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Thread: A Touchy Subject

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW Noizchild's Avatar
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    A Touchy Subject

    I am wondering about intimacy and sexual abuse victims. It's for a character of mine.
    "You ask me what I thought about
    Before we were lovers.
    The answer is easy.
    Before I met you
    I didn't have anything to think about."

  2. #2
    Revolutionize the World kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Can you possibly elaborate without being too explicit or triggering?

    That's very broad.

  3. #3
    Revolutionize the World kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    I just found this blog series which may be helpful:

    Writing Characters Who Are Trauma Survivors.

    It's written by a trauma survivor, focusing on erotica and erotica romance.

  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW Noizchild's Avatar
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    Thanks. And I was wondering how they would cope.
    "You ask me what I thought about
    Before we were lovers.
    The answer is easy.
    Before I met you
    I didn't have anything to think about."

  5. #5
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin LoveOn.me's Avatar
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    This is definitely a touch subject, but one that could benefit many when write correctly. The article suggested by kuwisdelu has some great advice. My two cents would be to try and include material that may help victims heal from their experiences and be able to find intimacy without fear or flashbacks.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW themindstream's Avatar
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    May I hijack this thread for a slight tangent on a similar subject? If this would be best as a new thread somewhere, let me know (and where to put it).

    I'm not writing erotica but I'm contemplating writing a scene that involves the implied rape of a character. I'm uncertain about the ethics of doing so even if I do my best to do it respectfully. (I might have run into a similar situation writing a story for last years Sissyfus; at that time I freaked, chickened out and downgraded it to harassment...and was very late with my story. Said story is also trunked indefinitely; I may reuse the setting, maybe not the characters or plot.)

    For a while I've believed this is a thing likely to happen given the characters involved (the female antagonist is abusive in a number of other ways as well) but at most might have alluded to it in dialog after the fact. Only now it's occurred to me that the story might benefit from a POV change to show things the main POV character can't and the male victim is conveniently placed for it. It's in no way intended to be portrayed as positive and the scene would fade to black on the actual act because explicit isn't a thing I do, consent or not.
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  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW Noizchild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by themindstream View Post
    May I hijack this thread for a slight tangent on a similar subject? If this would be best as a new thread somewhere, let me know (and where to put it).

    I'm not writing erotica but I'm contemplating writing a scene that involves the implied rape of a character. I'm uncertain about the ethics of doing so even if I do my best to do it respectfully. (I might have run into a similar situation writing a story for last years Sissyfus; at that time I freaked, chickened out and downgraded it to harassment...and was very late with my story. Said story is also trunked indefinitely; I may reuse the setting, maybe not the characters or plot.)

    For a while I've believed this is a thing likely to happen given the characters involved (the female antagonist is abusive in a number of other ways as well) but at most might have alluded to it in dialog after the fact. Only now it's occurred to me that the story might benefit from a POV change to show things the main POV character can't and the male victim is conveniently placed for it. It's in no way intended to be portrayed as positive and the scene would fade to black on the actual act because explicit isn't a thing I do, consent or not.
    This sounds interesting. Let me know how it turns out.
    "You ask me what I thought about
    Before we were lovers.
    The answer is easy.
    Before I met you
    I didn't have anything to think about."

  8. #8
    figuring it all out Brave Sir Robin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by themindstream View Post
    May I hijack this thread for a slight tangent on a similar subject? If this would be best as a new thread somewhere, let me know (and where to put it).

    I'm not writing erotica but I'm contemplating writing a scene that involves the implied rape of a character. I'm uncertain about the ethics of doing so even if I do my best to do it respectfully. (I might have run into a similar situation writing a story for last years Sissyfus; at that time I freaked, chickened out and downgraded it to harassment...and was very late with my story. Said story is also trunked indefinitely; I may reuse the setting, maybe not the characters or plot.)

