Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#1
So, I think it's obvious to everyone here that topics like politics, religion, and race/ethnicity, unless they're fictional, not based off of the real world, and aren't enforcing a particular view on any of them in the story, are big no-nos on this site. If I'm wrong in any of this and there are corrections or specifics that may be passable, do let me know in this thread.

The topics I'm worried about being too controversial to be included in a story that I'd like answers to are sexuality and relationships. First off, I want to state that I'm an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, but like the earlier mentioned topics above, I don't wish to enforce these rights, nor do I want to make it as a central point to my stories for anyone unwilling to read them. I also don't wish to bring up topics that are too sensitive for those involved with this to where it may be unsettling and possibly toxic to read. It's especially important to me that it's safe enough to be put up on site and not have it get taken down because of multiple reports on something as small as a specific passage in a chapter that could trigger some readers. 

My main goal is to make my stories interesting and entertaining to read. This includes three-dimensional, fictional characters having their own perspectives about the ways of their fictional world that would likely cause conflict (because what story wouldn't be eventful without one?)

What I'd like to check here that I haven't seen in other threads yet--and I hope this will be helpful to other writers who're also uncertain of this topic--are the boundaries related to sexuality and relationships that I should be aware of before it's considered going too far to read on paper.

The subjects related to these topics include, but not limited to the following:
  • Homophobia
  • Transitions between gender and sex
  • Same sex relationships and marriages
  • Perspectives in monogamy and polygamy
If I miss anything that you may also want answered, please, leave it in the thread and see what others have to say. While I'm interested in how the administrators would answer to these subjects, I hope this thread would also serve as principles listing what is or isn't allowed on this platform. This way, we'd have a better idea of what to avoid when writing in order to make the reading experience on this platform as interesting as possible.

Thank you for your time.

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#2
Orange_Rain Wrote: So, I think it's obvious to everyone here that topics like politics, religion, and race/ethnicity, unless they're fictional, not based off of the real world, and aren't enforcing a particular view on any of them in the story, are big no-nos on this site. If I'm wrong in any of this and there are corrections or specifics that may be passable, do let me know in this thread.

This strikes me as a question for the admins to answer. As someone this directly impacts, however, I feel obligated to weigh in here. 

I'm happy to come forward and own the fact that my story is all about religious mythology (yes, it's been reported, and yes, it's currently under admin review). It didn't enter my brain that it might be a problem and it doesn't strike me as something that would be obvious. After all, religion and myth play a key role in many well-known fantasy stories by published authors, and provide a deep, diverse and fascinating backdrop of lore to draw on for inspiration. 

Now, I could come at this from a number of different angles, but the one I'd like to raise here is that there should be a place in fantasy and science fiction to discuss and explore complex issues including religion, politics, sexuality and diverse relationships. And in fact, that doing so is valuable for readers. The real world is full of intricate, varied societies and individuals, and so too should our stories be. The key ought to be in doing so with respect and care and not, for example, crossing the line into hate speech. 

Orange_Rain Wrote: The topics I'm worried about being too controversial to be included in a story that I'd like answers to are sexuality and relationships. First off, I want to state that I'm an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, but like the earlier mentioned topics above, I don't wish to enforce these rights, nor do I want to make it as a central point to my stories for anyone unwilling to read them. I also don't wish to bring up topics that are too sensitive for those involved with this to where it may be unsettling and possibly toxic to read. It's especially important to me that it's safe enough to be put up on site and not have it get taken down because of multiple reports on something as small as a specific passage in a chapter that could trigger some readers.

All understandable concerns. And ones which Royal Road's tagging system mostly already accounts for in order to give readers a heads-up. In cases where tagging feels inadequate, we also have author's notes to use for more specific cautions, or for specific chapters. I've also seen many an author provide clear notice in their synopses of what to expect in regards to potentially contentious content. 

We have the tools at our disposal, in other words - we just need to make effective use of them.

Orange_Rain Wrote: What I'd like to check here that I haven't seen in other threads yet--and I hope this will be helpful to other writers who're also uncertain of this topic--are the boundaries related to sexuality and relationships that I should be aware of before it's considered going too far to read on paper.

The subjects related to these topics include, but not limited to the following:
  • Homophobia
  • Transitions between gender and sex
  • Same sex relationships and marriages
  • Perspectives in monogamy and polygamy
If I miss anything that you may also want answered, please, leave it in the thread and see what others have to say. While I'm interested in how the administrators would answer to these subjects, I hope this thread would also serve as principles listing what is or isn't allowed on this platform. This way, we'd have a better idea of what to avoid when writing in order to make the reading experience on this platform as interesting as possible.

