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Kevin Nelson
08-19-2014, 12:29 PM
This is another question along the lines of "Would my story idea be too offensive?" But of course, I know you can't really tell whether it will be offensive without reading the story in full. I also know it's impossible to please everyone. What I really want is to find out whether there are any issues I need to think about more. If there is potential for offense, I want to understand what the grounds for the offense might be.

This is a novel in progress--so far, I've just written the first chapter. It's a portal fantasy, in which someone from our world is transported into a fantasy world. I'm going for a tone where there's a fair amount of psychological realism in environments that are sort of surreal.

Here's the potentially problematic part. The villain is in the habit of forcing young women from surrounding villages into his "harem." Normally he doesn't have to resort to outright violence. Threats are enough, and everyone knows he can make good on his threats if he chooses. The women get pushed along by their own fellow villagers, because of fear of what might happen otherwise. Most of them make a show of going along "voluntarily." Once in, they're completely cut off from the outside world.

The twist, if you can call it that, is that once they're in the harem he doesn't actually touch them. They're well treated, materially speaking. They're kept in a garden-like area of about one square mile. They're given good food, nice clothing, plenty of things to entertain themselves with, etc. Minor acts of resistance are ignored. Major acts of resistance are rare, but when they do occur the iron fist comes out. Punishment can be severe (solitary confinement in freezing cells, etc.).

So what does the villain do with his harem? He has the magical equivalent of cameras and microphones all over the place. He gets off on having a hundred women under his total control that he can look at and listen in on whenever and wherever he wants. (The women aren't aware of that, by the way. They very rarely even see him in person.)

Our heroine arrives and observes this whole situation. She's a guest of the villain for a while, though he doesn't actually try to put her in the harem herself, since he's trying to strike a deal with her for other plot-centric items. Naturally, she's appalled by what she sees. In particular, she's appalled by how many of the women seem to passively accept their fate.

Part of what I'm going for is a real-world comparison. Most of us sometimes face choices along the lines of "should I struggle against this undesirable situation, or should I accept it and try to make the best of it?" I'm hoping to make the reader look at those sorts of choices from a new angle, so to speak.

Ultimately, our heroine joins up with some others and winds up defeating the villain. (Incidentally, he isn't threatening the whole world, or anything like that---he's just making life unpleasant for a few thousand people in a variety of ways.) When the women are finally freed, she gets only a few muted thanks from them. But they do finally get to go home to their old friends and families.

The recent complaints I've read in this subforum about too much sexual violence in fantasy have made me wonder about whether this plot line might be problematic. I'm definitely trying to avoid anything titillating--we aren't going to get any detailed descriptions of what the villain is seeing from his own point of view, for example. But I'm still a little worried. Again, I'm not really expecting a definite answer of "you should scrap it" or "you should keep it." I'm just looking for other people's perspectives.

Thuro
08-19-2014, 12:39 PM
I wouldn't be offended by that. Although I have to ask. Is there any male heroes in there? You don't want to be accused of villifying men (sexism can go way overboard sometimes)

snowpea
08-19-2014, 12:54 PM
he's the villain, so it's okay he's a pervert.

Putputt
08-19-2014, 02:19 PM
I wouldn't be offended by that. Although I have to ask. Is there any male heroes in there? You don't want to be accused of villifying men (sexism can go way overboard sometimes)

I have to disagree with there having to be male heroes in the book to avoid being accused of villifying men. :D I don't think it would be a problem as long as there are other male characters who are well-rounded characters. They don't have to be the hero.

Anyway, as for the OP, I don't find the scenario offensive, but I do find it a bit problematic in that it seems to me that there are lots of books where women are there to serve as victims. If the baddie gets off on having so many people under his control, why limit it to just one gender? Why not both women AND men? Then he could be like, "MWAHAHAHAH omgz I have an entire fucking colony under my control holy shit I am so badass. Heehee, lookit them talking to one another while I sekritly peep at them!" I think the dynamics of having both women and men locked up in the enclosed space would be more interesting as well.

Once!
08-19-2014, 02:36 PM
The Truman show with boobs?

The thought that occurred to me was - why just women? You could write this with a mixture of women and men. Then it just becomes weird instead of potentially pervy and weird.

Personally, I wouldn't have a problem with the basic concept unless it becomes an author wish fulfilment thing. Civilizations have often given up their children for human sacrifices. This seems like a play on that tradition.

Sounds interesting. I don't get a mental red flag the way you describe it.

BethS
08-19-2014, 02:52 PM
I don't see anything to be offended about, but bottom line, you should write it honestly and not worry about causing offense.