    For a while I've believed this is a thing likely to happen given the characters involved (the female antagonist is abusive in a number of other ways as well) but at most might have alluded to it in dialog after the fact. Only now it's occurred to me that the story might benefit from a POV change to show things the main POV character can't and the male victim is conveniently placed for it. It's in no way intended to be portrayed as positive and the scene would fade to black on the actual act because explicit isn't a thing I do, consent or not.

    I don't think there is any ethical problem with writing about rape. Even one written insensitively can shine a light on this devastating issue. And certainly with your plan, and the obvious concern you are showing for the subject matter, I think you will be just fine. Rape is a horrible, but all too real, tragedy in too many women's lives. It is a topic that deserves to be written about by someone who cares enough to be afraid to write it. Good luck. JMO.

  9. #9
    All about that action, boss. ElaineA's Avatar
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    I think there are probably as many reactions to such a scene as readers, but for me, any kind of abusive scene better be so deeply integral to the plot, the book almost can't exist without it. That goes for animal abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse. It cannot be simply for shock (not saying yours is), or only for characterization.There are a thousand ways to show an abusive person is abusive without showing rape or torture, mutilation or whatever other horrors one might use on another character. Same for showing a character is flawed or heroic because "past abuse." This is not to say such scenes can never show up in a book or story, but that they must absolutely necessary if they are going to be on stage.

    There is a discussion on a roughly similar topic (along with other semi-related issues) in a query thread in QLH. It might (or might not) be a helpful read. Start at post #79 and read down from there.

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  10. #10
    reading all the things Anna Iguana's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ElaineA View Post
    I think there are probably as many reactions to such a scene as readers
    Agreed. Also, there are probably as many reactions and coping mechanisms among survivors as there are survivors. (My non-writing life has involved supporting people who've experienced rape, domestic violence, or other trauma.)

    There was a recent thread, started by an author wondering about using demonic possession as a metaphor for PTSD after rape, where several people shared thoughts on reading about rape in fiction.

    Quote Originally Posted by ElaineA View Post
    for me, any kind of abusive scene better be so deeply integral to the plot, the book almost can't exist without it.
    Same.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW themindstream's Avatar
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    Thank you all for the feedback.

    Quote Originally Posted by ElaineA View Post
    I think there are probably as many reactions to such a scene as readers, but for me, any kind of abusive scene better be so deeply integral to the plot, the book almost can't exist without it. That goes for animal abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse. It cannot be simply for shock (not saying yours is), or only for characterization.There are a thousand ways to show an abusive person is abusive without showing rape or torture, mutilation or whatever other horrors one might use on another character. Same for showing a character is flawed or heroic because "past abuse." This is not to say such scenes can never show up in a book or story, but that they must absolutely necessary if they are going to be on stage.
    This probably gets closest to the heart of my concerns. I've heard elsewhere the idea that using rape can be a lazy shorthand for drama. On reflection, there is a risk that I might undermine the complexity of the characterization I've been trying to build up around the antagonist if I jump all the way there.

    I would say that demonstrating some form of abuse committed by the antagonist is necessary: very shortly the antagonist is going to be the target of what is essentially vigilante justice and the main characters are going to be put in the position of choosing whether or not to support the effort. But there might be more interesting ways to do it.

    On the subject of portraying sexual abuse in general, I don't have a personal reference for it but I do know people for whom the subject is personally disturbing. And while I'm fine with shamelessly borrowing and transforming culture and history that isn't mine for worldbuilding, it's been hard for me to come at this subject without hearing Lady Gaga in the back of my head: "Tell me how the hell could you know...till it happens to you..."
    "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" -- Arthur C. Clarke
    "Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from SCIENCE!" -- Agatha Heterodyne

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  12. #12
    Vickichuuuuuuuuu Ehlionney's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brave Sir Robin View Post
    Rape is a horrible, but all too real, tragedy in too many women's lives.
    I really hope I don't come off as being overly nitpicky:

    Rape isn't confined to women. And it's VERY important for all of us, not just as writers but also as just people in general, to not lazily reduce it to such. A lot of men and trans people are afraid to talk about their experiences with rape because of the very widely reinforced stereotype that it's a "women's issue." I know that it's very easy/convenient to say it the way that you did, but without making a conscious effort to change our wording, that stereotype won't go away.

