1. iambrad
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    iambrad Member

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    rewriting controversial themes

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by iambrad, Oct 27, 2010.

    I have a story I wrote when I was in high school that I've decided was actually very good and I want to go back and rewrite and refine it.

    The problem I have is that the story is one that is great to write when you are 18 or so, and even then you look up during the reading expecting to be stopped at any moment by the instructor. It's not especially graphic, but, even though it is rather short, the subject matter is a bit taboo. I was a huge Anne Rice fan at the time if that gives any clarity.

    I want to remove it, but it is so entwined in the story that I am having a hard time figuring out how to do it. It is the central turning point for the protagonist.

    If you were in this spot, what would you do? Would you forge ahead with it hoping the readers would realize it is just fiction and accept it as that, or would you work to find an alternative? Would you just scrap it altogether?
     
  2. cmcpress
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    cmcpress Senior Member

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    taboos are social fictions.

    Seriously though if you have written a story that features a taboo then continue to write it if it's integral to the plot.
     
  3. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    What is it that is taboo?
     
  4. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you're not comfortable writing about this particular thing, don't write about it if you don't want to. However, if you're fine with it, why would you want to remove it? Fear that it'd reflect badly on you?

    Bear in mind that every so-called taboo has already been breached. We no longer live in the days of obscenity trials when explicit material is published (I'm thinking Lady Chatterley's Lover here). Violence can be extreme; language can turn the air around the book blue. Don't let the fact a subject is a little controversial put you off. If we didn't approach controversial subjects then we'd all end up living in a sanitised - and very boring - world.
     
  5. iambrad
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    iambrad Member

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    The taboo is one of those things that we are not allowed to discuss on this site.

    The scene, while not violent or abusive in the least, is meant to be very animalistic and base. Regardless of what it is though, the problem is one that I'm sure many people have faced. I wonder if Anthony Burgess ever had this problem.
     
  6. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    Stop dancing around the issue. I doubt that our esteemed moderators would pull a thread for someone mentioning something he wants to write. If you're pulling out the excuses now, then you're probably not ready to write this scene.
     
  7. iambrad
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    iambrad Member

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    That's just it. The scene is written and done. The entire story is. I wrote this over 15 years ago.

    I'm more concerned with seeing how people feel about including themes that they find to be outside of their comfort zone than I am in finding acceptance for what I have written. The specifics will vary from case to case, but there must be more people that have faced this.
     
  8. cmcpress
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    cmcpress Senior Member

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    It all depends on context. If you're writing a graphic scene which glorifies something like Rape or incest then people will be offended.

    If you're writing something which shows the damage these cause then people may view this in a more favorable light.

    It's not the subject matter per se - it's how you write about it that counts.
     
  9. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Don't be ridiculous. Of course you can say what it is.
     
  10. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Some of the most acclaimed artists, writers, directors, musicians, etc, etc, etc, have made their reputations on work that deals openly with what many may consider taboo, or at least subversive. Pedophilia, incest, murder, rape, torture, war, graphic sex, violence, offensive language...all of these things can be found in any number of critically acclaimed, best selling, canonical works. People who want to be offended will be offended. The rest of us will accept fiction for what it is and go on with our lives. But regardless, if it's something you want to write, there is no reason at all not to write it.
     
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  11. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you fear being criticized and have people disagreeing with you, then you should write about puppies, kittens and knitting and other non offensive things.

    If you got a good story that in some way might upset someone and you feel:
    "Damn, this is a good story, I want to tell it, the whole world might not like it and some might even find it offensive, but i want to tell the story anyway",
    then you tell that story, pulling no punches and face the reactions you get, for good and bad.
     
  12. iambrad
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    iambrad Member

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    If you say so. I'm just trying to stick by the rules, but since you are a moderator.....

    In essence it is a story about a girl whose parents were killed by wolves when she was a young child. She is now a normal, well adjusted, adult.

    During the course of the story she notices an older man stalking her. He just seems to always be watching from a distance, but something about him is alluring to her. They finally meet, and as they both succumb to their carnal urges she realizes that this is her father, and gives herself completely to him. That is the moment where her transformation first happens.

    The sexuality and arousal is every bit as key to the moment as ignoring the morality of it all and just giving in to basic animal instincts. He already knows what he is and has long ago given up the morals we hold. She is just seeing what she is, and embracing that lack of morality is central to the story.

    It's sort of taking the incestuous nature of vampire myths and applying them to a modern werewolf story.

    Of course, none of this is really important to my original question, but you asked.

    This may sound arrogant, but I approach things as if everything I do will be the thing that I become known for. I'm not worried about people scoffing at a single story, or even casting stones at me. What concerns me is, what if this does get recognition, and forever after I have to live under that shadow. Is this really a first impression I want to make?
     
  13. cmcpress
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    cmcpress Senior Member

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    So a gender reversed Oedipus with Werewolves then?
     
  14. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well. There is a simple solution. Write the story, and don't publish it. Or write the story and publish it in a context were it fits like horror story collection or ezine.

    Most writer have written a broad spectrum of different stories as this is a part of the learning process. It's normal and natural. No writer becomes an over night success story, really, and of you keep writing loads of other stuff to it very unlikely it will brand you forever.
     
  15. iambrad
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    iambrad Member

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    I hadn't thought about it that way, but that seems fairly appropriate.

    My trepidation lies in the fact that when I wrote this I was closer to the age of the girl (younger even), and now as I rewrite it I am approaching the age of the father. When I first wrote it I never gave the situation a second thought, but now that I am older I have to wonder how it will be received.
     
