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Sean D. Schaffer
06-20-2007, 08:03 PM
Hi everyone,

I have a quick question. And if you all know me, you know my definition of 'quick' doesn't seem to match up with the dictionary definition.

Anyway, I have this novel, and I'm working on the 2nd Draft. The bad guy is one of the MCs and I wanted to show how evil he really was when I wrote this work. The problem is, I feel like I might have written him too evil. In a couple places, he takes his violent tendencies against children. One of the incidents is integral to the plot and can't be completely taken out; the other incident is not so integral and involves an infant.

So my question is, should I take these portions of my work out? I'm uncomfortable with a lot of what this bad guy does, but at the same time I'm especially squeamish about the portions with kids involved. I think I might have been just a bit overzealous when I wrote these portions of the bad guy's, well, badness.

What say you? Should I remove the one part of the story and perhaps change the part that's more important to the story, or should I leave these parts alone?


Thanks in advance for all your answers. I appreciate you all and your help very much.

Calla Lily
06-20-2007, 08:08 PM
Story Rules.

If your bad guy is that despicable, then he'll do despicable things.

Get the story the way it needs to be written, get it critted, and submit it. When an agent sells it to a publisher, THEN you and your editor can argue about how far your villain can go.

RLB
06-20-2007, 08:15 PM
On the other hand, it may limit your options when searching for an agent. I've seen several write/blog that they are personally turned off by violence against children and won't consider that material.

Obviously, there are other agents who are fine with it, so it's your call.

JamieFord
06-20-2007, 08:20 PM
Depends on how it's written. I think emotional turmoil/danger is more interesting that graphic violence. Maybe there's a way to leave it in, and have it still be evil and painful, but with less of an "ewwwww" factor.

Sean D. Schaffer
06-20-2007, 08:24 PM
On the other hand, it may limit your options when searching for an agent. I've seen several write/blog that they are personally turned off by violence against children and won't consider that material.

Obviously, there are other agents who are fine with it, so it's your call.


My Emphasis.


That's part of what I was worried about. I don't want to turn editors or agents off to the point they won't consider my stuff. I've read some of these blogs and I worry I may have gone overboard with the badness of the bad guy.

The other thing I'm worried about is the fact I myself am quite bothered by these particular events. I do not much care for the idea myself of violence against kids because it's more than just a bit creepy to me. To me it's actually somewhat barbaric, and my own sensibilities are already finding too much to deal with when it comes to the violent tendencies this character has toward adults.

I could change the one scene around substantially so kids are never mentioned, and the other I could take out completely. I truly am personally worried about these two scenes because they are so heinous.

I'll see what other writers have to say too, and then I'll make my decision. But I really am worried about the manuscript and the idea it might be too effective at showing just how evil the bad guy is.


Thanks.

Plot Device
06-20-2007, 08:30 PM
Are either of these yucky parts found so close to the front end of the story that an agent's repulsion will kick in BEFORE he/she even has a shot at getting hooked? Or are they so far deeply into the heart of the tale that they occur at points where if they ain't hooked already, they never will be?

Sean D. Schaffer
06-20-2007, 08:34 PM
Are either of these yucky parts found so close to the front end of the story that an agent's repulsion will kick in BEFORE he/she even has a shot at getting hooked? Or are they so far deeply into the heart of the tale that they occur at points where if they ain't hooked already, they never will be?


One of these scenes is in the earlier stages of the work, about Chapter 8, I think. (It's a 34 chapter piece). The other one is deep in the back of the book, about ten chapters away from the ending.

The bad guy does pay for his crimes at the end, but something just bothers me personally about these two scenes. I'm beginning to wonder if I should just remove them for my own sake, and not worry about the editor/agent so much.

Star
06-20-2007, 08:43 PM
If something bothers you, as the writer, then I think it will bother readers. Also, if you're not fully engaged or bothered by the villian's actions, you may not be giving the novel your best, (shying away from subject matter). For example, I'm shy about sex, and because of this, the sex scene I had the nerve to include in my adult novel is quite laughable now. ARgh

RLB
06-20-2007, 08:43 PM
It sounds like you're leaning toward taking them out. If that's how you feel, go for it, and have faith in your character development. If you've fleshed this guy out well, the reader should have no problem imagining him being violent against children, whether or not there are actual scenes in the book confirming this.

Plot Device
06-20-2007, 08:47 PM
One of these scenes is in the earlier stages of the work, about Chapter 8, I think. (It's a 34 chapter piece). The other one is deep in the back of the book, about ten chapters away from the ending.

The bad guy does pay for his crimes at the end, but something just bothers me personally about these two scenes. I'm beginning to wonder if I should just remove them for my own sake, and not worry about the editor/agent so much.



