1. General Daedalus
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    General Daedalus Active Member

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    How offensive is too offensive?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by General Daedalus, Sep 2, 2015.

    In terms of publishing, how offensive is too offensive? With excessive profanity, sex, narcotics and other vices, do publishers have limits? Are there points at which you can cross the line, even if it is intended to be controversial? How about certain words- any specific vocabulary you would advise against using at all?
     
  2. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    There is something for everyone, so I don't think you should worry about this. Write for yourself and your audience, not your potential publisher.
     
  3. Mordred85
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    Mordred85 Active Member

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    As long as you are taking sole responsibility for what you're saying, I'm sure they won't care. Controversy sells.
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's all reader dependent. As for publishers, you can find some really sick stuff out there in terms of gore and sexual violence among established traditional publishers.
     
  5. wellthatsnice
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    wellthatsnice Active Member

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    A publisher paid big money for the Motley Crue Bio. 50 shades of grey is all about bondage and sex...i would say if they think people will read it, a publisher will buy it.
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, and there is stuff in the horror genre that make 50 Shades look like a Disney project, and that's coming from established publishers like Dorchester's horror imprint.
     
  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I never know how to respond to questions like this because I'm not sure how violent, how excessive your talking about. Or what your going for - your best bet is to find an already published book most what your going for and check out the publisher.

    I have noticed though looking at some Goodreads and Amazon reviews - readers will tolerate a lot of crap ( excessive violence & language ) but sometimes the dumbest comment can be your undoing. On another site a writer self published a book and the readers tanked it because of some comments about women.

    Execution of the idea will be key.
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    By way of example, I'll present "The Freakshow," by Bryan Smith:

    http://www.dreamworldbooks.com/2012/02/freakshow-by-bryan-smith.html

    One of the one-star reviews on Amazon says "It has a thin plot filled with bizarre acts of perversion. Don't get me wrong; I'm not a prude but this book was absolutely disgusting. It was so bad that I stopped reading it which is something I rarely do."

    This book was published by Dorchester's horror imprint. I should note it has more 5 star Amazon reviews than 4 star ones, but I thought it was crap. If you can get a decent-sized traditional publisher to publisher The Freakshow, I'm not sure anything can be considered too far beyond the pale or too offensive, so I wouldn't worry about it.
     
  9. General Daedalus
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    General Daedalus Active Member

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    Thanks for all of the responses, they've been really helpful for me. My work is certainly not gory or graphic, but it deals with a ton of social issues from racism and chauvinism to the struggle between capitalism and communism, and because of that I think some people could be a little "touchy" about it. It's set in the sixties, which makes it less current and less likely to be ripped apart for inappropriate messages, but the protagonist is a womanising, drug-addicted alcoholic with a flourishing gambling problem (which makes a lot more sense in context, I haven't just given him a bunch of problems for the sake of it). It touches on slavery, racism in the deep South and so on but some parts will most definitely offend some people. I'm going to get in touch with some literary agents once I'm ready and see what their thoughts are.
     
  10. wellthatsnice
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    wellthatsnice Active Member

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    even really mainstream books. Stephen Kings "IT" has a multi page child gangbang. Now its written a bit more romantically than that...but a rose is a rose no matter what you call it.
     
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  11. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    So many different sides to this.

    Me personally: As long as the material isn't misleading people in a way that is causing them to inflict pain on another, something that would otherwise not happened. I think it is fine. People can be pissy. Actually look hard enough and I bet everyone is offended by something.

    Publisher: It is a business. So if it can make money? Sure. Though this means they are tied to a general audience. Because general audiences is what well buys stuff. So since a general audience doesn't really accept rape as a positive. I doubt a publisher is really going to side with you if you are going in that direction.

    General Audience: We are smarter than we get credit for. Offensive to be offensive is insulting. Have a point. Don't show me something bad just to get a "Gasp" out of me. Because the gasp will fade and then I will forget about you. Give me something that makes me think after the fact. Because that is going to be what allows your material to last.
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I checked out The Poisoned Pen submission page once, and they had a list of things that, were they to find it in your manuscript, would cause them to chuck your work down the trash.

    Got it from here: http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/submissions/
    The point I'm making is that while you can write almost anything you want, some publishing companies like The Poisoned Pen Press will have very strict guidelines on what they will not tolerate. In short, all that stuff they listed? They find them so offensive that they won't even think about publishing manuscripts that contain them.

    As for the general population? Eh, it varies on tastes. What may be no big deal to one person would be obscenely offensive to others. The whole sub-plot of Jay Lake's first book Green is about how the titular character was sold into slavery at age five, and spent her entire childhood being horrifically abused by Mistress Tirelle of the Factor's House. I actually skipped the series all together because reading about child abuse and children being tortured is a no go to me. It's one thing if it happened in the past, like it was the backstory and we only get brief mentions of it, but I don't want to read about a five year old being force-fed ash and then beaten by a sand-filled cloth for God's sake!!!

