1. Daydream
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    Daydream Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another touchy subject from me...sorry

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Daydream, May 30, 2013.

    I remember reading a while ago that novels which included topics such as incest, underage sex, etc were frowned upon and would have trouble selling because of this. I'm slightly confused by this as I read a lot of fantasy. The amount of incest and underage sex is phenomenal *cough* Game of Thrones *cough*

    Obviously in an example like Game of Thrones it's a part of the story (I won't give anything away but Game of Thrones readers know what I'm talking about). I'm also currently reading a fantasy novel which has a fair amount of incest in it. Sooooo I guess my question is - how bad is it to include something like this? Even if it's a part of the story?

    Thanks and sorry if this is an uncomfortable subject...
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Porn sells, look at the success of "50 Shades". It depends on your target market. While 50 Shades is not incest or underage sex, the dominant-submissive theme isn't exactly in everyone's 'comfort zone'.

    The Color Purple was a best seller. Incest is the main theme.

    Brooke Shield's entrance into the movie scene with "Pretty Baby" was about a kid pimped out by her mother.
     
  3. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    If you are talking about cousins then many societies don't see it as incest. Anyway, incest in fiction is fine as long as it doesn't draw cheap attention to the act itself. In Booker winning "The God of Small Things", the incest between the twin was a depiction of how in the end they had nobody else but each other.
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Incest between varying family members is apparently quite common, and affects a lot of people in a lot of ways. To say you can't write about it? What is freedom all about, if you can't write about something like this?

    In the desire to sell, sell, sell, some publishers get a skewed notion of what actually does sell. They try to stifle creativity and individuality in their writers out of fear (or laziness?) of having to promote something 'new.' They want something just like what they've already published—and you're supposed to angle your query letter in that direction. Insane. If they had their way, nothing new or controversial would ever get printed.

    At a recent book festival I attended, an extremely successful, prolific, best-selling British crime writer said, during his session onstage : "Frankly, most publishers haven't a clue." He went on to say that's why many established authors are now looking at self-publishing, because it gives them control over their work.

    If you can't write the story you want to write, why bother to write at all?

    Subject matter has nothing whatsoever to do with the finished quality of the work. Or, I suspect, its saleability. Just write! I'm sure you'll be fine, if you're true to yourself, and work hard to polish your craft to a high standard.
     
  5. BUDDY GORGEOUS
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    BUDDY GORGEOUS Active Member

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    Killbill-"Anyway, incest in fiction is fine as long as it doesn't draw cheap attention to the act itself."

    Jannert - "If you can't write the story you want to write, why bother to write at all? Subject matter has nothing whatsoever to do with the finished quality of the work "

    I agree with this. I read Donald Ray Pollock short story collection 'knockemstiff'. A fantastic book but it is not for the faint of heart. There is a story that includes a brother banging the sister. Its not 'porn' shall we say but it was a story that included incest as an integral part of the story. I dont like or a condone the subjects but I certainly don't do a Mary Whitehouse and freak over stuff like that. Cant see how books that have these subjects dont sell because there are plenty of them out there that include any form of taboo and illegality under the sun (as has been pointed out, Game of Thrones series for example). Lolita is annother example too that comes to mind. But when it comes to your own writing dont take a razor to your own balls, be true to yourself and write what you want to write only if it is part of the story. Thats how I see it anyway, haha.
     
  6. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    Such controversial subjects shouldn't be restricted just because a few people get a bit miffed about them, but do treat such subjects with respect and not just as titillating entertainment.

    The majority of major (and quite a few minor) publishers aren't interested in anything other than selling product - in this case books. They select based on what sells, not on what's interesting, new, challenging, etc. They often make the mistake of pushing books with controversial subjects treated in a poor manner simply because one book on a controversial subject (probably a pretty good one) does well.

    Actually, come to think of it, they do that pretty much with all books regardless of whether the subject is controversial or not!
     
  7. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    do not listen to what some people say. Incest has been a part of history for a very long time. Ignoring it and hoping it will go away is quite dimwitted. "flowers in the attic" by Virginia Andrews was an amazing story. what I think Buddy was trying to say is that Using incest for erotica is a bad idea. The same goes for detailed underage sex (unless there are important details in those specifics.) rape, incest, molestation; these things are very real. And to ignore them is a disillusionment. It really depends on what context you are writing in. but our part as writers is not only to entertain, but to challenge. good luck.
     
