The problematic epic fantasy rape cliche [TRIGGER WARNING]

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Andrhia

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I would not be comfortable reading this. I wasn't very comfortable even reading your post, to be honest. Especially beware the Terry Goodkind problem of making the agonizing details a little too... lovingly detailed? There's a line between including brutal things as a part of your plot and lingering over their depiction. ...This might be a matter of taste for me, so add salt as needed.

Strictly from the POV of craft, if all of this backstory isn't immediately relevant to the details of your present-day story... maybe leave them out. It's good to know this stuff, but it sounds like this is all coming out in conversation over a campfire, and that can be very infodumpy. Should happen on the page if it's that significant.

And if you're not absolutely married to the whole rape business, perhaps think of a terrible fate for your female character that isn't rape and pregnancy, because that is extremely played out. Sold into slavery, maybe, and eventually fought her way to freedom. Or forced into the service of a particularly nasty deity. Lots of ways you can go with it.
 

Vespertilion

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What's the purpose of the rape backstory? To me, it's often just a lazy way to say "look how brutal and real my world is!" or a shorthand for giving the female character depth/something for the male character to "overcome" in their relationship.

Try reversing the characters--have the man taken and raped, and the woman stabbed and left for dead--and see if it's still integral to the story you want to tell as they're sitting around that campfire. If you balk at that, then I'd wonder why it's in there at all.

Like Andrhia said, there are lots of other terrible fates that can befall separated lovers, and most of those would be more interesting.
 

slhuang

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Has this cliched 'epic fantasy rape' already been done to death?

Yes, IMHO.

I'm just sick of it. Not to mention that nine times out of ten, it comes across as lazy and gratuitous and makes me roll my eyes at the author (and sometimes put down the book). Especially when it seems like its only purpose is to make "the [male] MC react."

Here's a great article that discusses how if you show the rape of women because "gritty" or because "realism," you should also be showing the rape of men: http://sophiamcdougall.com/2013/03/13/the-rape-of-james-bond/

p.s. -- Suggest you add a big ol' trigger warning to your OP, as your post is fairly graphic.
 

Amadan

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To be perfectly honest, the way you dwell on all the sordid details just to raise the issue in this post seems awfully skeevy. How exactly do all those details enhance the narrative? Are you writing a world of rapey grimdark grittiness and that's just the tone you're going for? If so, asking where to draw the line seems beside the point. If not, it's a little weird that you want to tell us in such detail about someone being tied to a tree and raped so long she soils herself, "yadda-yadda," and then ask if you think it's "crossing the line." Crossing what line? The line of narrative necessity? Good taste? Cliche? Self-indulgent wankery? If you are worried that it is, then maybe you should consider what exactly you're trying to accomplish.
 

OJCade

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Honestly, it sounds like it's verging on torture-porn for me - and why is it always, always the woman who's the victim? Why not tie him to the tree, to be raped repeatedly, while the woman escapes? Men are rape victims in real life too, you know.

To be perfectly frank, you described the point where I'd throw the book across the room and stop reading. I'm beyond sick of women being raped as a shortcut for getting an emotional reaction out of the reader. It's lazy and cliched - and it's absolutely bad enough that I - and every other woman - has to worry about sexual assault in real life without getting my nose rubbed in it when reading fantasy as well.

It may be interesting for male fantasy authors to read and write about rape, but trust me, a lot of women have had a gutsful. Go "deepen" some other character.
 

NikiK

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I would not be comfortable reading this. I wasn't very comfortable even reading your post, to be honest.

Neither was I. I had to leave this thread and then come back to it.

You might want to consider your audience, too. I think the current statistics are something like 1 in 4 women have been raped, 1 in 6 men. That's a lot of people who could be turned off by this scene. As a granddaughter, daughter, niece, and aunt of women who have been raped and having been a victim myself, it's not something I would want to read. I get to a scene like that and I stop reading. The book goes into the garbage. How is your target audience going to react if you put that scene in?

