burnt out, unable to write at all. I personally can’t ever stop to correct existing chapters if I want to finish a draft, but other writers need to or the thought of all those typos will eat at them, sapping their energy.

If a process works for one author, there’s no guarantee it’ll work for anyone else. That’s why you should be wary of anyone telling you the one true way to get your words on paper. Of course, it’s totally valid to experiment until you find a process that works best for you. To do that, it can be helpful to learn about how other people write their stories. At Mythcreants, we’re big fans of outlining and think a lot of writers would benefit from it, but we’d never claim that’s the only way to write a story.

In most cases, people who give you questionable writing advice do it with the best of intentions. They’re only trying to help, but that doesn’t mean their advice is good. New writers especially need an understanding of what advice to be wary of, since otherwise they’ll waste the early phase of their career chasing unhelpful tips.

P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?



  1. Dvärghundspossen

    I think you can probably care too much about what other people think even if you’re not particularly marginalized. I know this guy a little who’s been struggling with writing novels for years and years. He gets SO many beta readers, and he wants to revise everything that anyone has any trouble with, but he ends up tying himself in knots.

    I’m completely new at this, but I reckon you gotta be able to separate a) stuff you should take into account when revising from b) really idiosynchratic complaints that can’t be fixed for one person without making the text worse for most people, and c) when your story just isn’t this person’s cup of tea.

    I mean, you try to control for c when you pick beta readers, right? But it can still happen.

    I had a few people from an internet author group read my novel now, with the instruction to just say what stands out to them and what they like and dislike. I had given them a short synopsis so as to only attract people with an interest in spec fic. Still, it’s a bit random what readers you get like that. I had one person go “this story is so confusing and strange that it’s almost unreadable, it’s like a fever dream”. Then the next person goes “the worldbuilding is so good, I totally get how everything works, and the story structure is great!”. Followed by a person who doesn’t say anything explicit about “worldbuilding” or “structure”, but is really positive overall. My conclusion is that with person number one, it’s just not his cup of tea, so I don’t have to care. I think if I tried to please person number one and person number two simultaneously, my head would explode.

    • Innes

      I agree.
      I think almost everyone will at some point or another be seized by the anxiety that every single word they’ve written is garbage and imagine that hordes of haters are waiting outside the door to tear them and their manuscript to shreds.
      Or the dread of what if I do this plot twist/character motivation/action scene/etc wrong is paralyzing
      In those situations it can be very useful to say ‘eff the haterz’ and continue on with the writing.

  2. Cay Reet

    Thanks for the ‘Your Process Should Look Like This’ part.

    A lot of writing advice is advice about outlining (there’s even a technique out there where you line out so much that your outline is, essentially, your first draft) or other parts of the process. My problem with that? I can outline with the best of them, but then I don’t get a word to the page afterwards. I’m a discovery writer (and I discovered the expression here) and if I do more than a very basic outline, I don’t get to write the story. Your advice on writing topics is very useful to me, but advice on process usually isn’t, because it just never works out for me.

  3. Kenneth Mackay

    I’ve read some really awful ‘process advice’. I especially remember one book that insisted you carry three notebooks, each with a matching pen of a specific colour AT ALL TIMES (one for overheard dialogue, one for descriptions of people, places and things, and one for your own ideas).

    You had to spend two hours each morning following people around to listen in to their conversations, and two hours each afternoon sitting typing, even if you had nothing you wanted to write down (no mention of how you were supposed to fit this in with your day job – or avoid being charged with harassment). All this typing went into a drawer, and, at the end of the week, it was re-read, 90% was discarded and the ideas in the remainder combined into ONE page of text.

    The final piece of advice was on marketing your finished work, and consisted of just four words – ‘First books never sell’!

    I can only assume the writer was trying to hold on to the market for his own books by discouraging new authors!

    • Cay Reet

      Jesus, that makes “First Draft in 30 Days,” which I mentioned without naming it in my post, a piece of perfectly good advice. It does go over the top with outlining from my point of view (the outline of each scene even includes dialogue), but it certainly isn’t getting you dragged in court by the people you spy on.