My feeling about villains is: the reader needs to "love to hate them." And such hate of them must be enjoyable. When the villain is finally taken down at the end, THAT is the payback we have been waiting for. Each miserable infraction and heinous crime he commits simply adds to our tension (Fruedian tension) and thus contributes all the more to the bang for our buck inherent in our delight at seeing his power (Jungian power) finally and rightfully stripped of him at the end. I do not believe that it's possible for the villain to be made less enjoyable if he goes overboard in villainy--the sky's the limit in my estimation. But I do believe it's possible for the reader to be taken out of the book (or, in my case as a screenwriter, to be taken out of the film) or to become "aware of the author" if they read something that seems less to them like a valid character trait and more to them like the writer ran amok. As soon as the words "gratuitous and needless" cross the reader's mind, as soon as they start rolling their eyes and repositining themsleves in their chair, then you've blown it.

Since you said the very first heinous act is as late into the story as Chapter 8 (and in 34 chapters, you're already at the close of Act 1 as far as a movie goes) then I'd say you have indeed already hooked the reader at that point. So no fear of turnig off an agent before they get attached.

However, if these heinous acts are capable of causing the reader to enter the one frame of mind you never want-- to become "aware of the author" and possibly even roll their eyes at such needlessness and gratuitousness --then my vote is to either cut them or at least tone them down so they work more smoothly into the flow of things. The trick is deciding for yourself --and via your beta readers/critters--if these plot points really are "needless and gratuitous" to the point of taking the reader out of the story. That's a subjective call, but one worth weighing.

aruna
06-20-2007, 08:57 PM
You might want to keep the incidents. but not describve thewm in any detail. In one of my books, a character my readers have come to care about gets kidnapped and forced into child prostitution. But not once do I describe what she actually does. Child prostitutin is for me just about the most horrible thing that can happen to a child, and it would be deeply disturbing to me and I think readers to depict those scenes. But THAT she does it is essential to the story.
Maybe you can say THAT something happens, without saying HOW it happens.

Plot Device
06-20-2007, 09:03 PM
You might want to keep the incidents. but not describve thewm in any detail. In one of my books, a character my readers have come to care about gets kidnapped and forced into child prostitution. But not once do I describe what she actually does. Child prostitutin is for me just about the most horrible thing that can happen to a child, and it would be deeply disturbing to me and I think readers to depict those scenes. But THAT she does it is essential to the story.
Maybe you can say THAT something happens, without saying HOW it happens.


Two thumbs up. http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/icons/icon14.gif http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/icons/icon14.gif

scarletpeaches
06-21-2007, 12:29 AM
...I'm uncomfortable with a lot of what this bad guy does...

So? If he's evil, then he does evil things.

You can't sanitise what your characters do just because their actions make you uncomfortable. It doesn't mean you condone what he does, just that you acknowledge SOME people would do these things. After all, if he does less-evil things, what is there left to make the reader think "Ooh, he's evil"?

Pat~
06-21-2007, 01:34 AM
I like Aruna's suggestion. :)

Serenity
06-21-2007, 04:36 AM
I too like Aruna's suggestion. As a reader, I can offer you this experience on my part. I once read John Saul's "Suffer the Children". He describes quite a few disturbing acts of violence involving children. Honestly? It turned me waaaaaaaaay off of reading anything else by the man.

Just my humble 2 cents.

Soccer Mom
06-21-2007, 05:13 AM
Do we actually see him commit these atrocities or just hear about it? Sometimes tell really is better than show.

Sean D. Schaffer
06-21-2007, 05:39 AM
Do we actually see him commit these atrocities or just hear about it? Sometimes tell really is better than show.

I don't show the actions; I tell. In the first case, an infant is shot by one of the bad guy's aides. The aide is so horrified by what he has to do that he shoots himself afterward. However, I don't show the shooting; I show the aide carrying the infant into another room, and then the bad guy hears two shots and a 'thump' when the aide's body hits the floor.

Because these acts are so heinous and so bothersome, I refused to actually show the incidents happening in the book. The most readers will get is a visual in their mind of an aide walking away with an infant and hearing two shots. The gore and the blood associated with the shootings is never shown.

Also, the bad guy is internally disgusted himself by what he is doing, because when he first gave the order to kill certain individuals, he had no idea an infant would be involved. But he does continue with the action because he does not want to seem weak to those subordinate to him.

All the same, I think maybe even less description of what happens would be in order, rather than completely removing the incidents altogether. I wanted to show that the bad guy was, well, bad, instead of just telling the audience and expecting them to believe me. But violence against children bothers me to no end, and I think perhaps a little less description of what happens might very well be in order.

aruna
06-21-2007, 08:01 AM
You should read We Need to Talk about Kevin.

If that book could get through the filters (it was turned down a lot, though), and be enjoyed by so many readers, than any book can!

maestrowork
06-21-2007, 08:15 AM
So many books have despicable things done to children by despicable people and yet they get published and read. Of course, if this is your first novel, it can be tricky. Other than that, tell the TRUTH -- whatever truth your story dictates. If you're writing about Hitler, would you have sugarcoated everything and pretended he didn't have all those children gassed?