    In short, it varies for the general population. Some could read the book with ease because they like the whole ‘oppressed underdog who fights for his/her freedom’ thing. Others, like me, won't even get near it.
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2015
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  13. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    My guess is that if there's a story to be told somewhere among all the offensiveness and it's worth reading, it's not going to be a problem. :)
     
  14. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Jack Kilborn and similar authors make a big thing about their self-published books having been rejected by publishers for being too extreme or gorey. I downloaded an anthology consisting purely of rejected short stories, with the publishers' letters saying exactly why. ;) Of course, this is a marketing tool for them so I took it with a pinch of salt.

    I think @No-Name Slob hit the nail on the head. Write the story you want to write and if it's published, that's a bonus.
     
  15. tanger32au
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    tanger32au Member

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    I say you should go for it and see how you go :)
     
  16. DueNorth
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    DueNorth Active Member

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    I am not a fan of gratuitous violence or vulgarity. However, I do think that sometimes descriptions of violence or vulgar language by characters befit the story. I recently read (and loved) Where All The Light Tends To Go by David Joy, which would be considered to be in the genre of "grit lit" or otherwise known as "rough southern lit" and depicts some hard living in the rural southern U.S. with a family that evolved the family business from running moonshine to growing weed to dealing meth. Wouldn't have been a story without the violence and crude language, but it was not out of place in the setting or out of the mouths of the characters. But this story was about the boy who grew up in this family and getting caught up in it--wanting to get out--the story wasn't just a vehicle to display vulgarity and violence. It is all relative--violence for the sake of violence might sell just as sex for the sake of sex sells, but in my opinion, that ain't art, it's pornography. (And I do think folks should have access to porn if they want it.)
     
  17. Kata_Misashi
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    Kata_Misashi Active Member

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    I think I've been either watching anime/the internet/porn for too long to really take surprise of 'offensive material'. That's just me. Take the Hollywood actors and gruesome videos of today (Kanye West and Mortal Kombat; I'm looking at you two) as some say 'Bad publicity is still publicity'. Story writing wise I say don't be a afraid to dig deep in the dirty underworks of society (As long what GuardianWynn said in her personal view: That it doesn't cause people to hurt others or themselves.). The world is a dark place and for each dark act that takes place... 'there's a name for it'...
    Just my two cents... forgive me if my views seem rather cynical. :supercool:
     
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  18. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @General Daedalus

    Look at the Hostel Trilogy-Enough said when it comes to no real story and mindless torture, drugs/booze, and sex. (One theory is that it was trying to show what those who know about 'Red Rooms' on the deep web are all about. But it is just a theory, seeing as people can have equally morbid imaginations with out ever knowing about such realities that do exist.)

    If you think you're brave enough try watching The Girl Next Door. It is based around a true story from a book of the same name. I don't care how morbid you are, that movie will really test you as a person mentally. Not for the weak stomached, as it is really disturbing what happens to the poor teenage girl through out the movie. (It really got to me on many levels, and had some personal emotional sympathy/empathy for the poor girl. Not going to lie I cried for a few reasons.)

    There are a few examples of some well known disturbing pieces that are in the mainstream. I say skip the Hostel thing as it is really a bit over the top. I however implore you to watch The Girl Next Door, to gain a sense of a more 'Disturbing Situation'. Also check out the book The Child Called It. It is a true horror story of a young boy being abused severely by an alcoholic single mother of three. Those should give you some insight in to a look at the real horrors that take place right under our noses. Makes you search your own soul, and draw limits (at least for me) on just how sick and depraved one will ever let their imagination get.
     
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  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @Cave Troll that was written by Jack Ketchum, and he has a knack for the disturbing across quite a few of his novels.
     
  20. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Totally agree with @Cave Troll. I've seen them all, from A Serbian Film to August Underground and The Girl Next Door is still one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen. It's stayed with me through the years.
     
  21. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't speak for publishers, but the only word I've ever gotten major, major pushback on using at all is the c-word (note I'm not writing it out). I drop a good amount of f-bombs and nobody cares - although you can use profanity as a crutch and I think there is a saturation point where people realize that you're doing it on purpose and it throws them out of the story. That said, if the character uses constant profanity as a crutch - that's different (I have one of those), but I wouldn't throw more than one or two of those people in.

    In terms of overall reader experience - that's a question for readers. Get people to read your book who are used to lots of vice and profanity in their fiction, and if they're fine, run with it. If they think it's overdone and doesn't work for them, throw it out. Obviously, don't run it through the type of people who "don't read that sort of thing" and think profanity is gross - not because they're not smart but because they're not your target audience.

    Also - since I led with this - the c-word is still in my text despite the reaction I got. It's only there once, and it's only going to be there once - but I need it there. The character who says it uses profanity as a crutch, and she realizes that she's lost the capacity to shock people because of that, so she has to reach for something so strong that even she normally doesn't say it.
     
  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My mother returns Kindle books all the time because "there was too much swearing." I've still got 71 fucks in mine. :D
     
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  23. DueNorth
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    DueNorth Active Member

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    Now that is f 'ing amazing, Tenderiser, that you know precisely how many f-bombs you have typed into your novel to date--guess your mum did have an impact on you, now didn't she? :)
     
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  24. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hehe. I'm afraid I haven't been keeping a tally - I did a quick Ctrl+F (appropriate, huh?) in Word to find out. 71 does seem quite a lot!
     
  25. General Daedalus
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    General Daedalus Active Member

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    Aww, I only have 65 so far (at about 40k words into the novel) :(
     

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