    • Dvärghundspossen

      I wish I could click on a laughing emoji for this post, like you can on Facebook.

  4. E. H.

    I like prologues if they’re brief and give me some basic knowledge of the world the story is set in and/or establish the mood of what’s to come.

    Jacqueline Carey’s Sundering books have a nice bit of opening mythology about how the world was created and one god was exiled to the mortal realm and condemed to be a Satan type figure despite not really being evil.

    In movies I like the opening screen crawls in Star Wars, which are sort of like brief prologues. Aside from problematic “exotic culture” tropes, I like the prologue in The Exorcist introducing Fr. Merrin as a powerful figure (without it his later appearance would seem arbitrary to me) and establishing a sense of dread.

    The prologue, like other tools, is something to use only in the cases when it actually contributes something.

  5. Matt

    Sure, you want to care what other people think, but you shouldn’t go overboard. If you just try to make everyone happy, you’ll never be done. You should be perfectly comfortable ignoring people’s advice if you disagree with it. More accurate advice would be “Don’t care too much what other people think”

  6. LizardWithHat

    I never got the outlining part until 3 weeks ago when i started a new project. I wrote a small outline of what was going to happen and since than the ideas how each scene plays out, how I have to depict the events come easily :3

    Also yeah: Don’t care too much about what other people say. If someone insults you there opinion might not be worth the trouble. Also I think people who deem it necessary to insult an author are not interested in getting valid critic out – the want to get their way.
    I just don’t think an author is supposed to take every criticism regardless how it is packaged.

    Also i always thought that other culture-thing was about being more progressive. You are not forced to bring in medieval European standards of live when other cultures had more progressive values at the same time (i also think progressive ideas make it easier to worldbuild)

    I also think a good work is one where the author is happy to get feedback an criticism about. Valid, humorous and friendly critic is something I found very important to get inspired and “in the zone”.

    Nice article, very good work

  7. Innes

    All the prologues I have really enjoyed and found to be effective are in TV, movies, or video games. Perhaps there is something about them that works better in visual mediums?

    I am also wondering what you think of short sections that primarily establish tone, as often happens at the beginning of Terry Pratchett’s earlier Discworld novels where he explains that the whole world is on the back of a space turtle and then ever really brings any of that up again. Are tone-establishing introductions worth the page space? (especially if one doesn’t have Pratchett’s great wordcraft….)

  8. K.A.

    I’m one of those people who can’t write the way you’re “supposed” to write. I’ve tried and tried getting up early, writing a certain amount of words or hours daily, Nanowrimo, and such several times, and I always end up so burned out that I can’t work on the project, or sometimes any project at all, for months afterwards. So now I write whenever I feel like it, and I switch between projects depending on what I feel most inspired on at the time. I know that’s how most writing-process-advice people say not to do it, but that’s really the only thing that works for me and that keeps me from getting burned out. It is a slower way of doing things, but it keeps me more excited and motivated. So if the “correct” way doesn’t work for you, you’re not alone!

  9. Dvärghundspossen

    This might be only tangentially related, but… Advice that asks you to sacrifice a lot for the sake of writing isn’t just unhelpful, it feels completely irrelevant to me.

    It’s super fun to have beta readers praise my book, and I would love for it to be published and have people read and enjoy it. And obviously it would be cool to earn money from writing! Still, it’s fine if that never happens.

    Even though “fun” isn’t the ONLY thing I care about when writing, I took this up last year as a fun hobby, and it’s gonna remain a fun hobby. I’m never gonna go into a routine where I write this and that much every day whether I feel like it or not. Even IF someone, somehow, had proof that this would, IDK, help me get a book published eventually, I wouldn’t do it. I already have a job! I don’t need writing to turn into a job as well.

  10. Kalani

    I’m just going to say it: I like prologues.