And I ask (rhetorically), what the heck is literature coming to when writers feel as if they can't write something without consulting the masses in case someone gets offended.



When the women are finally freed, she gets only a few muted thanks from them. But they do finally get to go home to their old friends and families.


That, to me, would make an interesting story in itself. Are they grateful to be rescued? Maybe not. Can they integrate back into their families and communities? Maybe not.

And if not, what will they do next?

snafu1056
08-19-2014, 03:29 PM
he's the villain, so it's okay he's a pervert.

Agreed. In fact I say go as over the top as possible and make him the perviest perv of all. If thats his schtick, lean into it. Theres nothing worse than a watered down villain.

Rechan
08-19-2014, 04:30 PM
Not only am I not offended by this, I find it kinda dull and benign. Sure they're forced into it but they probably have a better living situation than the average peasantry (and in general most places in the past, if you Resisted, you got severe punishment anyways); if he told people about the harem's living situation they might even volunteer. So if you want it to be an "unfortunate situation", it needs to be, well, Unfortunate.

It also doesn't make sense. This guy can basically walk into any village and say "Gimmie your hotties," and people comply. Therefore, he already has a hell of a lot of control over everyone. He's got all the power he wants, so the garden bit seems rather redundant. Sure, he could enjoy the voyeuristic aspect, but he could do the same with just bugging the surrounding villages.

It would make more sense if he was exercising control in a way he couldn't to the outside world. Like one day not giving anyone food, or spreading a (non-lethal) disease, or causing really unpleasant temperatures via magic. There's a component of sadism there but mainly it's the power trip of being able for him to Choose to have those things happen, at any time. Basically playing God in his little domain, rather than having a human ant farm.

Marian Perera
08-19-2014, 04:44 PM
The scenario feels to me like it's trying to tap into the "villain endangers women" trope without actually putting any readers off by having him do so. It's "benign", as Rechan said. If all the villain wants is complete control over people, why not take some men too?

SamCoulson
08-19-2014, 05:04 PM
I think this: "we aren't going to get any detailed descriptions of what the villain is seeing from his own point of view, for example." would be a mistake.

For effect you may be better served by delving into this a few times (not a lot, but just enough to give a window into his mind). Since he is NOT doing violence to them, I don't think you're risking crossing the aforementioned line into fantasy violence. As a commentary on the surveillance state, etc., I think you may be well served to humanize him a bit by giving the reader a window into his mind (twisted and 'pervy' as it may be).

Also, I think his 'not quite evil but creepy' status would play well with the anti-climax of the women who are freed being 'kinda grateful' for it.. leaving us with a theme of the moral ambiguity of accepting our lives as watched, and controlled creatures...

But that's just my take of where this would lean thematically.

PeteMC
08-19-2014, 06:39 PM
Isn't this the basic premise of the Big Brother tv show? Only, you know, the general viewing public are the villain.

Dennis E. Taylor
08-19-2014, 06:43 PM
I have to disagree with there having to be male heroes in the book to avoid being accused of villifying men. :D I don't think it would be a problem as long as there are other male characters who are well-rounded characters. They don't have to be the hero.

Anyway, as for the OP, I don't find the scenario offensive, but I do find it a bit problematic in that it seems to me that there are lots of books where women are there to serve as victims. If the baddie gets off on having so many people under his control, why limit it to just one gender? Why not both women AND men? Then he could be like, "MWAHAHAHAH omgz I have an entire fucking colony under my control holy shit I am so badass. Heehee, lookit them talking to one another while I sekritly peep at them!" I think the dynamics of having both women and men locked up in the enclosed space would be more interesting as well.

I agree with your first para, but not the second and third. Too often, men are portrayed as caricatures when you have a female protag. On the surface it's demeaning to men, but at a deeper level it's demeaning to women because the message is that a woman can only stand out when surrounded by male morons.

As for the other, sadly a both-gender harem would be a very hard sell. Kudos to the OP if he pulls it off, but I'm not going to hold my breath. The "I like to watch" (who gets the ref? ;)) attitude is probably not that uncommon. The real problem is he wouldn't be able to put the men and women in the same area. Unless that's what he likes to watch? Hmm....

quicklime
08-19-2014, 06:50 PM
I guess it counts as pervy, and I'm certainly not endorsing it, but I'd hardly count that as "offensive sexual violence against women."

I'm in agreement with several comments here, including that this feels a bit like you're trying to have your cake (villain) and eat it too (but hey, all he does is watch them, and they're treated well).

