by Jennie Goloboy
Flannery O’Connor’s most terrifying short story– at least, if you’re a writer– is called “The Crop.” It’s about a writer who turns out to be a fraud. She has never finished a story, and in fact uses her stories as a jumping-off point for a very rich inner fantasy life. For anyone who aspires to be published, it’s impossible to read this without a moment of panic: “Is this story about me?”
The point being that while fiction comes from the imagination, it also has to transcend its private meaning to the author. Here are some problematic queries in this vein.
1. Historical fiction with a heroic protagonist who rejects the prejudices of the era
There’s something unfairly self-congratulatory about this, as well as ahistorical. It’s great we’re so much smarter than people in the past, isn’t it?
A similar problem that often seen is a book about the oppression of a minority group, written from the viewpoint of a non-minority character. What’s wrong with this? If the non-minority character is the protagonist, the point of the novel is that he learns a lesson that oppression is bad– and hopefully any reader should know this in advance.
2. Erotica using a sexualized Other as avatar.
Includes manuscripts written by middle-aged men about teenage girls who are beautiful, brave, and very open about their sexuality, especially with shy, nerdy middle-aged men. Especially if it’s “YA.” Or if she’s a succubus.
3. Mary Sue
You know a Mary Sue, don’t you? Don’t be a Mary Sue. Write your own damn characters.