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Guilty feelings

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Amanita, Dec 21, 2012.

  1. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    Hello everyone,

    I'd like to know if you're familiar with this as well.
    Most fantasy stories feature manifestations of evil in some way. So does my own and I'm trying my best to portray them and their consequences as well as possible.
    Still, when doing research on issues such as war rape to only name one example and reading account from survivors and their supporters, I often start to feel very bad about wanting to include this at all.
    I'm asking myself if I can ever do the subject justice as someone who's luckily not been forced to go through something like this. I also tend to wonder if it's right to put such issues into my writing at all, to exploit the suffering of these real people I've done the research about, for my story and perhaps one day for my personal profit.
    Many fantasy stories feature plenty of rape and torture but I often think that it's not portrayed in a really respectful way. I'm trying to avoid this myself of course, but even if I'm doing it "well" I'm not sure.

    Usually, I tend to just write down what is on my head but when I'm starting to research, these doubts come to me very often. Strangely enough, reading or watching some things does affect me badly even though I usually know what to expect beforehand by now.

    How are you dealing with this? What are your feelings on the matter.
  2. Leif Notae

    Leif Notae Sage

    Well, that depends on what you mean by "respectful". If you are trying to pull back punches to be sensitive to people who won't read your work, then it is disrespectful to you. If you are taking it past a certain point where it becomes absurd, then you are being disrespectful to whomever suffered from this act.

    What you want is a fine balance (as with anything in life). Don't shy away from the ugliness, but don't dismiss that it exists either.
  3. Xaysai

    Xaysai Inkling

    I think if you are not using the subject matter gratuitously (including unnecessary graphic detail), then you should be fine.
  4. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I just try to write with honesty. My meaning is simply this... Does the story call for its inclusion? Is it important in any way (setting the stage, part of character understanding, a baseline for character arc, a beginning understanding of a threat in this world, etc.)?

    If it is necessary then you should write with unadulterated honesty without concern for your parents reading it, what your kid's kindergarten teacher will think, or what the survivor of a similar experience may think. I know that may sound callous but frank honesty often is exactly that...harsh.

    An unfortunate truth that we need to accept as writers - The interesting things to read about are often some of the worst aspects of humanity (rape, incest, racism, criminals, etc.). Without them there would be no conflict.
  5. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    I'm glad I found this thread. I've been wondering for a while about including mention of rape in my vampire story, particularly with regards to the MC's father. He is held captive by vampires for a potential meal, along with many other men and women. Since the vampires have a rule against harming pregnant women and young children, the women are all desperate to conceive, so many of them resort to raping every man they can get their hands on if none will have sex willingly. The MC's father is raped numerous times, and it is explicitly acknowledged as something that is not okay -- the father is traumatized, and the MC is horrified. It's meant to illustrate the lengths to which people will go to save their own lives, and the spread of corruption in the vampires' city.
  6. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I agree with what T.A.S. said. I'll also add, one of the things that sort of irks me is when I read something that tries to tip-toe too lightly around a sensitive subject matter. If something awful happens IMHO, it should be brought to light. Don't candy coat it. To me that's does a disservice because it's almost like a denial of how awful an even was.

    It's like describing a man hitting his wife as him being stern with her.

    Now, as for your concern for having rape in your story, is it really exploration if you're treating the subject with respect and honesty? There was a time when rape was sort of a hush-hush subject in society and because of that people got away with rape because the victim didn't feel as if they could speak up. It's hush-hush. Don't speak of it. People will think it's your fault.

    Bringing something ugly into the light, what ever ugly that is, and showing the reader it's true face helps. The ugly subject becomes no longer hush-hush. It shows people what it's like to be a victim of that ugliness and makes it harder for that ugliness to hide in the shadows.

    Look at movies like Schindler's list or Bowling for Colombine. They're profitable ventures, but a the same time they brought certain subjects into the public consciousness.

    You know what's worse than failure? Having never even tried.