    Domestic abuse/violence is another really important one to clarify on this topic as well. Studies are beginning to show more and more that men and trans folk are just as often the victims, and women just as often the perpetrators. For example, my upstairs neighbors scream at each other constantly, and have gotten into full-blown fistfights on several occasions. I've had to call the police several times, and even when I specifically say that the wife starts the screaming match every time and seems to throw the first punch every time, they still always ask the husband to leave the house for a few days (even though both are on the lease) and always take the wife's side. Another example was one of the soldiers I was in charge of in the Army who refused to press charges against his wife who repeatedly left with with black eyes, bruises, etc, from drunken rages; he didn't want to seem like "less of a man" because "a man in the military is supposed to be a MAN, not a little bitch" -_- (ETA: heck, I wasn't even technically HIS team leader, just A team leader in his squad, but the other two team leaders were men so he didn't even want to talk to them about it at all...)
    Last edited by Ehlionney; 04-29-2017 at 04:16 AM. Reason: clarification
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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW Noizchild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anna Iguana View Post
    Agreed. Also, there are probably as many reactions and coping mechanisms among survivors as there are survivors. (My non-writing life has involved supporting people who've experienced rape, domestic violence, or other trauma.)

    There was a recent thread, started by an author wondering about using demonic possession as a metaphor for PTSD after rape, where several people shared thoughts on reading about rape in fiction.
    That sounds interesting. I might have to check out that thread when I get the time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ehlionney View Post
    I really hope I don't come off as being overly nitpicky:

    Rape isn't confined to women. And it's VERY important for all of us, not just as writers but also as just people in general, to not lazily reduce it to such. A lot of men and trans people are afraid to talk about their experiences with rape because of the very widely reinforced stereotype that it's a "women's issue." I know that it's very easy/convenient to say it the way that you did, but without making a conscious effort to change our wording, that stereotype won't go away.

    Domestic abuse/violence is another really important one to clarify on this topic as well. Studies are beginning to show more and more that men and trans folk are just as often the victims, and women just as often the perpetrators. For example, my upstairs neighbors scream at each other constantly, and have gotten into full-blown fistfights on several occasions. I've had to call the police several times, and even when I specifically say that the wife starts the screaming match every time and seems to throw the first punch every time, they still always ask the husband to leave the house for a few days (even though both are on the lease) and always take the wife's side. Another example was one of the soldiers I was in charge of in the Army who refused to press charges against his wife who repeatedly left with with black eyes, bruises, etc, from drunken rages; he didn't want to seem like "less of a man" because "a man in the military is supposed to be a MAN, not a little bitch" -_- (ETA: heck, I wasn't even technically HIS team leader, just A team leader in his squad, but the other two team leaders were men so he didn't even want to talk to them about it at all...)
    You have the same thought as me.
    "You ask me what I thought about
    Before we were lovers.
    The answer is easy.
    Before I met you
    I didn't have anything to think about."

  14. #14
    Needs More Hands.... Fallen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by themindstream View Post
    I've heard elsewhere the idea that using rape can be a lazy shorthand for drama. On reflection, there is a risk that I might undermine the complexity of the characterization I've been trying to build up around the antagonist if I jump all the way there.
    In very badly written form, rape is a plot device used purely to carry the story on, and it's why reader groans: the rape lasts for a scene, the rape victim has a few pages over trauma, then they're off into the core main romance, where at best the rape is forgotten, at worst, more sex is used to "cure" it.

    When it's covered well, when its done realistically, to the point the reader doesn't want to see anymore, but can't not read because they need to know just how someone survives day to day after trauma like that, that's when it does rape victims justice.

    Just don't ever have it easily cured. There is no "cure", and that's where authors make the mistake, downplaying the trauma and its long-lasting effects. Readers aren't dumb. They'll call an author out on using rape to forward plot over showing the realities of rape and its full devastation on someone.

