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An attempt to have a meaningful discussion on dealing with sensitive topics

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by BWFoster78, Jul 20, 2015.

  1. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Suppose most people aren't like you, and wouldn't feel any guilt for killing an attacker. If you then wrote a character who had no guilt for killing an attacker, would you be happy, or even comfortable with yourself? I've accepted the fact that a lot of people aren't bothered by things I find horrific, but I'm still not going to write those things.

    On a larger subject, I've been thinking about this and other threads the past few days, and what really bothered me was that I felt like I was being treated as an intolerant, bigoted person for not liking rapists. It was as if I'd spewed bile about gay people or Irish people. Needless to say, I don't think rapists are in any way comparable to either of those groups.
     
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  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I think this is quite a big deal for me.
    With my writing, I'm putting a fair bit of myself in it, and it gets kind of personal. I'm probably over thinking things a lot, but it's very important for me to get things "right". I want to portray my characters as real and believable persons, and I want them to react in a way that readers can relate to.
    I put quite some effort into this and I worry about getting it wrong. Getting it wrong would imply that my understanding of people, and the world in general, would be wrong - and that's a pretty scary thought.

    ---

    As for the example you give. My thought is that the reader/reviewer hasn't really come across that kind of situation other than in their own thoughts - as in, they haven't really questioned their own opinions about it. My personal belief is that if I was forced to kill someone, even if it was a me-or-them situation, I'd be very distressed by the whole situation.
    I'm guessing it'd be similar to how victims of domestic violence or sexual assault often blame themselves for it happening (this is also an impression I have - I haven't looked this up). It's not necessarily the most objectively logical reaction, but it happens anyway.

    That said, there probably is research on how people react in these situations, and you probably could find it online and have a look. The hard part will probably be to figure out where your own personal beliefs may need to be researched and scrutinized. After all, it's not easy to spot the things that you don't know you don't know about.
     
  3. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Don't think so. I have been knocking around awhile and I have yet to meet any people who think rape, torture, pedophilia etc are not subjects of gravity and emotional power.
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2015
  4. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I would have interpreted this quote a lot differently than you have.

    Most of the time, I enjoy reading about the kind of characters that I write - ones that are likely to be emotionally impacted by killing someone. Sometimes, though, I enjoy "less sensitive" works about protagonists who sow wanton destruction without a care in the world. Those kinds of stories can be fun to read.

    I've noticed in my travels around the internet that fans of those latter kinds of works tend not to cross over as much into the former kinds of works. When I read the review, I assumed that the reader was a fan of the shoot em ups and was simply reacting to the fact that that wasn't the kind of piece that you wrote.

    Truthfully, I wouldn't have given it a second thought since I tend to read both.

    I think that, realistically, almost everyone would feel some type of remorse even if the action were justified. I think that, probably, the guy writing the review would feel remorse despite his comments to the contrary. I think, again, that he was in-eloquently expressing that he prefers a different kind of writing.

    Thanks.

    Brian
     
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I have four children, and I can comfortably say that I wouldn't feel guilty if I had to take a life protecting them.
     
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  6. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Feo,

    I can't speak for anyone else, but that certainly isn't the way I felt about you. I don't even know if I've even read all the relevant threads, so I really don't know if your feeling is justified or not.

    Just to be completely clear, I'd like to state my position one more time:

    I think it is important for fiction writers to be able to go where a story takes them (Note: that statement has absolutely nothing to do with the moderation of this site; this site is a privately run forum and has every right to make whatever rules they want regarding what is and is not discussed.). There seems to be a trend where authors' beliefs are being conflated with their characters' beliefs.

    As a, hopefully, benign example: "Well, you had a character who smoked, and that character was portrayed overall positively. Therefore, you must believe that smoking is a good thing. You, the author, are a horrible person for having that belief."

    To the person who would make such statements, I would not think, "Oh, you're bigoted against smokers."