  11. Anna Darksbane

    I think this is my favorite article by you folks so far. Well done. :]

  12. Tony

    What are your thoughts on teaming up with a creator from a marginalised ethnicity to better represent their culture?

    As an analogy, it’s like how George Lucas teamed up with Steven Spielberg to make Indiana Jones. Cultural appropriation would be more like Stewart Raffill ripping off Steven Spielberg to make Mac and Me.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That’s one possibility, though it isn’t a cure-all. Beyond the normal difficulties with any collaboration between authors, there’s the question of what each party is contributing, and what they’re getting out of it. If the marginalized partner is entirely there for their cultural knowledge, then they’re probably more of a research consultant than a co-writer, and should be paid appropriately. If the marginalized partner can also write the story themselves, then there’s the question of what the privileged partner is contributing.

      In other words, it’s doable but by no means guaranteed, and would need to be judged on a case by case basis.

  13. SunlessNick

    If a process works for one author, there’s no guarantee it’ll work for anyone else.

    A process doesn’t even necessarily hold true from one story to another, let alone one writer to another. (An anecdote from horror writer Ramsey Campbell was that he had different processes for writing stories and factual articles, but one story – A Street Was Chosen – absolutely wouldn’t come together until he approached writing it with his factual article process).

  14. SomeFakeName

    I have to disagree with no. 1.

    Although I would agree that most prologues are terrible and pointless, to say you should avoid them altogether is a bit extreme. If it gives you a bit of background information before dumping you in the middle of the action, it’s fine. As in “This is how the MacGuffin of Power was lost, enabling Princess Mombi to take the crown from the Childlike Empress with the help of the Stormtroopers. ” Keep it short. Get on with the story.

    • Cay Reet

      If your prologue is just a short paragraph or two, though, you can just as well add it to chapter one or make it part of a short conversation (the easiest way to drop information on the reader), you don’t need a prologue for that.

      • Kevin

        I used to write prologues (in my trunked novels) but I find the prologue’s core can be more effective as the start of chapter one. Usually to set the tone and give a small slice of worldbuilding or characterization. It’s never more than a paragraph long and it’s designed to make the reader want to keep reading; it’s not a separate thing with its own story.

  15. Javi

    “If you don’t care about that, then keep in mind that as progressive values become more mainstream, stories that hurt their readers will be harder and harder to sell.”

    Trump in USA, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Boris in the UK, Putin in Russia, Salvini in Italy, Duterte in Philippines, Erdoğan in Turkey. The far right on the rise in Germany, France, Austria, Finland, Spain, Middle East…

    It’s a myth that progressive values are becoming more mainstream. That’s what happens when you think pop culture and Leftbook eco chambers are correctly representing society, instead of looking at what people are actually voting.

    On the other hand, interesting article.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I can’t speak to the situation in other countries, but in the United States at least, it’s pretty clear that Trump and the Republican party in general remain in power despite popular will, not because of it. The American electoral system simply makes it possible to maintain a majority in government through a minority of the vote, and even in a lot of supposedly red states, the Republicans rely heavily on gerrymandering and voter suppression to hold onto power.

      Meanwhile, if you look at the big tent-poles of American pop culture like Star Wars, Marvel, the Hugos, etc, they are all increasingly reflecting progressive values. Someone has counted the beans and realized that they stand to make more money by appealing to progressives. This not an even process, and plenty of reactionaries are also becoming *more* bigoted as a result, but across the board America is clearly hungry for more progressive stories.

    • Greg S

      In the long term progressive values always become the mainstream. For example, it used to be progressive to think women should be allowed to vote.

      Sometimes in the short-term, there is pushback, but even in Trumpland, we can still see that that a lot more people are pretty okay with same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana than they were thirty years ago.

  16. Cay Reet

    After starting a second series of novels by Jasper Fforde (not sure if that is a pen name or not, if it’s not, that guy was born to write his kind of stories), I realized he has a very interesting way of putting information on his world (an alternate reality of our world, where literary crimes are a serious thing and time travel exists) into the books. He puts a small paragraph of supposed quote (from several different books) at the beginning of every chapter, giving readers a few lines about the world and the main characters, such as Thursday Next and Mary Mary.