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  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW Noizchild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fallen View Post
    In very badly written form, rape is a plot device used purely to carry the story on, and it's why reader groans: the rape lasts for a scene, the rape victim has a few pages over trauma, then they're off into the core main romance, where at best the rape is forgotten, at worst, more sex is used to "cure" it.

    When it's covered well, when its done realistically, to the point the reader doesn't want to see anymore, but can't not read because they need to know just how someone survives day to day after trauma like that, that's when it does rape victims justice.

    Just don't ever have it easily cured. There is no "cure", and that's where authors make the mistake, downplaying the trauma and its long-lasting effects. Readers aren't dumb. They'll call an author out on using rape to forward plot over showing the realities of rape and its full devastation on someone.
    I like your insight.
    "You ask me what I thought about
    Before we were lovers.
    The answer is easy.
    Before I met you
    I didn't have anything to think about."

  16. #16
    reading all the things Anna Iguana's Avatar
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    Seconding Fallen: a veteran once said to me, "I wish people understood that PTSD isn't an illness that you recover from. You don't go back to the way you were. You're forever changed." Trauma inflicted by one human upon another, or by several humans on another (don't get me started on the broken "justice" system) rips the ground from under our faith that, if we follow rules, we can stay safe. In my experience, rape changes the way survivors see the whole world.

  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW Noizchild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anna Iguana View Post
    Seconding Fallen: a veteran once said to me, "I wish people understood that PTSD isn't an illness that you recover from. You don't go back to the way you were. You're forever changed." Trauma inflicted by one human upon another, or by several humans on another (don't get me started on the broken "justice" system) rips the ground from under our faith that, if we follow rules, we can stay safe. In my experience, rape changes the way survivors see the whole world.
    You guys have great insight on this topic.
    "You ask me what I thought about
    Before we were lovers.
    The answer is easy.
    Before I met you
    I didn't have anything to think about."

  18. #18
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    I just found this blog series which may be helpful:

    Writing Characters Who Are Trauma Survivors.

    It's written by a trauma survivor, focusing on erotica and erotica romance.
    Thanks for sharing that blog post, will definitely come in handy for me.

    One of my novels is written from two main first person POV—the rapist and the underaged victim (things start as statutory rape then escalates out of control...well, it was out of control from the beginning). So, the whole plot is based on this sort of abusive relationship.

    One of the biggest obstacles while I'm doing my current round of editing is making the victim's POV after the trauma appropriate in relation to what she went through. It truly is a difficult subject to handle if not researched and executed correctly.

  19. #19
    http://www.springhole.net/writing/wr...characters.htm

    He's another link. I love springhole for writing. They have so much stuff. Like sentiments before mine just try not to be lazy and use abuse or rape to create easy drama. People will notice these things.

  20. #20
    practical experience, FTW Noizchild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DamienLoveshaft View Post
    http://www.springhole.net/writing/wr...characters.htm

    He's another link. I love springhole for writing. They have so much stuff. Like sentiments before mine just try not to be lazy and use abuse or rape to create easy drama. People will notice these things.
    Thanks, I will check it out later.
    "You ask me what I thought about
    Before we were lovers.
    The answer is easy.
    Before I met you
    I didn't have anything to think about."

  21. #21
    figuring it all out xanaphia's Avatar
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    My novel starts off with the violent rape of my protagonist, and her recovery from this act is becomes major theme as the plot progresses. I go pretty deep into her PTSD, including flashbacks, suicidal ideation, self harm and unhealthy defense mechanisms, to show her developing coping mechanism and healing form her ordeal. Honestly writing this story, about a rape victim who recovers from her trauma, and goes on to find love has been really cathartic to me. Rape is something that happens to her, it does not define her.

  22. #22
    practical experience, FTW CaliforniaMelanie's Avatar
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    I feel it depends upon what you're going for. Let's face it, not every reader is reading every type of book for the realism.