    Instead, I would think, "You're misguided in thinking that the author necessarily supports smoking just because a character smokes."

    The negativity that I would feel to the person making that statement stems from what I feel is the statement-makers attempt to censor any story that contains subject matter that the statement-maker doesn't agree with. In my mind, calling out authors in the way the statement did is an attempt at censorship.

    (Note: obviously, I'm not trying to compare the severity of smoking to your topic; I'm trying to remove some of the emotion.)

    You come across to me as someone who is deeply impacted emotionally by a particular subject. I get that. Some issues hit me harder than others.

    Anyway hope this clears up somewhat my view on the subject such that it is.

    Thanks.

    Brian
     
  7. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I think that I would do it without hesitation and without regret, but, I don't know, it's such a huge thing. I honestly can't say how it would impact me in its totality.
     
  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    And lets hope none of us will have to. :)
     
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  9. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    @Brian: I'll lay my cards on the table. My post in that locked thread was one day after I read Freeman, a really well-written book about the American Civil War. One of the main characters was a slave who attempted suicide after being repeatedly raped. That was why I reacted so strongly to a "sympathetic" character who wanted to rape a slave.
     
  10. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Feo,

    I get your strong reaction, but, and this may just be me, it seemed a bit out of proportion to what I described.

    Kinda like I think men who cheat on their wives are despicable. But if I had a character in a situation where a coworker was coming on to him, I think the story would be more interesting if he were at least tempted to give in than if he were completely chaste and perfect. I just think that characters should have flaws and some of the best characters have the biggest flaws.

    From a pure writing perspective, I have to think, "What is better - adding an element that increases conflict or leaving that something out?" If we're giving writing advice around here, it seems off to ever say, "No. Don't add conflict."

    Better advice is, "Tread carefully with that conflict."

    So, anyway, hopefully we understand each other a bit better now.

    Thanks.

    Brian
     
  11. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    To me, this seems like a false equivalency. Those two things are very different beasts.
     
  12. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    @Brian: I don't think the analogy holds. If his wife slaps him around, cheating is more sympathetic. If his wife is dying of cancer, cheating is less sympathetic. You can contextualize it in either direction. I've seen a couple attempts to do that with rape (e.g. the attacker is a chimpanzee and doesn't understand it's wrong), but they usually don't work very well. Rape stands apart from almost anything else you can write, even torture.
     
  13. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Feo,

    I am not going to get into that conversation. I'm not sure how that conversation can even be had without violating MS's new policy.

    Regardless of my ability to find good analogies, my point remains: Regardless of how strongly you feel or why you feel that way, it seems like you are advocating that writers avoid a source of conflict based solely on your strong feelings. I think that advice, if indeed that is what you are saying, is not wise.
     
  14. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I wanted to weigh in on this because I've often been involved in these kinds of threads.

    Over three years ago, I posted a question about sexual assault and the lingering emotional effects. In my story, I had a man and women held prisoner, and the woman was sexually assaulted while the man was forced to bear witness. I had legitimate questions about how he might feel after the event. Basically, later in the story, they become lovers, and they have an intimate scene, and the man hesitates in making their relationship a sexual one, because he's unsure how the woman might feel after being assaulted.

    I thought my question was posed professionally and with research at the heart of it. I wanted my characters to feel authentic, and though I could relate to the victim, I couldn't reasonably assume how a man might feel about the whole thing. But the main point I want to make in speaking about this, is HOW the question is asked. Consider for a moment the greater implication of the questions surrounding a sexual assault and how it impacts those who reside on this forum.

    While I consider the research I've conducted here very valuable, I don't think all research has as its core, such a harmless intent. My intent was only to try to understand how a male perspective differed from my own. How a man might feel about instigating a sexual relationship with a woman he knows was abused. That's a relatively tricky matter, I think. IF I were a woman who had abuse in my past, I probably wouldn't come out and tell a new boyfriend about it. BUT what if the man KNEW about the event before we were together? Would that impact his feelings? Would he be hesitant? Would he abstain form sexual contact because of HIS feelings, or maybe out of respect for HER potential feelings? That's what I aimed to figure out.