I favour fewer restrictions, not more. Writing, like any art form, is an exercise in imagination, expression and exploration, and stories can be a priceless tool to help people find their place in the world. Suppressing and censoring topics further for the sake of the topic alone would be a very great shame. And I feel like some of your valid concerns would only be worsened by increasing the number of restrictions imposed on authors, rather than improved. 

I'm not advocating for a lawless, unregulated hellscape, mind you. Personal attacks and hate speech are obviously things we all want to avoid.

Yes, it can be a risky endeavour. I wouldn't be writing this if it wasn't. But oftentimes that risk is worth taking.

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#3
I personally agree with Csuite on this one. I think stories are a great place to explore these kinds of topics. Its unfortunate RR doesn't encourage it.

I feel like the content warnings are a more than adequate way to warn people who may not want to read stories with these themes. I feel like an author should be able to write about what they want. That story may end up with a pretty abysmal rating if a theme is too unpopular but I don't like censorship of ideas.

That being said I'm also not an admin and can't make any calls about what is ok or not in regards to posting on the site.

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#4
As I see it, RR is trying to brand itself as this "sanctuary" of pure escapism, and so refuse any connection to contemporary social controversies, and politics, politicians, religions, etc. It's probably because opinionated mentions of these volatile topics are certain to result in a flood of not so civil discussion on and off the forum, and might bring the whole website to questionable light in the prevalent outrage culture. So it's both to protect the site itself, as well as to ensure that all the users can have a good time and not hurt their feelings. And it seems the policy has worked pretty well too. The place is clean, if not a little quiet, and the users nice.

However, as a writer, I just can't help but feel that there's nothing wrong with people having their feelings hurt every once in a while.
I also feel it's entirely senseless that sex and gore are fine, but having a fictional character mention anything remotely negative about an existing religion is grounds to immediate deletion. The same with politics. It's like telling your kid smoking is bad while pouring them some vodka. Sending a conflicting message.

In the ideal world, the site would pay more attention to the actual quality of the submissions than the general topics. Is the fiction completely juvenile, low-effort, and offensive just for the sake of being offensive, or is there real thought and message behind the choice of themes? If this is too much work for the staff to manage on their own, I'm sure the readers would gladly help with the effort. As has been mentioned, additional tags could help users keep away from content they find intolerable. And, referring to what Zat said, I'd personally rather take a bad rating than censor myself in fear of getting banned, if I happened to write something controversial.

Ultimately, the service provider has every right to decide what content to allow, what not, and why, and they're not obligated to be fair about it. But that's my two cents.

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#5
To respond to the recent posts on this thread, yes, I agree and do believe there's some benefit in the exposure of religion, politics, sexuality, and relationships if done correctly (and not crossing over hate speech or even SJW speech). They help shape what the worlds in our stories are like to portray a sense of realism that tickles a reader's imagination. I believe stories have a power that draw readers into exploring something new, being able to connect with the characters in some way, and even invoke certain emotions if they can relate to what said characters are going through. You know you have a good story going if it's able to achieve at least one, if not all of these and then some.

I, too, wish there are fewer restrictions of what's allowed to be published on RR, but like @I'mFiction pointed out, it could be enforcing these rules to promote a platform of escapism where its stories have next to no connections with the controversial issues that exist in the real world. I can understand if the administrators are trying to prevent potential rage wars and floods of toxic speeches in the forums or comment sections in the stories' chapters, but I'm someone who believes there's progression in constructive and formal arguments. 

Putting that opinion aside, yes, I think we already have the power and tools to prevent and cease further toxic discussions. One is what @Csuite and @Zat have mentioned and tagging the subjects in the synopsis of our stories (if there isn't a specific tag the site we can use, why not make one of our own?). If it's just one or two instances of a complex topic being touched upon in a chapter of the story when it isn't the main focus, I think putting a warning in the author's note at the beginning of the chapter is a good way to 'mentally prepare' the readers for what's ahead, or try to skim through and ignore it if they wish. Also adding a request in the author's note to not put in any comments that debates the complex topic can also be a good practice that readers can understand and follow through. If some try to do it anyway, I think the authors can delete those comments in the chapter's section, right? Putting that warning in the author's note might also be helpful practice to prevent toxic rage wars.

Thanks for coming out and putting in your two cents in this thread. I think I understand that writers will sometimes have to take risks in order to make a good story, and even if we don't intend to hurt people who can relate to these complex topics, there will be some who'll take offense to it for one reason or another. By that point, all that we can do is do what we think is best and move forward from there.

