1. ADreamer
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    ADreamer Banned Sock-Puppet

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    Rape Scene - how graphic is too graphic

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by ADreamer, Oct 20, 2015.

    Generally normal sex scenes have some sort of a guideline in books, unless you're writing more intense erotica and then that's out the window. Ultimately, the standard isn't too graphic - you're not going to read ten pages of sex in most books. Oftentimes I've found sex is sort of presented 2nd hand or left unspoken. As in chapter N closes with the potential and Chapter O opens with the aftermath.

    Now I have been toying with this book [no, not related to the post I made last night about characters] for a while, rolling thoughts and themes around for a bit. And almost always I end up wanting a rape scene very close to the intro of the book.

    My question is, just how graphic can you make a rape scene without making it overbroad.

    And how do you make a rape scene without cliché(ing) the rest of the book. Example let's say wife raped, husband wants revenge would be cliché.
     
  2. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Tricky. It all depends. My WOP has a few rape scenes, some that I describe in graphic detail while others I only suggest - hell , the very first line is a rape scene. For me I focused on the trauma and experience of the MC, but it helps that the novel is in 1st person. I found it important because I couldn't find an effective way to highlight the impact of the experience other than pull the reader through it with her. In 3rd person it may be more difficult because there could be the risk of coming across as vulgar. It also depends on how the rest of the novel is approaching the subject. In one of my favourite short stories, *SPOILER ALERT* Hubert Selby's Tralala, the rape is very graphic, with descriptions of bodily fluids and everything, but the whole story is crude and raw, so the depiction suits the attitude of the whole. If the rest of the story had been clean and nice, then a crass and vulgar description for the rape would come across as exploitation.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2015
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  3. seekparadise
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    seekparadise Member

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    I think it depends on the point of the scene, like any other scene. Like Selbbin said, you'd focus on different things depending on the point of the it, and the tone of the rest of the book. I think there's ways you can get across the cruelty of the act without being hugely explicit. As a reader, I want to hear what happens, with slivers of detail that bring it to life. Don't just hint but don't make it so horrid that I'm not going to even finish the story (?) I hope that helps at all haha.
     
  4. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    At least there's your POV to consider: how graphic an account will s/he or they give? In Sapphire's Push, the rapes are described in first person, and while the scenes are short, they're fairly graphic in the sense that you get a sense of how it started, where they are, and how the protagonist's body reacts. In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, the rape is written from the rapist's point of view. It's more about what he feels rather than a blow-by-blow of how he does it, if I remember correctly. The usual stuff I read about how to write rape is either 1) don't write it at all, because it's a trope 2) don't make it graphic 'cause it's upsetting and exploitative. I wouldn't follow either advice but rather write it the way I think it should be presented in the story. I take into account how I want the reader to feel, what I want to say, and what serves the story the best. If your book is YA, it's basically a given it's not going to be a super graphic blow-by-blow with mentions of bodily fluids, however.

    The only rape scene I've ever written was very short but there were mentions of cloth being torn, a remark on the woman's breasts by another guy who was in the room, the sounds she makes, and a description of the way she fights back. It wasn't from her POV. One rule of thumb I have is that too much detail will bog down the flow, regardless the scene, so I try to focus on what I consider effective and important. I choose words that IMO best convey the action and mood, and pay less attention to what is acceptable or not... Which might be a bad idea, I guess. But at this point, it's not like publishers are fighting over the manuscript, so I'll try to stick to my vision.
     
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  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think the trick is to make it happen CLEARLY from the viewpoint of either the rapist or the victim. Resist the urge to stand aside and describe what you can see happening from a neutral point of view, unless your POV character is a neutral observer. Even then, it's the POV character's thoughts and feelings that should drive the scene, not simply what this person sees or hears.

    If the thoughts and feelings of the characters are what deliver the scene, then I think it will work, no matter how graphic or frank the events of the scene are portrayed. What is going through the mind of a rapist as he commits the crime? What is the victim thinking about? How does the bystander feel? This is much more revealing, but less gratuitous, than a simple recital of he did this, then she did that. How does the act make the POV character feel? That's what's important.