May I suggest you read this excellent article by Chuck Wendig, particularly point #15.

As you said, it's become a cliché in fantasy writing. As Andrhia said above, there are many other things you can do to your character to avoid the cliché. It might be harder to work that into your story, but you might end up with a better story because of it.
 

slhuang

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You might want to consider your audience, too. I think the current statistics are something like 1 in 4 women have been raped, 1 in 6 men. That's a lot of people who could be turned off by this scene. As a granddaughter, daughter, niece, and aunt of women who have been raped and having been a victim myself, it's not something I would want to read. I get to a scene like that and I stop reading. The book goes into the garbage. How is your target audience going to react if you put that scene in?

I was going to post again adding this, but NikiK beat me to it. Unlike many horrible things fantasy characters go through, rape is a real, personal trauma to a huge portion of your (potential) audience -- so, so many people have either been a victim of sexual assault or know someone who has, or both. Because of this, if you include rape in your story it should be treated much more seriously and carefully than most authors bother to.

Everybody in this thread is making excellent points, IMO.
 

Roxxsmom

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I think rape, like any other hate crime needs to be treated carefully in fantasy. It is very much a part of the real world, and is something most women fear at least somewhat in their daily lives (and many women have experienced too), and a fantasy world where it does not occur would probably be unrealistic (unless, say, there is a goddess who goes around punishing rapists in some way).

BUT, it is often portrayed as the "go to" trauma for female characters. As if all the myriad of other reasons a person can be messed up, conflicted, traumatized etc. only apply to men. These other reasons are often invoked for male characters, and there is no reason why they can't for female ones.

This is not to say that it can not or should not ever occur in stories. To pretend like it doesn't exist at all could be as much a disservice as using it in a lazy or titillating way.

But there is just so much rape abuse in fiction.

One is the Robert Heinlein approach. A female character is raped and it is just no big deal because she's, you know, sexually liberated and not one of those hysterical females who gets her panties in a wad about silly things like that, though her boss may give her a vacation after. Maybe she even falls in love with her rapist later on in the story!

This article
from Apex sums up some of the most offensive stereotypes.

And if you wonder why many people are squeamish about rape as something that is shown in stories, remember that it's a very violent, terrifying crime where the victim survives. It's not something people want to relive.

And also, there are people walking around out there (maybe sometimes they are our friends, family and co-workers) who have attitudes about rape that range from simply really asinine to truly sinister. I actually ran across a blog (a masculinist manifesto) that states that rape is really not a problem in our society any more (because, you know, adult women are rarely virgins, can abort unwanted pregnancies and pornography makes it so men rarely "need" to rape women anymore) and that most kinds of rape are not "forcible" and so should be decriminalized.

I kid you not!


I thought about linking it, but it might be a trigger for some folks, and I don't want to give hits to a site devoted to such hateful, venomous douchebaggery trying to masquerade as "rational discourse."
 
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Honest Bill

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It seems to me that if all that happened to her, she probably wouldn't be too willing to share all the gory details with her old flame. Just have her say she was held captive and get a bit prickly about the subject. The reader will get what they probably did to her without having to have the details. You don't need to be that specific.
 

Buffysquirrel

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She definitely would not want to share those details. Not unless she could be 100% confident he wouldn't judge her or hold her at fault.
 

rwm4768

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Is there some reason you need to show the details? You can have her tied to the tree, then fade to black. Readers will get the idea of what happened. She also probably wouldn't discuss it.

You need to evaluate why this is so important to your plot. If it isn't important ultimately, but just a way to show the brutality of the world, I'm not sure you need it. Subjects like rape can really turn away a lot of readers.
 

kkbe

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Haven't heard back from the o.p. and may not, it is not a requisite.

I don't write fantasy but I did write a scene in which somebody is raped. I believe it is integral to the story on numerous levels. But I was worried about going too far, crossing the line. I read the o.p.'s post and yeah, it was uncomfortable -edit- I want to reiterate, that's my interpretation.

