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I’m currently writing a story which is an erotic thriller/romance set in the music/TV industry. The protagonist is a Taylor Swift-type confessional songwriter who is the biggest popstar in the world, and the crux of her character is that she is obsessed with validation and power, and loves to see how far people will go for her. In my recent draft of the story, there is a scene in which she hooks up with an African American actor and engages in race play, calling him a racial slur. However, I’m unsure whether or not I should remove this scene from the story. For two reasons.

1st of all, I’m worried that the protagonist will become too unsympathetic and all audiences will turn against them at this point in the story and no longer be interested in seeing them succeed.

2nd of all, I’m worried I will offend readers and the scene will come across as racist. There are a lot of movies such as The Wolf of Wall Street which satirise selfish and immoral behaviour, but the line between glorification and condemnation can often be blurred.

What are your thoughts?

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    You've already brought forward the arguments you are likely to hear from others as well. There is nothing that we can add to that. It is your decision to make whether that scene is necessary for the story you want to tell: Does it add something to the characters or plot that is required by the narrative? Or are you just indulging yourself there?
    – Ben
    Oct 28, 2023 at 8:31

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I'll start by noting this:

the crux of her character is that she is obsessed with validation and power, and loves to see how far people will go for her

That already sounds like a character audiences are going to struggle to sympathise with. If the story is about her learning to let go of her obsessions and improve herself as a person, that's a strong character arc, but if you're genuinely asking readers to root for a manipulative, power-hungry billionaire in her quest for even more power, you're going to have a very bad time getting people to care about her even without the racism.

Raceplay - or more broadly, degrading sex - sounds in-character based on what you've mentioned, but I understand why you'd be uncomfortable with including it, or why you fear readers may not enjoy it. It's a genuine kink, but it's also quite niche, so aside from the question of whether it may cause offence, I think there's a danger that including it would cause it to overshadow the rest of the work and narrow your potential audience. Your story risks not only offending people, but being known as "that story with the raceplay scene". Whether you're okay with that is up to you, but I would argue that there are less controversial ways of establishing her manipulative tendencies.

If you do want to include the scene, I think there are two ways you can play it in order to minimise offence, depending on how you want your main character to be portrayed:

  • You can make it clear that her hook-up is into raceplay, and make it clear that he enjoys being called a racial slur during sex. This would still make some readers uncomfortable, but would at least paint the action in a less negative light: she's not actually being racist, just kinky.
  • Alternatively, if you're going for the "she gets over her obsessions" angle, you can have the hook-up react with horror and disgust and call her out on using the slur. If the narrative doesn't condone her actions, and by the end of the story she has come to realise the error of her ways and start atoning for them, then readers will be more willing to forgive her.
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  • The last point doesn't seem a good option. The repentant racist is both unrealistic and a worn out cliché. People don't usually change their prejudices just because the object of their prejudice reacts badly to it. Prejudices commonly can only be overcome by positive, meaningful experiences with the relevant group of people.
    – Ben
    Oct 28, 2023 at 11:54
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    I think I worded that a bit clumsily. I meant by the end of the story, not necessarily immediately and as a direct consequence.
    – F1Krazy
    Oct 28, 2023 at 12:02
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This is your story, there are many like it, but this one is yours. What you write should be what you want to say.

If you read this scene and it's not working for you. That is a reason to change it. If you think that this kind of role-play-kink is an important element of your characterizing, you always have the choice to change how you share the information. It sounds like it's a scene -- shown in real-time. You could change it to a summary -- share it as part of a narrative with indirect speech or indirect thought.

Many authors from H.P. Lovecraft to Charles Johnson use summary to share gruesome and upsetting moments in a story. I think it allows emotional distance while still allowing the information to come across and still having an impact.

If it is important that this be a scene -- because something happens that is pivotal to the arc of the story, for instance -- then writing it in an immersive fashion, where events and dialogue are interspersed with the POV character's inner state, provides a mechanism to put what is happening on the page in the context of the character's wants, needs, and stuff like that. The characters can say things and immediately think that they didn't mean it. They can react with shame or guilt or whatever is appropriate to illustrate that this a part of role-play and not a core element of their self-image.

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