    It's what's important in any scene, really. Which is why I detest this shift towards 'depicting' sexual scenes with—as you aptly described it: chapter N closes with the potential and Chapter O opens with the aftermath. For heaven's sake. What are people afraid of? Are we back to being Victorian again? If the act of sex within a story is as important as it should be, if it matters in the book (and if it doesn't, why put it there?), then bloody hell take us in to it. Let readers experience it along with the characters, as readers would experience ANY OTHER KIND OF IMPORTANT SCENE. Being cutesy-coy and avoiding the whole thing by just hinting at it ...ach, that's just rubbish. And not very mature, either. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more, say no more....gaaahhh.
     
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  6. ADreamer
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    ADreamer Banned Sock-Puppet

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    Thanks for the information, I should have included I never write in 1st person. Always 3rd person.
     
  7. Moth
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    Moth Active Member

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    Honestly, I'd advise you (and anyone else with rape scenes in their stories) to reconsider having them. Not only are rape scenes incredibly over-done and generally frowned down upon by readers, but they're usually done so badly with so little sensitivity that the entire story is overshadowed by it. There are a great many people who will see the rape scene and put the book down for good there and then.

    If you're still adamant about having rape scenes, do not make them graphic. Just knowing that a character you love is having that happen to them is plenty for a visceral response. Adding layers of detail will - more likely as not - make them stop reading.

    Rape is extremely traumatic, enough so that the trauma can stay with someone their entire life and can forever change them. New anxieties, a distrust of people, fear of the opposite gender, simply giving up on life. A character who has suffered the same trauma needs to react the same way as a person would, and that's an extremely dark place to go to. Do a lot of research into victims of sexual abuse and trauma, and all the psychological and emotional issues that come from it. And, whatever you do, do not have them walking around two chapters later like everything is fine and dandy. These type of scars don't heal so quickly and often times never heal at all.
     
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  8. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    As long as they buy it.
     
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  9. Moth
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    Moth Active Member

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    That is a very, very bad mentality to have. If people don't like a book, they won't be telling anyone about it now will they? Nor will they be going back to later books of yours - though you can be sure plenty will give bad reviews and low ratings, ultimately making your job of selling it a whole lot more difficult.

    If you're in this to make money, boy have you chosen the wrong career path. But to each their own. I hope your way works well for you.
     
  10. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Relax. This isn't my first rodeo. That was tongue in cheek.
     
  11. Moth
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    Moth Active Member

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    My bad. Always been bad at picking up irony, sarcasm, and the like - especially in text. Now I feel like a bit of a tit.
     
  12. Adhulari
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    Adhulari Member

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    I was hoping someone would bring this up. I'm currently translating a book from Dutch into English written by another amateur writer and he does exactly this. A woman is raped - or just assaulted, we have a different term for that and he uses them interchangeably (!). The way he described the whole thing and how obvious it was that he had no idea what he was talking about, made my blood boil. I didn't want to confront him about it but I really hope people here don't make the same mistake. Don't write about what you don't understand.
     
  13. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I'm equally bad at expressing it. :)
     
  14. ADreamer
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    ADreamer Banned Sock-Puppet

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    1st - I know quite a bit about rape. Though fortunately never experienced it myself, I do volunteer every second weekend at a woman's shelter. They do talk, particularly to other females and particularly to people that don't judge [I don't judge and due to my military experience I can remain pretty passive with most stuff (I am a very good listener in that sense)... I say that as we have had workers here get overly emotional and that bizarrely enough causes the victims to clam up].

    2nd - I have being weighing the pros and cons of the idea. Rape is, unlike storybook land, typically done by someone the person knows. However, as I don't want the rape to set the story per say, the only logical way of doing it would be a stranger in the bushes with a knife aspect... which is rather cliché.

    I'll probably be leaving it open - I am toying with an idea of just ignoring the rape and looking 9 months down the road and so of the rape is sort of in the background of the story not the foreground.
     