  8. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    I say if it exists in the real world, why should it be shoved under the rug in literature? I've written pieces with graphic scenes of rape, murder, drug and alcohol abuse, racism including all the proper epithets, the list goes on. Just because some people are touchy about these subjects isn't going to keep me from writing about them. My personal preference in fiction is the dark and taboo side of existence, it's what keeps me from going nuts in the real world.
     
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  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hah, I just wrote a blog post about this the other day. Writing about uncomfortable subjects that is. Me and my writing partner T.Trian meddle with uncomfy stuff frequently (also, seconding Alesia here), and those who haven't read any of it, are usually the quickest to scream "fluff! You CAN'T write about unpleasant things, there's no point!" Not here, but there have been a couple of hypocrite-filled forums where the response has been very negative towards more difficult subjects. I don't know, maybe it's a cultural thing too (though, again, I've spoken with published writers who've been under the impression that e.g. the British and Finnish cultures have the same taboos, or that culture one was raised up in bears no significance to the way they conduct themselves or write about things. Sigh.)

    Anyways, I think the writer should write what they are interested in, no fear, go for it, and trust that there will be readers who have read novels like American Psycho and actually understood where the story stemmed from, but of course if the author's goal is to sell, sell, sell then it's probably best to check out what sells right now and then write that.

    If your goal is to portray e.g. a Medieval culture in Europe realistically, it's likely there will be child brides and incest. It's a good idea to ask oneself "why am I depicting a certain thing in a certain way?" If the answer is to titillate the audience, like, write erotica, it might be best to steer clear from depicting in detail how a 12yo loses her virginity to her brother.
     
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  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    just proves you shouldn't believe everything you read...
     
  11. Daydream
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    Daydream Contributing Member Contributor

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    Aha yeah thought so. Was confused why it could be an issue. Still got me a bit paranoid though...

    I agree with everyone though, leaving out real life issues because some people find them wrong is stupid. I was more curious about what people thought on this subject. My novel may deal with incest but I doubt it.
     
  12. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Perhaps the original question was less is it ok to write this? and more am I ok with writing this?

    That's not meant sarcastically. It's a valid question to ask of oneself.
     
  13. Webster
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    Webster Senior Member

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    It depends on how crucial you feel it is to explore these topics. Sure, if I'm feeling dark and depressed I can write some really sick shit. I went through a splatter phase last year, and I thought I was going to become the next mean dog on the street, I thought I was 'extreme' and maybe a little trendy, too. Then I read some of the stuff by established 'masters' of splatter, and I thought: 'Years and years of writing depictions of truly hardcore torture and murder and every other form of nihilism? I'd rather not bother, thanks. See ya later!' And if anyone wants to read the most horrific stuff they're likely to ever read in this lifetime, one name: Edward Lee. Skillfull? Without a doubt. Banal? Certainly, once the frisson of transgression has faded.
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Oedipus Rex.
     
  15. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Or...am I okay with you if I were to write this?

    Another valid question to ask.
     
  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    For me, what holds me back is knowing my parents are gonna read it...
     
  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, totally get that. And I'm nearly 64! And they're dead.

    I think it's not so much what the general public thinks, if you write about controversial topics like incest, its what your close friends and/or family think. There's always that little niggle, you thinking that they're thinking: how does she know about THAT???

    Take it from one who's already crossed that bridge. Do it. Write what you want, and let them get their heads around it in their own time. It's FICTION. It's like writing about robbing a bank. You don't have to do it to write about it.
     
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  18. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    In pieces that I go public with, that still doesn't keep me from writing about the subject. All it really does for me is tone down how graphic I go.
     
  19. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Same here. There's medical experiments, depression, suicidal thoughts, revenge, anxiety, substance abuse, and violence in what I'm writing now. All of which are touchy topics and they all serve the plot and the characters' journeys through the story. Bad things are not necessarily gratuitous. I get pretty frustrated with people who act like it's horrible to write about bad things. I'm not a big fan of writing wish fulfillment stories. I prefer to keep it more true to life. Sometimes people need to be made to feel uncomfortable and think about tough subjects.

    Agreed.

    That's what pen names are for. I used to let what those who are close to me stifle what I wrote about and it was all very stiff and awful and I hated it. Now I actually love what I'm writing.