    He also writes pretty good female hard-nosed cops. The Thursday Next series seems to be a little more weird, given Thursday’s father is a rogue member of the time-travelling ChronoGuard and pops up unanounced to check history with her – and sometimes helps involuntarily, since his appearances stop time for a few minutes, but Thursday can move at that time. The Nursery Crimes series also is fun, though, if a little less weird.

  17. Anita Rodgers

    Great article. Thank you for writing this.

  18. Cardholder

    “If readers are tired of anything, it’s the same slice of Medieval England that gets used over and over again, but there’s a lot more to European history than that.”

    Many of the same problems of research that apply to non-European cultures apply to modern writers trying to fully understand, say, medieval Europe (and it’s the bane of medievalists everywhere that many people seem not to grasp this). It doesn’t make sense that this is presented as workable while writing about “non-Western” cultures isn’t. There seems to be a falsely unitary sense of what’s “Western” going on here, one that makes this smack of warmed-over “write what you know” advice that’s falsifying what you’re expected to innately “know” if you happen to be of European descent, or otherwise a “Westerm” writer.

    • Cay Reet

      The difference is that ‘western’ culture (ie everything which can also be defined as ‘white’ culture, basically Europe and Northern America after the Europeans settled there) is the standard, thus it’s not appropriation when it’s used. Just like the heterosexual white man is the standard setting of hero in our understanding.

      You should always research a setting, especially if you’ve never looked into it beforehand. But if you do something wrong with European history or culture, you’re not hurting a culture that was oppressed at some time, because others, often Europeans, took control of the place it came from.

  19. Cardholder

    Plenty of European histories and cultures have been ‘oppressed’ at some time, and ‘western’ culture cannot in fact usefully be defined as ‘white’ culture. ‘Whiteness’ is a specific invention with its own historical context for one thing, and painting Europe as a universal canvas of ‘whiteness’ is just as much an erasure as appropriating poorly-understood tropes from other regions; put bluntly, it’s no less racist than any act of ‘appropriation.’

    It would also be sexist and homophobic to assume ‘the heterosexual white man is the standard setting of hero.’ It needn’t be and shouldn’t be, whether you’re writing about Europe or anywhere else, although that *is* exactly the kind of non-reasoning the stance in the post would tempt some people toward. And that’s my point. There’s no inherent difficulty in studying Indian civilization, or Turkish culture, or Egypt or Ethiopia that isn’t also inherent in studying the Holy Roman Empire, the Mediterranean during the War of the Sicilian Vespers or Provencal France at the time of the Albigensian Crusades. If the idea is that you’re going to get a pass for perpetuating racist visions of Europe where you might get a bad review for perpetuating racist visions of Africa, that’s not a good way to select your topics, and restricting yourself to ‘Western’ topics won’t hide where you’re coming from anyway.

    It’s better to just research your subject matter and, just as importantly, to shed chauvinistic assumptions *before* you start the research. If adequate research can be done to sell a medieval setting with real complexity to a modern audience (and it can) there’s no good reason it can’t be managed with other cultures. It’s the attitude and assumptions you bring to that process that make the difference.

    • Cay Reet

      When I talk about the standard setting for the hero, I’m referring to the standard setting as media sees it today. For the overwhelming majority, even of those who are not white themselves, a ‘hero’ without description and without a gender pronoun given will be white, straight, and male in their head. Because that is what you get in the large majority of cases. Every other hero has to be defined as being different. It’s not my invention, it’s simply status quo. Believe me, only one of my heroes fits that description, all others have a different gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or mix of that. But I’m not the majority; a lot of authors rather play it safe and go with the standard.