I remember in one particular scene in Schindler's List in which Amon Goeth (played by Ralph Fiennes) took aim at a child as target practice. It was difficult to watch, but I applauded Spielberg for depicting that scene truthfully without shying away. It told us exactly who Amon Goeth was, and why Schindler must do what he did.

Sean D. Schaffer
06-21-2007, 09:06 AM
So many books have despicable things done to children by despicable people and yet they get published and read. Of course, if this is your first novel, it can be tricky. Other than that, tell the TRUTH -- whatever truth your story dictates. If you're writing about Hitler, would you have sugarcoated everything and pretended he didn't have all those children gassed?

I remember in one particular scene in Schindler's List in which Amon Goeth (played by Ralph Fiennes) took aim at a child as target practice. It was difficult to watch, but I applauded Spielberg for depicting that scene truthfully without shying away. It told us exactly who Amon Goeth was, and why Schindler must do what he did.


Interesting take on this. The more I think about it, the more I think I will probably keep the sugarcoating out. As much as I despise the actions this individual is taking within the book, I know it's to show just how bad he really is. If these things were not in the work (I think there are two such scenes, if I remember correctly) then I think the gravity of the whole situation would not be fully realized.

I guess I just got squeamish about this whole situation, as I already am bothered by some of the things he has done to adults.

But thinking back on some other authors I've read, they didn't seem to shy away from the horrible and the awful in their works either. I'm sure they might have thought twice before putting their bad guy's works in where everyone could see them, but they ended up doing whatever their stories demanded.

And that's what I'm going to have to do, I think. If it's important to the telling of the story, I guess it's going to have to go in ... I'll just keep the gory details to an absolute minimum.

Thanks, everyone, for your input.


:)

Stijn Hommes
06-21-2007, 12:20 PM
I suggest you remove the one incident that is not integral to the plot and see how you feel about it then. Whatever you do, make sure you save a copy just in case you want to put it back in.

Ab_Normal
06-22-2007, 08:40 PM
I don't show the actions; I tell. In the first case, an infant is shot by one of the bad guy's aides. The aide is so horrified by what he has to do that he shoots himself afterward. However, I don't show the shooting; I show the aide carrying the infant into another room, and then the bad guy hears two shots and a 'thump' when the aide's body hits the floor.

Because these acts are so heinous and so bothersome, I refused to actually show the incidents happening in the book. The most readers will get is a visual in their mind of an aide walking away with an infant and hearing two shots. The gore and the blood associated with the shootings is never shown.

Also, the bad guy is internally disgusted himself by what he is doing, because when he first gave the order to kill certain individuals, he had no idea an infant would be involved. But he does continue with the action because he does not want to seem weak to those subordinate to him.

All the same, I think maybe even less description of what happens would be in order, rather than completely removing the incidents altogether. I wanted to show that the bad guy was, well, bad, instead of just telling the audience and expecting them to believe me. But violence against children bothers me to no end, and I think perhaps a little less description of what happens might very well be in order.

My $.02: I'm squicked by overt violence against children -- I have quit reading novels I was otherwise engaged in because of graphic descriptions of it. What you've described here, especially showing some of the bad guy's internal conflict (that's the important part to me), would *not* make me stop reading. (IMHO, YMMV, other standard disclaimers apply.)

lfraser
06-23-2007, 04:08 AM
Sean, if it's important, leave it in. Just my opinion. I don't think a writer should flinch from writing about the bad stuff just because some people won't like it.

maestrowork
06-23-2007, 04:13 AM
Story and character first. Then you think about your target audience. Stephen King wouldn't even blink to leave things like that in his books. If you're worried about offending someone somewhere, then you have no place in writing.

Sean D. Schaffer
06-23-2007, 06:30 AM
Story and character first. Then you think about your target audience. Stephen King wouldn't even blink to leave things like that in his books. If you're worried about offending someone somewhere, then you have no place in writing.


You know, I keep telling myself no matter what I write I'm going to offend someone, but it just doesn't seem to sink in. I guess I'm just going to have to write what I want regardless of the feelings of insecurity that I suffer from.

Thank you for reminding me of that simple, yet sometimes hard-to-remember fact.

Shadow_Ferret
06-23-2007, 07:54 AM
If something bothers you, as the writer, then I think it will bother readers.
That's the goal though, isn't it? To make the readers squirm a little, read the story and be afraid to turn off the lights afterwards. Why do they like to watch horror movies? Because there's a visceral thrill in being scared. I'd love to accomplish that as a writer.

maestrowork
06-23-2007, 06:37 PM
There's a difference between writing something (rape, torture, murder, etc.) in details just to titillate and offend, and writing something truthfully to tell a story.

Shadow_Ferret
06-24-2007, 08:31 AM
Explain that difference.

One is for art, the other for money?

Because I wasn't saying do it just to titilate. I assumed it was necessary for the story.

Either way, the goal is still to make the reader feel something, right? I'm assuming even those who do this for the art of it all still would like the readers to feel strong emotions however they try to justify it as not to titilate.