    Haha very true. Also good advice and I agree.

    Like I said above your writing can be extremely stifled if you let how others may react dictate how you write or what you write about. You don't have to necessarily have intimate experience with a topic to write about it. We all have dark places within ourselves and that's normal. For me writing about darker subject matter time to time is an outlet for the wounds in my heart and mind. Sometimes you have to let things out so they don't eat you up from the inside out.
     
  20. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's nought wrong with writing 'touchy subjects' as long as you do them properly. I've seen dozens of new writers try to be 'edgy' with graphic scenes of violence, sex, and sexual assault when their only experience of these things comes from family dramas, Crimewatch, or their own culturally-ingrained misconceptions. Needless to say, it ends up either hilarious or downright offensive, or both. It's worst when a new writer unfamiliar with the concept of 'research' attempts to tackle 'insanity.' If it's not a cheap get-out-of-plot-holes free card, it's a you-should-show-sympathy-towards-this-character card, or wow-look-this-character's-nuts-and-is-supposed-to-be-feared card.
     
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  21. Webster
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    Webster Senior Member

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    An aphorism I enjoy (can't recall who said it) is: 'If a work of art is depressing, it's evil.' I don't slavishly hold to that. If that were true, where would that leave 'The Road?' It's relentlessly dark, but I feel elevated whilst reading it. Perhaps because I have more of an understanding of it, after several readings.

    What I found shocking most recently was the movie of Hunger Games. That may sound bizarre... Yeah, it's YA movie, but the violence was just so sexed up and glossy, intended to push the buttons of a target audience already going through enough hormonal chaos. It's a matter of perspective, sure, but it's also, as mentioned in an above post, a matter of research, of sane, intellectual enquiry.

    I'd prefer not to write anything violent at all. But it comes out, and it's cathartic and a little gleeful, too. I've gotta be honest about that. This subject is an absolute rabbit hole. I will now stop. For now.
     
  22. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It is, but it's an entertaining rabbit hole.

    As an example of a successful author who dove deep into this realm, Samual R. Delaney was never one to shy away from the carnal. Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand, a perennial favorite of mine, puts sexuality on display, center stage, heterosexual, homosexual, and interspecies (and we're not talking Star Trek forehead-appliance alien/humans). It's not gratuitous in that the story takes a sharp look at gender roles, sexuality, and race as cultural paradigms, but don't think that Delaney places sexuality on a literary pedestal. He went through a period where his work was deeply pornographic by his own description. Two of the novels from that period, written in the early 70's, were so scandalous in their portrayal of taboo sex (incest, pedophilia, sex slavery) they only recently saw publication in 1995 and 2004.
     
  23. Webster
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    Webster Senior Member

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    I just couldn't get into his work. I wanted to love Dhalgren, but it didn't happen. I do recognise he's up there with Wolfe as part of that select group of sf writers whom the world should know about, yet doesn't, but he broke my head not even 50 pages in.
     
  24. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Can you give examples of how this shows in a new writer's writing? The story T and I are working on now contains a character who's based on real people, and she's at times so freakin' self-destructive and off the wall that I sometimes wonder -- if anyone ever ends up reading that story apart from beta-readers -- will the readers just go "this is ridiculous!"

    This is probably the case with many writers (including moi), and it's remarkable how writing it all out can help. Funny though, if I'm having a super depressing day (Ă  la I've run out of anti-deps or forgotten to take em in which case the head gets a bit more delicate than usual) I can't write, read or watch anything dark. My hubbie is the same, and we've often ended up having a cartoon binge.
     
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  25. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    killbill makes a good point about cousins and incest. It's really only in the USA that cousin relationships are considered incest, and possibly China if I remember correctly. It's perfectly legal to marry a cousin in the UK, and very common in many countries worldwide. However, if your market is the US maybe you should be aware it's taboo. I didn't know this until recently, and it causes problems when you write historical novels because cousin marriage was so usual in England--Charles Darwin's wife was his 1st cousin, for example.

    Just remember that any sex, violence etc should be necessary for the story and not gratuitous, and don't force yourself if it doesn't come naturally to you--it will be obvious that you are uncomfortable.

    I've noticed new writers often become rather emo and autobiographical, so their writing loses direction and becomes interesting only to them. Then they don't understand why no one wants it.
     

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