    Any way. My two cents.
    Kit likes this.
  7. saellys

    saellys Inkling

    First of all, to put it in the most convoluted possible way, don't feel bad about feeling bad about putting these things in your work. The awful stuff human beings do to each other is part of the human experience, loathsome and horrendous as that is, and if you're representing the human experience in your work, there will eventually come a time when you see fit to include some aspect of that, and if that's difficult, it probably means you're on the right track.

    Now, that being said, there is way more to handling the subject of rape, for instance, than just leaving out graphic details and calling that "tasteful". There are questions that have to be asked, which I would put in flowchart form if I wasn't typing this up right before dinner. Is the act a significant traumatic experience that shapes a character's life? If the character is female, does the act shape her life the way some other significant experience could shape a male character's life? Is there any other significant traumatic experience you could use instead? Does an antagonist rape a protagonist just to emphasize (for the purposes of the story) how incredibly evil they are? Is the rape the sole purpose for the protagonist seeking revenge? Is the protagonist seeking revenge for someone else's rape?

    These are just a few examples, and no single one of those questions is a dealbreaker if you answer yes, but all of them are tied to things I've seen and read where rape as an aspect of the plot was handled very poorly. Heck, the same source material and intent can lead to totally different interpretations. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo handled the topic very, very well, but Fincher's film adaptation included an interminable and gratuitous rape scene, while the results that made Larsson's book such a positive example were glossed over.

    Obviously it's a touchy subject, and the best thing you can do is speak to someone with more experience--someone who speaks to victims in a therapeutic capacity, if you can manage it, would be an excellent source that would not involve the risk of triggering memories.
  8. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    One rule is to watch the amount of space given to things. Be sure you do justice to the consequences, and convey that the horror itself is serious but without getting stuck in that moment the way Fincher's film did.

    One measure of when this gets "gratuitous" is whether you're still covering details that distinguish "it's This Way, and it shows something about the character that it wasn't That instead," versus when the moment's moved on to what readers have nothing to lose by going with their assumptions. Mostly, why someone rapes might give a glimpse into evil, but the act itself...
  9. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

    I feel uncomfortable researching certain things as well. After looking up various ways to kill and injure people, I must be on a government watch-list. :mask:

    I've lived a life without real hardships. Portraying war and its effects is my weak point. One of my characters is a veteran from Iraq or Afghanistan, and I have no clue what I'm doing. Another character deals with the aftermath of losing his brother to kidnappers in Chechnya. I feel like a fraud for trying to tell those stories since they're so far from what I know. It feels like it's not my place to write about it, but I'm also motivated to get these stories out of my head.

    I try not to think about doing justice to a difficult subject. I only want to be true to this character's experience. It's still tough. To ease my guilt a little, I think about parallels that have occurred throughout history. I think of the authors who've glossed over the same material in their novels. The scenarios in my stories have happened before and will happen again, and I need to explore them. Taking the easy way out would cheapen the stories and lessen their hold on me.

    I respect the character and the situation, so I don't try to milk them for drama. A lot of my trouble comes from imagining the character's emotional landscape and showing it in an accurate but subtle way. Uncovering my character's truth isn't easy when his life is entirely unlike mine, but once it's in my grasp I'll learn something meaningful. I don't feel guilty after I've finally uncovered that truth.
  10. Frankly, my stories don't really feature such things - my villains are either too noble or uninterested in the more disturbing atrocities and I don't see how including them would make my writing more enjoyable. Interestingly, these subjects don't actually bother me too much, it's just not part of my style. In short, I like to keep it pretty PG.

    I can say this much: When you write about unpleasant things, it's sometimes important to be able to distance yourself from them. Maybe these subjects just aren't your thing? Me, I don't write horror stories because I actually scare myself - literally, I get trouble sleeping. And while I know one must suffer for ones art, I have to draw the line somewhere. :p
  11. Kit

    Kit Maester


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