How Much Is Too Much in Writing Fiction?

How Much Is Too Much in Writing Fiction?

by Cody Wagner

In my novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, our protagonist goes off to a pray-away-the-gay boarding school. The homophobia at Sanctuary Preparatory Academy is completely over the top. They serve food like Healing Hamburgers and Cleansing Corn. And posters of stereotypical gays (doing high kicks and wearing lipstick) and lesbians (wearing flannel and holding softball mitts) adorn the walls.


In the middle of writing this, I began to wonder, Is this too over-the-top? I worried I was approaching a level of crazy that was going to make the story unbelievable and, thus, unrelatable.

Then a memory trickled in.

Back when I first came out – maybe 15 years ago – my roommate invited some coworkers over for a party. I’d never met the two guys before, but when I did, let me assure you I did the biggest eye roll in the history of mankind. They were the types of guys who talked about brass knuckles yet drove Infinitis and grew up in Plano (for those of you don’t know, Plano, Texas is a rich-kid suburb full of wannabe hoodlums).

I gave my roommate about twenty different judging looks, including the You’re going to get us robbed!, the What do you act like at work?, and the You’d better have lots of beer! Then we all sat down and started drinking and chatting.

About an hour in, my sexuality came up. I was in “out and proud”  mode and wanted to shout it off the mountaintops, as I’d been closeted for so long, so I held nothing back when the topic arose. The instant I said the words, a proverbial record screech halted the room.

I immediately panicked, wondering if some hate crime was about to transpire. Then I realized I had nothing to worry about. The guys were puny, and I’d played every sport known to man. At 6’3”, I was pretty dang imposing. Still, it was nerve-wracking.

Then came the barrage. The two guys laid into me with questions about being gay. Normally, I would have been thrilled! I loved discussing the subject and trying to open people’s eyes. Unfortunately, these were the questions:

“You’re gay? But you’re not wearing lipstick?”

“You’re gay? But you’re not talking with a lisp?”

“You’re gay? But you’re wearing jeans and not a dress?”

“You’re gay? But you play sports?”

“You’re gay? But you haven’t tried to touch us?”

“You’re gay? But you haven’t done any high kicks?”

“You’re gay? But you haven’t quoted Will & Grace nonstop?”

OK, two of those are made up – I’ll let you guess which ones – but the rest are absolutely true. They asked me the most stereotypical, insane questions ever. And they were completely serious.

Thinking back on that memory, I realized most people have dealt with crazy stereotypes or rumors. And, if those two guys had created a pray-away-the-gay school, it would one million percent include Healing Hamburgers and Cleansing Corn. So, while Sanctuary Prep was a fictional, exaggerated place, it was exactly the place some parents would love to send their children.

As sad as that may be, it led me to my conclusion: So many people out there are over-the-top. Heck, I’m over-the-top about some things (don’t get me started on my obsession for Thai food!). Consequently, that gives writers a lot of leeway in pushing boundaries. And I think it’s part of what makes writing fiction so much fun. Knowing one man’s insane is another man’s average makes for some really exciting opportunities. So excuse me while I kick it up a notch. Bam.


Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and write. His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at, or find him on Twitter (@cfjwagner), Goodreads, and Amazon.

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4 Responses to How Much Is Too Much in Writing Fiction?

  1. Marcie Brock says:

    Cody –
    Thank you so much for this post. I read the first draft of it days before the Labor Day weekend, as I was preparing an outline for the 2016 3-Day Novel Contest. Some of my storylines were pretty over-the-top, and I was a bit worried about believability. Your post freed me up to release those worries and write what I think is a pretty great entry for the contest.
    Kudos to for going for it – and the early accolades. I’m sure they are much deserved.
    Marcie Brock (aka Laura O)


    • Cody Wagner says:

      Thanks so much Marcie! I’m so glad it helped you! How did the contest go? A 3-Day Novel Contest sounds intense!



      • Marcie Brock says:

        The contest went really well for me, Cody. Thanks for asking. I managed 27,400 words and finished with 5 minutes to spare. It helped that I wrote a really detailed outline before I started. This was my third time participating – haven’t done since 2005. I think my writing has improved quite a bit in these last 11 years, and my confidence. Also helps that I had a really good story. I’ll talk about it at Tuesday’s Meetup, if you want to come!


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