      If you go very far back in European history, you will find one European country oppressing others. (And, yes, if you go back to WWII, you will find that as well, for a couple of years.) Western culture can be defined as European and North American or, if you (since you clearly know your history) wish to do so as ‘first world’ or ‘former first world.’ That is the culture which has, over many centuries of colonialsation, crept all across the globe, as it were. It’s still dominant today in many aspects, such as the business suit still being the right kind of clothing for businessmen worldwide (despite the fact that many climates are not well-suited for it), people bleaching their skin to look white, straightening their hair because it’s more beautiful (ie white, if you’re of African descent), or having eye surgery to make it look more like a European/Caucasian/white person’s (I’m not joking, Japanese people do that). It’s still a dominant culture and thus open for use.

      The principle is that misuse or misunderstanding of a dominant culture doesn’t do as much damage as misuse of another culture – simply because the dominant culture is going strong and has nothing to fear from some wrong or hurtful presentation. It will still be dominant and influential when all’s said and done. The same can’t be said for other cultures.

      Again: I do not advocate for simply using any kind of culture you haven’t grown up in and not doing your research beforehand. And I know what I’m saying. My ‘culture’s’ past has been used as an evil backdrop for many decades now – I’m German and I basically can’t open a pulp novel without finding some evil Nazi villain lurking somewhere in the pages. It’s okay for me, though – I can’t stand them, either. (I just wish people would do enough research not to translate sentences with Google translate, because the German sentences they put in would get a Nazi shot for misuse of the German language…)

  20. Cardholder

    “When I talk about the standard setting for the hero, I’m referring to the standard setting as media sees it today.”

    It’s *less* of a standard in media today than it ever has been. And I don’t understand what relevance it has to anything.

    “If you go very far back in European history, you will find one European country oppressing others.”

    Not that far back, really. I’m talking about Medieval European history which the OP recommended as being much more diverse than a slice of Medieval England. They’re correct: there’s everything from the Hundred Years’ War to the Baltic Crusades to the Reconquista and more to reckon with in there, but what it isn’t is this unproblematic grab-bag of stuff you can just use without troubling about too much research if you’re ‘western’ and white.

    You’re right to see modern Europe and the settler societies of North America as being still relatively privileged, but a) they’re not contiguous with medieval Europe and b) the questions of privilege (of who gets silenced, erased, forgotten, overlooked, ruled out, ignored, othered, whatever) don’t go away when writing about something chauvinistically imagined to be one’s “own,” privileged, history. If the advice “don’t write about ‘other’ cultures” is meant to shield people from the all-seeing eye of Wokeness — which seems to be the case — that isn’t going to happen. That is bad advice. The question of understanding diversity as part of ‘Western’ history and challenging the habit of writing it as the history of ‘white’ people is much livelier now than it ever has been. All of the habits that inhere to racist writing about ‘other’ cultures will manifest just as strongly in racist writing about ‘western’ cultures, albeit in slightly differet ways, and they’re just as identifiable to people familiar with those issues.

  21. Crovet

    This post is very helpful, and made me take some advice that I have received with a grain of salt. (I encountered the points 1,2 and 6 in particular very often)

    The only one that I have seen as a little iffy was the one about non-western cultures, because there was an article in this very website that advocated the exact opposite and put the Avatar series as an example of this done right.

    I suppose the trick is more or less to follow the advice that was recommended in the post about cultural appropriation:
    Either you use a western-like setting, do a massive amount of research, or focus on the reasons of why a culture is like that rather than copying characteristics willy-nilly so you can make something unique with nothing more than a little flavor of other earth cultures.

    I recently heard that the reason Rick Riordan didn’t make a series about Aztecan or Indian gods is precisely because he wanted to avoid cultural appropriation, and I applaud his decision. Other cultures can be interesting , but in this situation it’s much better to err on the side of caution.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Thanks for the reminder, after four years I’d mostly forgotten about that old post. Our views have changed a lot in four years, and it no longer reflected what we think are best practices, so we removed the offending section.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy (updated 03/28/20) and our privacy policy for details on how we moderate comments and who receives your information.