When the teachers in high school and junior high would tell us what the author of a book or piece meant when he said something I would always wonder how they knew that. Most of the stories we read were by people that were long dead. No one could have recently asked them and in some cases things are interpreted through modern look perspectives and that changes the entire meaning—take the feminist interpretation of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. There’s definitely a case to be made for it, but at the time she wrote it a lot of the views used to make that case hadn’t taken hold.
I think there is something to be said about the timelessness of writing and our ability to breathe new meaning into words hundreds of years after they were originally penned. The imaginative way in which documents such as the Bible and the United States Constitution are interpreted is further proof of this. Truth of the matter is that we can’t control how people view the things we write anymore than we can control what they think about what we say.
We’ve all been in that position where we unknowingly said the wrong thing, I’m basically in that position on a nearly daily basis it seems. When you’re writing the same thing can happen. There are people who will read something and think it’s brilliant and that you’ve written so many female characters while another person will look at it and go “Why aren’t there more men in this book?”
The title here is a little deceptive because while I think it’s important to not write to offend and to treat each character as if they are a real person who thinks they’re the star of their own story, I also think that it’s important that you not worry so much about interpretations that might never get written and just write. A lot of that thematic stuff can get weeded out in post (editing) and you’ll hear about it from beta readers and other people who look over the story. The more people you get to look at it, the better.
But people are often so worried that one line here or this theme might offend someone, so they don’t write it. Usually, if you write a good story that’s offensive it will help you more than it hurts. A lot of offensive books got press for that reason and were sold for that reason, even some not so great authors have made a living off being offensive.
So don’t worry about reaping what you sow, at least not now—just worry about actually sowing something.