  15. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Where are all of these books with rape in? It's not something I ever thought of as over-done. Maybe it is in genres I don't read a lot of? o_O
     
  16. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I've been reading a lot of Goodreads 1 star reviews - mainly Ya Dystopian, fantasy, sci-fi, apocalyptic and a lot of readers have been complaining about rape or near rape becoming a tired trope. I can sort of see the writer's wanting to put it in - girl, usually alone in a world in chaos - 'easy' prey - guy rescues her. But it's also a 'trope' that can be really badly handled - in one instance someone was complaining that just moments after a near rape the girl started having sex with her rescue-er. Not cool.
     
  17. thatoneauthor
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    thatoneauthor Member

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    I would avoid a rape scene entirely unless is contributes to the story for some reason. What does raping her have to do with anything?
    I suppose if you want one anyone, I'd describe the aftermath in graphic detail, not graphic detail while it's happening. I don't think anyone wants to read that, and they might put your book down because of it...
     
  18. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I got the joke. :)
     
  19. Chinspinner
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    It depends on the purpose of the rape. If it is just a "kick the dog" trick to define the antagonist as a bad person- well, then I would not approve of it in the first place. For me, a rape scene would need to be a major pivotal event in the lives of those involved, with consequences. I agree with @Moth, in this respect.

    I am trying to think of real instances where it was considered too graphic. Didn't Straw Dogs originally have the rape scene cut because it implied the female MC derived pleasure from it? And A Clockwork Orange, because it was just gratuitous (like most of that film- never understood its popularity).
     
  20. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I've unfortunately had male and female friends reveal that they have gone through the experience of either rape or abuse in the past. This has had various consequences, from drug abuse and self harm to shame and embarrassment.

    The background idea seems to be the direction you need, so perhaps this angle could be taken. A revelation of a past event rather having the event take place in the story. How the character opens up about the experience and how they have dealt with it would be very interesting.
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2015
  21. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    That's why it's important to establish the context of the story, so that events like this are of no surprise. However, ugly scenes can work very well in otherwise fun and pretty books.

    Everything is Illuminated
    , while often a dull and rambling book, is generally quirky, funny and charming. It is ultimately a book about love and beauty. However, it has
    a child rape, some graphic murders, and a scene during WW2 where German war-crimes are told in vivid, horrific detail.
    But the book is still hugely successful and popular amongst a mainstream, relatively tame readership.
     
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  22. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    How graphic is too graphic? That is purely subjective and up to the individual reader and the circumstances.

    Though there is certain lines to be drawn in the sand before it just becomes some surreal and otherworldly fantasy. My heroine was raped twice - the latter scene was just so visceral as the entirety was designed to break her will to live. And it was done in front of everyone. Her rapist was a virgin and quickly was overwhelmed by the pleasure and made light of how wonderful it all was before continuing to publicly defile her. Also, not to be dramatic - but men are more often raped in my setting. Females hold power in the setting and men are subservient, but in this case - the heroine was raped by another female.... sorta... it is tough to explain.
     
  23. lisabeth
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    lisabeth Member

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    This is exactly the dilemma i was facing in Cocaine Chronicles when Miguel forces himself on Elizabeth
    1. To show her who really had control of their relationship
    2. To reiterate the point to her that he was in love with her.
     
  24. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Ugh, this whole thing has got me bothered on some level - by forum rules we cannot post such scenes and actually provide the visceral experience. Rape seems to a filler for something - a way to evoke emotion and inflict a selective dose of suffering like a cook adding a pinch of salt to the [character/story] soup. It is supposed to enhance and do something... but what about those cases where it fails to work? Does it not just cheapen it for everyone else?

    Having gathered my thoughts a bit more - rape scenes are supposed to be graphic. They are supposed to make you uncomfortable, make you consider flipping past it, make you set the book down. If an author is going to employ a graphic depiction - it has got to be appropriate, unflinching and well-done. It is must not be wielded as some plot magic that can be flipped on and off as needed. Do not write two-three paragraphs of rape. Do not bounce your POV, become passive, and do not make light of it.

    I much rather vomit in my mouth than see another two paragraph "rape" be the start of a loving relationship or suddenly fix everything.
     
  25. lisabeth
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    lisabeth Member

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    I tried to do mine in a tasteful way without to much graphic but just to get the point off what happened across
     

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