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#6
From the examples you mentioned, Homophobia is the only one expressly forbidden in the rules/ One thing you could do is send a message to support/the admins to explain why you want to include it and that it's to portray how people react to your topic.

To take a slightly easier but still touchy topic - discrimination is touched on in many novels and as long as the novel doesn't promote it as normal or good, but as something that is wrong or off in the fantasy setting, it's tolerated

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#7
Just to piggyback off of this, I also hope to have some light shed on these limitations.

I don't even think my story is getting read enough for me to get reported but I'd like to cover my bases beforehand so I can know whether I need to rewrite future chapters. I have a couple chapters that might be controversial, one that depicts a homosexual encounter but not in an overly explicit manner and involves implied rape but never explicitly depicts it. Another chapter depicts excessive cruelty and also has an implied rape scene along with a torture scene that isn't overly descriptive but a bit graphic. Should I nip this in the bud and rewrite these chapters?

The context in both chapters is that they'll be a part of character back stories and motivations. I don't think I'll get reported but you never know. 

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#8
Dunno, policy is up to the ownership. I take this to be a niche site dedicated to pander to fantasy Sf, and particularly RPG based fantasy. Not a news forum, contemporary issues editorial clinic or Tinfoil Hat club. There are sites that specialize or proselytize in such areas already.  Lots of them. I don't see a lot of Romance novels here, sexually diverse or otherwise. There are some. You would have to search these out and check their stats to see how well they do overall here, and quiz the editor staff.

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#9
Hmm. It seems that I've misread the site rules. I read the "no discussion of politics" as meaning that discussion was barred in the forums and other discussion venues, not that topics with political significance can't be included in stories. 

How, exactly, would would bar any and all political content from stories?

Take the science fiction subgenre of Alternate History. Suppose an author writes a story in which JFK wasn't assassinated, or Hitler was, then tries to play out the consequences. That author's political leanings and assumptions about how the world works will definitely come into play, no matter how objective they try be. At the very least, I'd expect that the views of the characters would come up!

A less stringent reading of the rule would be as a bar to discussion that incites controversy that would likely create a moderation problem. Political discussion threads in a forum, for example, are notoriously hard to moderate and quick to cause bitterness, so it's sensible to bar those. But discussion of politics by characters seems like less of an issue. Comments to the story might get acrimonious, but as long as any argument was kept quarantined to the story comments themselves, that's not so much of a problem. 

Politically charged reviews could be more of a problem, though.

At the same time, I'm not a moderator. The best I can do is write my stories thoughtfully, and if someone who runs the site decides that including both liberal and conservative characters, with a mix of sympathetic and unsympathetic traits, is too much, then, well, it's their site.

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#10

ferdielance Wrote: How, exactly, would would bar any and all political content from stories?


I don't think it means any and all politics, just situations and statements that can easily be connected to real life people and historical events that are controversial in nature. There was a thread here some time ago about a fiction that got deleted entirely because of a political allusion to existing parties. I don't remember the details, the thread too was deleted. I think the story was satirical in nature, a little tasteless maybe, but nothing mortally insulting. But the axe fell hard.

However, I should think writing characters who simply have, for instance, conservative or liberal views, is still perfectly fine. Because opinions on how people should live and treat each other, and how property should be managed, etc, are universal and not tied to any one person, or nation, or world. You can't really depict a community of any kind, human or fantastic beasts, without addressing matters like that. I personally write a lot of philosophical content delving into human rights, ideals, freedom, and so on, which could easily be interpreted as political in nature, but is not at all referencing our world or any living person. No one so far has complained, nor should have any reason to.

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#11
Hmm, I find myself in the unusual position of defending RR as a 'publisher' here: I think they are pretty clear on what is and is not allowed, and I find it pretty inclusive. Keep in mind, this is IMO, and my interpretation based on the FAQ (see categories: Rules, What are the submission rules?) and stories I read/saw removed.

1) "Don't bring real life politics onto the site." That doesn't mean current issues don't see coverage - it's that it needs to be contextual to the story. There is some room for even modern real religion according to the FAQ.

2) Don't make mature content the primary focus of your story. Normally that's sexual stuff, but probably could be violence-porn too. Also, no children + mature content, since it seems to need to be said repeatedly. 
Orange_Rain Wrote:
  • Homophobia
  • Transitions between gender and sex
  • Same sex relationships and marriages
  • Perspectives in monogamy and polygamy

These are political identity issues, sure, but I don't see any issue with the rules for the bottom three. There are tons of story of BL and GL, harems, and body changes. Tons. A lot of popular and large stories too.