Obviously I haven't read your story, but it sounds like the Big Bad isn't even middle management on the "baddery scale." IIRC, even the movie "Sliver," which made a huge deal of voyeurism, had to include the killer angle.....otherwise it was just "I'm a creepy, lonely fuck." Same with Vacancy.

Is there something he's doing to them besides just putting them up someplace really nice and then watching them and maybe yanking a few dozen times a day? It isn't that watching without consent is ok, it clearly is not, and with all the hidden-camera stuff now your idea is arguably topical, but if you imagine "watcher" movies, like Crawlspace, there isn't much tension, or much villain, when all he's doing is watching. Creepy? Sure. Pervy? yes. But the conflict and drama comes when he pushes further. If it was just an old guy masturbating in the wall, there wouldn't have been much of a movie.

quicklime
08-19-2014, 06:54 PM
I have to disagree with there having to be male heroes in the book to avoid being accused of villifying men. :D I don't think it would be a problem as long as there are other male characters who are well-rounded characters. They don't have to be the hero.

Anyway, as for the OP, I don't find the scenario offensive, but I do find it a bit problematic in that it seems to me that there are lots of books where women are there to serve as victims. If the baddie gets off on having so many people under his control, why limit it to just one gender? Why not both women AND men? Then he could be like, "MWAHAHAHAH omgz I have an entire fucking colony under my control holy shit I am so badass. Heehee, lookit them talking to one another while I sekritly peep at them!" I think the dynamics of having both women and men locked up in the enclosed space would be more interesting as well.


I agree with your first para, but not the second and third. Too often, men are portrayed as caricatures when you have a female protag. On the surface it's demeaning to men, but at a deeper level it's demeaning to women because the message is that a woman can only stand out when surrounded by male morons.

As for the other, sadly a both-gender harem would be a very hard sell. Kudos to the OP if he pulls it off, but I'm not going to hold my breath. The "I like to watch" (who gets the ref? ;)) attitude is probably not that uncommon. The real problem is he wouldn't be able to put the men and women in the same area. Unless that's what he likes to watch? Hmm....



count me in the middle of these two....on one hand, if he just wants his "secret garden" then I have to agree with angry; he'd have little use for men if he was just a creepy heterosexual "collector."

At the same time, and especially since as I read him so far, I was kinda thinking "yawn," he could keep guys too, and get off on the chaos like a big version of the kid who puts ants in a jar, shakes it, and watches them fight. That would put it into a more "hunger games" or "battle royale" territory you may or may not want to chase, but certainly make him a badder and more dangerous villain. Even with all women, it could take a decidedly "Lord of the Flies" turn, perhaps by his own machinations, but him just watching girls he's given a fairly cushy life....I'm inclined to think "er, so what?" Not that it is good, just extremely low-stakes for me to follow through 400 pages.

Reziac
08-19-2014, 07:58 PM
I think it depends entirely on your world. Frex, if things are bad outside, maybe every woman's fondest wish is to join his harem, where at least you get enough to eat and don't freeze to death or get raped by passing bandits.

I think what's interesting here isn't so much the antagonist and his harem (not so different from the stereotypical middle eastern harem), but how it relates to the rest of his world. Seems to me there might be some serious social cliquing (and power tripping) among the harem inmates, depending again on the society they're from. Likewise his enforcements -- how do they derive from or depart from outside society?

I say just write it (but do take care with your worldbuilding so everything follows logically). You can't please everyone no matter what.

quicklime
08-19-2014, 08:01 PM
I wouldn't be offended by that. Although I have to ask. Is there any male heroes in there? You don't want to be accused of villifying men (sexism can go way overboard sometimes)

edit: I missed this on my first pass through, but huh? Why would it need a peniley-enhanced hero to not by default be "trashing men"?

there are lots of books with normal men without heroes that aren't villifying men. Off the top of my head Gerald's Game, The Hellfire Club, and Lisey's Story all come to mind (sorry, I read more King and Straub). I'm working on one now. Several of the MC guys are rapists and/or cowards, one is just a cop doing his job, the MC, who may not be a hero but is the protagonist, is a woman. The bad guys aren't one-note, but they're bad guys. because....say it with me.....

they....are......bad.

They aren't villifying men as a whole. There's other guys in the story who are just part of the scenery and/or friends and acquaintances. They aren't one-note or stupid, but they certainly aren't heroes. It isn't their story.

I'll have to see if my betas think I am a self-hating sexist, since I have no guy heroes and a Y chromosome. :tongue


The idea you need a male hero is itself sexist; sometimes women save the day, sometimes they just....do things, and there is no hero. Men don't need to be the good guy in order to not be one-note baddies, there's a lot of extra gray area between the two.