The o.p. says,
I'm not entirely sure how much of this information she's likely to reveal, and I'm equally unsure how much I should reveal to the reader. At what point are we supposed to draw the line?
Those are valid concerns and that's a valid question, and I can think of a handful of different ways I could have shown what was meant by that without including graphic details.

Then again, some people are hazy on what that line is, or what TMI is. Maybe that's the value of threads like this one, to give writers a sort of compass by which to navigate.

-edit-
 
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veinglory

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Honestly, yes. The cliched fantasy rape involves being tied up by rope, evil mercenaries and slave-like humiliation.

Normally the purpose is to allow the hero to save the woman both literally and by making her able to love again and/or teaching her how to kill all the people that ever hurt her. And I don't think the answer to the cliche is to make the female raped even harder and by more people to keep the shock value. Rape is horrific enough.

If I sound grumpy it is because I am. The rape rescue is the refrigerator woman of fantasy.
 

Chasing the Horizon

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Rape is so overdone in fantasy that it has gone beyond sickening to actually boring for me. The last time I downloaded a couple dozen fantasy samples, no less than 25% had rape IN THE SAMPLE PAGES. Not in the entire work, in the iBooks sample. A lot of it was every bit as graphic and horrible as the OP too.

I think it's ridiculous and boring, not to mention sending a seriously questionable overall message by making rape something that hardly registers because it's so overexposed. Which isn't to say that a rape scene can never work. If you wait until the reader actually cares about the characters (meaning NOT in the first chapter) and make the scene sufficiently different (like by having a male victim) it could still be interesting and fresh. But the OP asked if his scene was overdone, and I'm answering absolutely yes. What he describes is the same dynamic I saw in most of the iBooks samples, only with a tree and extra poop. Offensive to some and not at all interesting to the rest of us.

I did have wicked amounts of fun subverting this in my current WIP, though.
 

katci13

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I wonder what happened to the good old-fashioned "You killed my father, prepare to die" motive to offing the bad guys.
 

rwm4768

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I wonder what happened to the good old-fashioned "You killed my father, prepare to die" motive to offing the bad guys.

I use that one in my fantasy. People say it's too cliched as well. Guess you can't please everyone.
 

G. Applejack

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I don't know your character well enough to say for sure if she would or would not share her experience around a campfire, but as someone else said, the graphic nature of her defecating and urinating on herself as she'd tied to the tree and raped...it edges the line of torture porn.

If so, maybe the reason is that that's the sort of thing which is likely to go on, especially when the land is plagued by bandits. Hell, it happens often today in our enlightened 21st century.

This makes it sound like you've already made up your mind and you're defending the scene. I, like everyone else on this thread, would ask you to seriously reconsider. If I read a scene like that, I wouldn't just throw the book across the room, I would march back to the publisher (even if it was Amazon) and demand a refund.
 

MacAllister

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Liz Bourke has some excellent and linky commentary on the rape trope in fantasy, too.

An observer may therefore venture to suggest that sexual victimisation of men in conflict situations approaches that of sexual victimisation of women in the very same situations. In reality. But not, for some reason, in male-authored epic fantasy. What statistics we have on the (severely underfunded and under-reported) prevalence of male rape in conflict zones today, suggest that in epic fantasy every in-conflict-zone deployment of sexual threat against women should be almost matched by sexual threat against men.

Don't be that guy that just writes about raping women, in grim and excruciating detail. It's done to death, and there's a bigger, much more real story to tell - if you're not too squicked to look at the real numbers.
 