However, homophobia can break another rule - hate speech. I think this one will often be subjectively enforced. A story that invokes it because of the setting and portrays something of note (the struggle, the intolerance, the acceptance of, ...) will probably be given a pass. Making it a statement of homophobia will not.

I find it quite tolerant open, given what it could be. 

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#12
I'mFiction Wrote:
ferdielance Wrote: How, exactly, would would bar any and all political content from stories?


I don't think it means any and all politics, just situations and statements that can easily be connected to real life people and historical events that are controversial in nature. There was a thread here some time ago about a fiction that got deleted entirely because of a political allusion to existing parties. I don't remember the details, the thread too was deleted. I think the story was satirical in nature, a little tasteless maybe, but nothing mortally insulting. But the axe fell hard.

However, I should think writing characters who simply have, for instance, conservative or liberal views, is still perfectly fine. Because opinions on how people should live and treat each other, and how property should be managed, etc, are universal and not tied to any one person, or nation, or world. You can't really depict a community of any kind, human or fantastic beasts, without addressing matters like that. I personally write a lot of philosophical content delving into human rights, ideals, freedom, and so on, which could easily be interpreted as political in nature, but is not at all referencing our world or any living person. No one so far has complained, nor should have any reason to.


This seems reasonable enough to me! There’s a big difference between making a fantasy world where the question of “What responsibilities and limits does a central government have?” is argued, and making, say, characters named “Barorc Orcbama” and “Drownald Trump”. The former is a natural extension of the story; the latter is probably not.

I do think satirical stories that contain specific political references should exist, but I can accept that not every site is the place for them.

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#14

Alright, my first reaction is wtf what is everyone talking about. After some consideration, I’m pretty sure you’re talking somehow about the nuance of the mature content limitations and of course this:


Quote:Real world content: Avoid including real-world religions and politics. If a fiction is discovered to include insults toward real-world religion, the author will be warned or even banned. If you wish to include religion, either create your own or do it in the most respectful way possible.



Now, I do get it, that almost seems like a real sort of limitation on what you can do, but personally I do not see it that way at all and you guys sound like crazy people to me. Being reported is a tangible example, but that’s something from random triggered readers and I’m not hearing any real “the mods are being unfair and censoring me.” Being reported doesn’t mean much if the report doesn’t lead to anything. (Also btw, please inform me what being reported is like and how you become aware that you have been reported, I have no knowledge of what happens on the receiving end there.)

The key I feel is the nuance. The above quoted rule doesn’t say you can’t include real world politics, groups, religions, but it does regulate how you may depict them on this site. Basically it plays neutral ground and bans propaganda, and as far as I know we are interested in art here, not propaganda. Sure, satire is art and it’s good and all, so that might feel unfair, but even satire is a legitimate form of propaganda made from subjective opinionated politics that is usually directly aimed at attacking specific groups or people. It can also be directed at something general like how we’re all under Corona or inanimate things like pollution, but then it’s also not really directed against any group so arguably fully within the bounds of what is allowed if we don’t overthink things.

As far as I can see the rules do not demand excluding anything, but just ask everyone to play nice. If you want to complain I’d like more concrete examples of what the admins are tolerating or not tolerating before I can buy into the possibility that they might somehow be overly restrictive.

As an aside, I have actually read one author recently who seem was including a specific group as being antagonistic and villainizing them to an extent (not totally, I can think of at least one “good guy” from the target group but it was also implied they were good for the fact they were being converted away and redeemable. In all fairness said group is antagonistic to certain things (the protagonists) in the real world in certain cases, and I do not entirely begrudge the author for the depiction other than how persistent and exaggerated it is.

For context, said author is on RR but went full hiatus quote early in the content, which also means I only real found put about the prefference of antagonist when I found several (several meaning quite a big multiple) other fictions where for some reason this antagonism became a lot more evident. I still like the stories and the somewhat shared universe and all and villains are villains and all that but I did prefer the first bit of content from the author and the weirdly persistent depiction of the same antagonist group (in different manifestations, which literally include a Nazi variation of all things) was a little bit annoying and made the multiple books feel even more similar and slightly repetitive than similarities between the protagonist characters across books. On sort, even an “acceptable” (IMO) depiction that would be offensive to certain groups really was just a version of personal propaganda from the author, and I would have preferred the stories without that element. (Especially of it comes up so very much).

Regulating that kind of depictions is technically restrictive, but it’s so very easy to work around as far as I can conceive that I would see it as only really being restrictive if you actually have some kind of political agenda against some group, and I want arguments of that kind to be treated seriously and not threaded into fiction and entertainment because the creator want an extra avenue of attack; we have real arguments for that instead, because it a more fair playing field when you’re having a real argument and one part doesn’t literally control the world and rules in which it is set in.


Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#15

Endless Wrote: The key I feel is the nuance. The above quoted rule doesn’t say you can’t include real world politics, groups, religions, but it does regulate how you may depict them on this site.


The essential question is, how exactly do you include any of that in any shape or fashion without it coming across as "propaganda" to someone? You have a character say, "I'd like this land's healthcare to be cheaper", and it'll be communist propaganda to a right-wing reader. How can the moderator team decide "this is not offending" in a situation where a portion of the userbase disagrees, if the rules were made for the users, as you say?

In the absence of official statements, all we can do is speculate on where the line is drawn. If that makes us seem crazy to you, then you sure have a narrow view on sanity.

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#16
@I’mFiction

You seem crazy to me not because you are complaining about a thing that might be a problem, but because you are complaining about a problem that I have little reason to believe exists. There are booms and fictions that are banned or whatnot on this site and just the other day I reported a fic for bot having content warnings when it has content worth warning about and the author put a warning on. There are tangible examples I can point to of stuff the mods do, and I have not seen any such examples where people are really trying to defend the author as being victimized or censored. If you pay attention to the language you’ll see your example of “pro-healthcare” doesn’t seem against the stated rules since it isn’t directed against any group. There is a difference between doing something that’s specifically insults people and doing something some other person might gripe about.

Show me something the mods did something about and tell me why you think it was unfair, but otherwise the problem of being “afraid” of the uncertain nature of what the mods are against or not can be solved by actually reading the rules or trying something and doing minor edits when it turns out that was problematic. The mods are people, you can ask them questions instead of gossiping and theorizing. The biggest issues with controversy on this site I have heard of comes from how the readers treat some authors and not from anything the mods have done.

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#18

Endless Wrote: Now, I do get it, that almost seems like a real sort of limitation on what you can do, but personally I do not see it that way at all and you guys sound like crazy people to me. Being reported is a tangible example, but that’s something from random triggered readers and I’m not hearing any real “the mods are being unfair and censoring me.” Being reported doesn’t mean much if the report doesn’t lead to anything. (Also btw, please inform me what being reported is like and how you become aware that you have been reported, I have no knowledge of what happens on the receiving end there.)


I just spent several hours composing a post answering your request in detail, but you know what, I've had a very long day and I'm very tired.

Let me just say this whole headache-inducing debacle has had a measurable detrimental impact in terms of stress incurred, time lost to extra administration, time and word count lost to impact on morale and motivation, and very real practical restrictions on my ability to promote my story. This is just what has been lost to date and not what will be lost should the story be pulled from the website, at which point the losses become exponentially greater.

If you want more detail, I can break the specifics down for you via PM, along with the specific impacted metrics.

Re: Content with Controversial Topics: Sexuality and Relationships

#19

Csuite Wrote:
Endless Wrote: Now, I do get it, that almost seems like a real sort of limitation on what you can do, but personally I do not see it that way at all and you guys sound like crazy people to me. Being reported is a tangible example, but that’s something from random triggered readers and I’m not hearing any real “the mods are being unfair and censoring me.” Being reported doesn’t mean much if the report doesn’t lead to anything. (Also btw, please inform me what being reported is like and how you become aware that you have been reported, I have no knowledge of what happens on the receiving end there.)


I just spent several hours composing a post answering your request in detail, but you know what, I've had a very long day and I'm very tired.

Let me just say this whole headache-inducing debacle has had a measurable detrimental impact in terms of stress incurred, time lost to extra administration, time and word count lost to impact on morale and motivation, and very real practical restrictions on my ability to promote my story. This is just what has been lost to date and not what will be lost should the story be pulled from the website, at which point the losses become exponentially greater.

If you want more detail, I can break the specifics down for you via PM, along with the specific impacted metrics.


I'm sorry to hear (or rather, read) this.

I've always had a fear of being censored, especially when you read about certain books being banned (not on RR, I mean in general) which is due mostly due to political issues and certain people becoming offended.

It sucks but we live in a "cancel culture" kind of world. It does make me question my own work a lot, I pause to think, "shit, would this offend somebody and cause them to make a big fuss?"

I think warnings and tags should suffice, if the book explores some themes that could potentially harm somebody psychologically. At least they're prepared for it in that instance, and if they choose to read it the responsibility is on them.

I will say that it isn't just RR that have restrictions that make it tricky to determine whether or not to feature a certain political controversy in your book, or not. I find these sorts of rules just about everywhere on the web these days. It's the "new normal".

The same thing can be found at, say, WattPad (not that they were good at enforcing their rules, or anything. They let thirteen year olds write smut lol).