Capability
08-19-2014, 08:16 PM
I think this could be interesting if you expand on what it costs the women in the garden. It doesn't have to be physical sexual exploitation for it to be exploitation, sexualized or otherwise-- the sense of powerlessness, of meaninglessness would be deeply demoralizing, and do a different kind of damage, I would think. Are there women who've been there their entire adult lives? Has it been going on long enough that people have gone mad, have Stockholm syndrome, are hallucinating letters from their loved ones, are senile? Are there any internal urban legends about how you might escape, how there's an end-game, how he just wants what's best for everyone?

I also like the idea of including men. Maybe some animals, too, like it's a kind of zoo for his own pleasure, which sets up an interesting (and creepy) set of relationships-- half power-trip, half life-long experiment. Does he imagine he has relationships with these women, even if they're exclusively voyeuristic?

Standback
08-20-2014, 12:02 AM
Hey Kevin, cool question, and cool premise!

I don't think you need to worry about the premise being offensive. As previous posters have said, your story is obviously deeply critical of exploitation and abuse. It's about perversion, but it's about fighting perversion.

You do need to watch out with your description, hewing to horror without sliding into titillation, but you're aware of that pitfall - which means you can probably mostly avoid it to begin with, and certainly fine-tune you work once you can get feedback. I should point out you'll want to watch out for this twice - both before the "twist", when it seems presumed or implied that the villian's harem is composed of sex slaves, and after, when it turns out it isn't - but the women are being abused in a different way.

That being said, I understand why you feel the premise might be an uncomfortable one. Because what you are doing here is using the sexual violation of women as a stand-in for more generic, abstract social problems. There are certainly schools of thought (and of criticism) that note how frequently women are portrayed in the role of sexual victim; they argue that such portrayals are limiting and demeaning. This is less saying "this kind of story is offensive," and much more on the lines of "this kind of story fits into a larger overall pattern which is harmful." An excellent, excellent essay exploring the uneasiness around rape in fiction is The Rape of James Bond (http://www.newstatesman.com/cultural-capital/2013/03/rape-james-bond) , by Sophia McDougall - I think reading that will give you a feel for this kind of opinion.

At this level, though, I hope you wouldn't discard a fascinating premise just on account of the thorny larger pattern. There are three major reasons I would see your book as basically unproblematic:

1. The fact that the larger harmful pattern exists doesn't mean individual excellent books matching the pattern shouldn't be written. This book has a compelling reason to be about rape and abuse; you can buck the pattern with other books in the future.
2. This premise and book are fundamentally about sexual abuse. The pattern is much more about using sexual abuse as a plot device, or easy sympathy points. So if you're seriously exploring the abuse, and not merely presenting it as a villainous problem to be solved, I don't think you match the pattern at all.
3. You are subverting the trope of sexual abuse in several ways - e.g. by the abuse being voyeuristic, and plainly about power rather than sex. And by having a female protagonist with the agency to fight back. If these are central to the story, you're fighting back against the pattern. (If they only appear late in the book, though, readers might form an opinion earlier.)

If you still feel uncomfortable with your premise or with its implications, you can definitely make all kinds of tweaks to the premise which will help. How would you feel with it if the villain were female and the harem were all men? Can you think of other "fronts" for the villain's power-trip, any gathering of people that's less sexualized than a harem, or sexualized in a less problematic way? What would that do to your story - and if it would change things substantially, then why is that?

Hope this is helpful. Again, I think this is a really terrific idea, well-worth exploring. I wish you the best with it :)

Buffysquirrel
08-20-2014, 12:23 AM
Sorry, but I'm not buying the premise. If it's only about observation and control, why only young women? Usually the desire to control women to that extent also expresses itself sexually. If it's not sexual, then a mix of sexes and ages makes more sense.

I might not find it offensive but I would find it tired and probably wouldn't read it :). Then again, I'm only one reader.

Buffysquirrel
08-20-2014, 12:28 AM
I wouldn't be offended by that. Although I have to ask. Is there any male heroes in there? You don't want to be accused of villifying men (sexism can go way overboard sometimes)

What on earth has sexism got to do with it? Seriously, if someone writes a book with a male villain but without a male hero, you think that's sexist? *boggles*


Too often, men are portrayed as caricatures when you have a female protag. On the surface it's demeaning to men, but at a deeper level it's demeaning to women because the message is that a woman can only stand out when surrounded by male morons.

Oh, the poor menz. I think the thousands of books in which women are presented as barely sentient might just balance this one book out.

Dennis E. Taylor
08-20-2014, 12:53 AM
Oh, the poor menz. I think the thousands of books in which women are presented as barely sentient might just balance this one book out.