    If what you're writing is a book with abuse survival as its central theme or at least a major theme, then yes, you need to be very, verrrrrrry careful, very sensitive, and have "healing" (if you will...I say this a as a survivor, BTW) take a loooooooooooooong-arse time...if at all. (I'm still waiting to be totally "cured"...maybe in another 39 years? )

    BUT...

    ...if that's not the idea here, there's another thing to consider: if we took out every potentially triggering, not entirely sensitive, or not 100% accurate idea out of every book, we'd have precious few books left. I think things can go so crazy on the PC idea (I say this as a granola crunchy hippie, by the way) that creativity is choked to death and the book becomes an absolutely boring read.

    Writers have, throughout history, written shocking, ugly material, for a whole variety of reasons. We have not always carefully weighed and measured the social consciousness of our every word. Writing explores all kinds of things, in all kinds of ways. And any creative expression at all can offend people. People are offended by the Bible. They're offended by SpongeBob SquarePants. (There was a whole issue about SpongeBob and Patrick and rainbows for a while...I wish I were kidding...totally not kidding.) People have been offended by books and blacklisted and physically burned them as a symbol for eradicating what had offended someone. I've seen offense at Encyclopedia Britannica entries.

    And then again, I've seen the opposite. I've seen shock literally for shock value and I have seen people absolutely love that, and that's all good, IMO. And I've seen shock to explore our own ugliest sides and for no other reason (Stephen King, anyone?). I've seen ugliness written to titillate, too.

    I've seen (and you've seen) incredibly popular works in art, writing and literature that were so utterly inaccurate and impossible you just have to laugh, yet still adore them. There was an audience for them, and some people freaked out and screamed endlessly - and continue to - about their inaccuracies or about something that "should have" been stated a different way. Some of these very works have become classics - warts (and errors and ridiculousness) and all.

    Writers will be criticized somehow, some way and we'll never make everyone happy. Yes. Rape is a sensitive subject. Been there, not past it. And totally not offended that not every single person is going to "get it right" - and yeah, I'll groan or get pizzed and put the book down or turn off the movie if it's something that would trigger ME, me personally. But that's me. I don't expect the entire world to be aware and conscious of me, my specific past, my issues...because I'm not the whole world and the creator of the book or movie had his/her reasons.

    I just feel if we try to be uber-sensitive to every single issue, every single time, yes, even if it's a biggie like rape (and that IS a biggie), when we're being creative, anyway, we choke the life out of and create fear of being creative...and I feel that's kind of sad.

    If you want to make a real difference as regards sexual abuse then there are loads of ways to do that, via loads of organizations (which could use some great pro bono writing, trust me!), with awareness-raising, creating a blog and so on. I don't know that you are necessarily going to do that in a work of fiction. It's the rare writer, IMO, who accomplishes both those things. Spreading awareness is different from writing fiction with an abuse sub-plot that only a small percentage of the world is going to read anyway.

    *Now.* Are you trying to promote an idea that sexual abuse victims secretly wanted the abuse, or something of that caliber? Then yes, I personally feel that could be dangerous. Note the I personally in that sentence. I don't know that. I don't know if people will read that intimation and just collectively blow it off and toss the book in the garbage. Because that's possible too. But if you're trying to be at least minimally sensitive then yes, that sort of thing is something to avoid; find a different plot device for why your character does what she does and wants what she wants. (Or he, sorry.) And if you just want to increase your chances of good karma and/or if you don't wish to promote rape culture then obviously you'll want to be avoiding anything that, well, bad.

    But do you owe the world a sensitive, politically correct, researched, science and evidence-backed, developed 30-year healing process to an abuse victim in a work of fiction? Especially if that would all be great mounds of text that not only don't propel your plot but actually detract from the story, create clutter, and bore the reader into handing the book, unfinished, over to Goodwill? No.

    Just my thoughts.
    Last edited by CaliforniaMelanie; 11-12-2017 at 12:49 AM.

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