    Now, when I asked the question, I found out that pretty much all the things and reactions I'd written were in line with how people responded. No one told me I was being horrible for portraying the assault or the following relationship. But the threads that have surface in the meantime (over the last three years), have followed different paths. I believe the crux of the issue is not the subject matter, but in how the questions were phrased and the general attitude of the posts.

    I've been extremely supportive of mature questions and answer them happily when I feel I have something valuable to say regarding the subjects. However, when the post comes from a person who is obviously not being tactful...it can degrade the thread and my reactions tend to be negative when I think the subject is missing the mark and becoming ludicrous.

    When puppies offend dogs, the older animals give a very clear discipline. Teeth surrounding the pup's neck and a warning growl. I think I've become that old lady dog (yeah, that's right...OLD LADY DOG, not the b-word HA!) and given out a couple warning growls, because this forum is my home and some of the things said have personally offended me and some other members of my "pack". I think the mods have been forced to take a role as our Alphas, and set down some stricter rules to stop us having to discipline ourselves in the way we've done in the past. Plain and simple, we needed further explanation of some of the rules.

    What I want to say about this, is that the subjects aren't strictly offensive. It isn't that we can't talk about abuse, addiction, assault, crime, murder, death, religion, the afterlife, deities, etc. it's that we have to be sympathetic that many on our forum are survivors (probably disproportionately so) and are due a certain amount of respect.
     
  15. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    I don't want to give the impression that I'm saying we can't write about rape. In one form or another, bodily integrity is the most common subject in my writing, and rape is one of the ways that can be lost. I just want to see something done with it.

    To give an idea of what I mean, one of my characters is transgender, and I talk about the isolation she's experienced. There was going to be a scene where another character expressed disgust with her and told her she wasn't a real woman, causing her to cry. I cut it because I realized I wasn't doing anything with it. I wasn't saying anything more or adding anything meaningful. It was just conflict for conflict's sake.

    I've been bashed before for the content of my writing. Something Awful has called me a misogynist, a pedophile, and other words I'm probably not allowed to repeat here. But I'm still proud of most of my work because there were reasons I wrote it. I included the things I wanted to talk about, even when those things were horrific, and when I had nothing to say, I left them out.
     
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  16. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

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    I've been rather critical about the measures restricting acceptable discussion topics but reading what's going on at the NaNo fantasy forum at the moment makes me be grateful for it.
    I really don't like looking through a thread about things people want to see in fantasy stories just to find myself in the midst of a heated political argument spanning pages with the same rather controversial opinions being repeated again and again. The complete lack of empathy and understanding by posters from all sides is striking.

    Okay, on topic: Everyone's backstory is different and it often influences what we're writing. The one situation where one can find rape being justified by people on the political left and even some of those calling themselves feminists is the end of WW2 in Germany. (Justified by fellow Germans, this is not supposed to be an attack against anyone.) My grandmother had to flee from what is now Serbia thene and I suspect that this might have happened to her as well. (She's never talked about this period of her life and by now, she can't do it anymore so I will never know.)
    I naturally have rather strong feelings about the argument above.
    Still, knowing the sheer number of such incidents, I don't believe that all of these soldiers were doomed to be evil for the rest of their lives and no one should ever feel sympathy for them.
    War rape has been done by men of any race and many cultures and I think if someone writes a serious war-centric story, the subject shouldn't be left out. One can write the story in such a way that the heroes reject this kind of behaviour and don't depend on the help of anyone who doesn't but this could also lead to a situation where a character is a rapist but also has positive traits which are shown. I don't think writing this is wrong per se if as always, it's written well. I have a tendency towards view point characters rejecting rape but everyone on the "right" side doing so might not be realistic in a brutal and chaotic war situation.
     
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