Balanced against all the books where a supposedly strong female protag is able to triumph over men who can barely stand up on their own, drool out of one side of their mouth, and swing about three feet over her head. I think you missed the point I was trying to make. A truly well-done strong female protag must be able to hold her own against men who aren't caricatures. Otherwise it's patronizing.

Roxxsmom
08-20-2014, 01:10 AM
Not necessarily offensive, no. It depends on the handling.

One question I might have is why just young women? Maybe the villain would get his jollies from eavesdropping on men too. Including some male "victims" who also passively accept their fate would defuse any sort of criticism that the story portrays women as more blandly accepting of intolerable situations.

So much is in the framing, however. A lot of my decision whether or not to read such a story would lie with the particulars of the characterization, writing, and world building.

virtue_summer
08-20-2014, 01:30 AM
Can I ask what the villain's motive is? If it's sexual and he's heterosexual then using women might make sense, but you implied it may not be sexual but a power trip. If it's a power trip, then why not fill the space with men? That would more unexpected. But it's your story, of course. My brain just likes to flip things around.

Dryad
08-20-2014, 01:55 AM
I very much like a should-I-struggle or should-I-adapt situation. I am one of those readers who have a strongly negative reaction to someone's rape being the driving factor of a story, so if the cover copy suggested a woman collector without making clear that this wasn't the rape scenario being suggested I would not pick up the story--for sure. If the opening pages suggested it would be a rape-driven story, I would not want to read it, either.

As for the details brought up by other people--I assume they would be worked out in the story. If you're suggesting a voyeur then he might enjoy all beautiful people. His tastes would drive what that meant. He might like watching romantic or sexual relations build between his captives, so having both genders could work for him. It all depends on his twisted mind. If you're wanting the eventual uprising to come from within, then I suppose it depends on whether you'd like to work with a mixed gender dynamic of leadership and role divisions or not.

Whether or not something is offensive really does fall into the details of how the situation is handled, so it's difficult to give a definitive answer to your question.

JimABassPlayer
08-20-2014, 02:43 AM
As there is not a single concept in all the earth by which someone, somewhere will not be offended, the possibility of someone being offended by what you've written should not be a contributory factor in determining the content of your material.

Anyhow, that's my four-fifteenth's of a cent. :)

Mr Flibble
08-20-2014, 04:22 AM
I don't think you need to worry about the premise being offensive. As previous posters have said, your story is obviously deeply critical of exploitation and abuse. It's about perversion, but it's about fighting perversion.

This is no guarantee of reviews that do not call you names (some of which may be diametrically opposed to each other!)

I know whereof I speak, having been called several things while doing exactly what you speak of -- my MC fighting perversion, being utterly disgusted by it (even when he isn;t the most moral person in the world).

Doesn't mean don't write it. It does mean a) think about stuff -- OP clearly is doing that. and b) be prepared


ETA that sounds really jaded and bitter doesn't it? I don't mean it to. It;s just one o' them facts of life. If you know your story is problematic going in, take steps to mitigate. And even of you write the Hungry Caterpillar*, expect people to see thing differently. I had a female character explicitly (in the text) save my male MC. Got blasted for having a "damsel in distress"...but a reader's opinions are valid and come from their own experience. You cannot change that. You can only do the best with this book. And that means thinkin hard

Which the OP seems to be doing, so it'll probably be cool.

* it is bad for people with body image problems as it encourages them to eat too much until they are beautiful. Real amazon review...Or my fave:
The book is no more than a blatant brainwashing session for a lesson in greed, consumerism and capitalism. No wonder we have raised a generation of corporate thieves who have brought the country to its knees.

Kevin Nelson
08-20-2014, 04:08 PM
Can I ask what the villain's motive is? If it's sexual and he's heterosexual then using women might make sense, but you implied it may not be sexual but a power trip. If it's a power trip, then why not fill the space with men? That would more unexpected. But it's your story, of course. My brain just likes to flip things around.

Thanks so much to everyone who replied! Your collective input has definitely given me food for thought.

To address the above question, it's partly sexual for the villain and partly a power trip. I think even he would have a hard time saying which was more fundamental. I'll think some more about having the group consist of both men and women.

I'll also think some more about the stakes being too low. Frankly, I'm a bit tired of fantasy novels where the whole world is in danger. So I deliberately lowered the stakes here--maybe I overdid it a little. I'll try to make the stakes high for the individual characters, even if the world as a whole is quite safe.

SBibb
08-23-2014, 03:52 AM
From what I read in your post, I don't think it would come off as offensive. Sounds like it could be an interesting premise, actually.