Mr Flibble

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See, now I tried that. Nothing graphic at all, just implication, but I have two characters that are...ok pretty messed up before the story starts. (Almost) everyone assumes the woman got raped and the guy didn't. They should try swapping that around. ;)


ETA: You almost certainly do not need to show this rape (if you need it at all). Really. If you really HAVE to have it, subtle implication will be enough. It will also be better writing
 

Roxxsmom

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I've run across males getting raped (by other males) in fantasy, but yeah, it's portrayed a lot less often than women getting raped. I wonder if some of the concern might be a fear that it could be seen as pathologizing same sex attractions between men or making allegations that these are bad men because they are gay or something (or gay because they are bad). Though most men who rape men are not gay by orientation at all. They are not doing it because they want sex but because they are (surprise surprise) using sex as a tool to punish or humiliate people they want to dehumanize.

Nothing like males raping females at all (sarcasm used here).

No one seems to worry that portraying man against woman rape is pathologizing heterosexual sex or implying that all straight men are rapists.

Of course, if the only same sex contact occurs in a story in the context of rape, then I can see why this concern might be aired. It's like having the only POC in a story being a criminal or the only woman being a ... rape victim.

But either way, I think it's probably best, if the rape is really needed for the story, to have the actual act occur off camera or to do a fade out.

And I would guess that the gal might not tell her male friend the details about what happened, at least not right off and not unless she really, really trusted him. Your world's culture may affect this, but so often, women are seen as being at least partially responsible for what happened to them. And also, in many cultures, women who have been raped are devalued, regarded as "tainted" or "sullied." It's often regarded as a crime against the men in her life (her father, brother, lover, husband) rather than an outrage committed against her.

Depends on your culture, of course, but all these things could make her very reluctant to talk about it. And of course, there's always the very human desire to not relive it and the mistaken belief that bottling it up makes it go away that some people would have anyway.
 

cornflake

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Well, after having a good sleep here in GMT+1, taking the dog out, putting a load in the washer, etc., I log back online to discover my post has stirred up a hornet's nest. That was not my intention, and I apologise for the fact that the majority of you found my post too graphic.

I respect most of the responses here, I even agree with them. I'll address a couple of points I don't agree with later.

Let me make things a little clearer:
1. It was never my intention to write this scene as it happened, only to draw from it through dialogue that occurs a year after the events.
2. As mentioned, it's been a year since it occurred. The MC's friend to whom it happened (avoiding using the 'v' word) has moved on. She's left the free-sword life behind her and is now the captain of a cargo vessel, known and respected by many. She has tried separating her past from her present, but then the MC turns up and, like me with this thread, ends up saying the wrong thing and sticking his foot in it, the response to which is a burst of dialogue from his friend about what happened to her.

Now, to respond to a couple of posts. Firstly, the only comment I took personally was this one by Amadan:
Are you trying to suggest something about me as a person here?

More than one of you also said that what I wrote sounds like torture porn. That of course is your belief, which you're entitled to. My aim is to capture the gritty realism of what would be said about what did happen, not to dwell on every tiny aspect. This is all bursting out of the character's mouth because she's kept it in for so long.

You know, I could have just posted the scene in SF/Fantasy SYW instead of here, but I don't want to waste time polishing something that may not be used. I realise the rape theme is going to touch a nerve with many people, yet so many of you were quick to suggest it would be okay if I reversed it and made my male MC the one to whom it happened. I'm not averse to that, but it isn't what happened to these particular characters.

To those of you who didn't try and insinuate something about me on a personal level, thank you for the input here. I appreciate it. As a result I'll modify the dialogue so that my MC's friend doesn't feel the need to burst forth with a venomous diatribe describing her ordeal to make the MC feel awful. I may have to re-work the back story to change the rape into something else that would make her leave him in the middle of the night several days after he rescued her.

Wait, now you're getting into the question I would've asked but others had.

Why is she describing her ordeal to make him feel awful? If it's because he didn't rescue her or because he'll feel bad he should've 'saved' her, then gah.

If she leaves because of this type of thing and then he tracks her down to make up to her for not saving her and then avenges... double gah. What's with this place this week with the paper-cutout women?
 
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