  16. cmcpress
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    cmcpress Senior Member

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    Well i don't think it hurt Aeschylus, Sophocles or Euriprides in any way.

    But it all hinges on how you tell the story and what the fate of the characters is.
     
  17. Axo Non Roadkill
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    Axo Non Roadkill Member

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    Why if you like what you wrote, keep it. You compared it to something Anne Rice did. Here you have it, her controversial stuff sells like water in the desert. So long as no laws are broken and whatever you write is victimless, there are no actual taboos on the book market (except sparkling vampires).

    I wrote a yet unpublished novel that had many good comments from critics and beta-readers who are not my friends. And you know what? Those people are Germans and one thing Germans cannot deal with, is Holocaust humor. And my book, as it's set in Israel and has one very mean character, is full of Jew jokes, Auschwitz jokes, comparisons of Hamas children to the Hitlerjugend etc. And all my readers but one, loved it. Germans who can't usually deal with Holocaust jokes, taboo number 1 in Germany, LOVED it.
    I'm writing another about prostitution and a male hooker is the central character. He's a beat-me-up brat who's described to look way younger than his age (20). He gets beat up and beats up others, his customers are male, and as it's set in northern Brussels, I can't help but slam the many criminal or poorly integrated Arabic immigrants. Also, the pimp's description fits Marc Dutroux.
    ...people LOVE it. Okay, I don't know how many Belgians have read the story in its current form, probably none since it's in German and published on a German platform (before, I was pretending to be that character, leading that life, on a Belgian social network, and people fell for it and drama ensued). If those from the social network were to learn they've been played, they'd probably hate it and murder me, but hey...

    As w176 said, if you want to please everyone, write about boring stuff. But who wants to read that except 5-year-olds?

    Of course, you may want to do a "competence check": Make sure you didn't write bull. For example if you were writing about sexual practices that you have never tried yourself, research how they are really done before you ridicule yourself. Same goes for sleeping pill suicide. Write about it! But first check if the dose and the name of the pills you picked for your story, is appropriate. Hitler didn't perform experiments on humans, Mengele did.
    Taboo topics tend to utterly ridicule a piece of writing if poorly researched and depicted. Being daring never looks good when it's obvious that the author isn't educated on the matter. If he is however, it can be impressive.
     
  18. cmcpress
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    cmcpress Senior Member

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    Taboo jokes are usually the funniest. I know many young germans from having DJ'd in Berlin and they like to laugh about Hilter and WWII as much as the young Brits and Americans do.

    I even dropped the theme tune to Dad's Army at the end of one of my set's and the people who were the most offended were the English (because some of them viewed it as insulting your host). The Germans all thought it was good fun because they feel the disconnect that they personally weren't responsible for one of the greatest atrocities in history and they can see the ludicrousness of Hilter adoration.

    For older Germans - of that generation - it's a source of shame, and justifiably so as they, in part, whether through action or inaction, bear some responsiblity.

    It's not funny when a child killer laughs about killing a child.

    However i would say that it all depends on how it's done. Referring to "hamas children as Hitler Youth" by a bigoted Israeli as it could show their complete disconnect between the comparisons of Israel's war against the palestinans. And also the ignorance about the dodgy deals that were made during the formation of the state of Israel - bribes, backroom deals, dodgy money passing hands.

    (Just for the record i am neither pro or anti israel - i'm pro human regardless of what badge one chooses foist on oneself).

    Sick jokes and bad taste jokes usually work the best when the underlying subtext is against what is said - which is why Family Guy usually works so well - it's pretty clear it's a liberal comedy making fun of those attitudes.

    Sick jokes simply to offend or worse, because you mean them, are pretty reprehensible really. Which is why it's not funny when a bully makes fun of a weak child.
     
  19. Jones6192
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    I've always wanted to write a novel exploring such taboo subjects as incest as well, purely just to experiment with how good I am at that sort of drama and tension. So I think it's OK for you to continue with what you got, as long as you make sure the story doesn't actually promote the taboo. You could make it a cautionary tale, as I would. But, of course, you don't have to listen to me if you don't want. I'm not trying to take over your idea or anything.
     
  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that says it all. In fact, if you tell it well enough you might even be able to do away with "what the fate of the characters is", although if you manage to get away with paedophile incest leading to a positive outcome it would be a spectacularly impressive feat of storytelling.
     
  21. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    That doesn't sound too controversial. Some people will take offense, of course, but I don't think it's in the same ballbark as Nabokov's Lolita, for example.

    That is a risk. Even if you become reasonably well-known through one story, a later story may overshadow that. You never know for sure what you will be remembered for.

    I would just make sure the kinky stuff is essential to the characterisation or storyline so it doesn't seem gratuitous.

    BTW, Arthur C. Clarke's and Gentry Lee's The Garden of Rama had incest between a young teenage girl and her grandfather, and it seems to have gotten away with it pretty well. I have to admit I found the scenes unnecessary and stopped reading after half the book, though.
     
  22. cmcpress
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    cmcpress Senior Member

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    I am lead to believe, though i do not wish to know for certain, that there are whole areas of the internet dedicated to just such a premise.
     
  23. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it has to be relegated to those corners of the internet that we prefer not to know about, I wouldn't call it getting away with it.
     
  24. Axo Non Roadkill
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    Axo Non Roadkill Member

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    In Tamara Drewe (movie), one writer told the other that he doesn't envy someone who fantasizes about rape and murder all day (that what the insulted writer wrote about). True, our minds must be seriously in the gutter for me to write about forced gay prostitution and for you to write about incest, as of course, we need to be fantasizing about it in order to come up with it all.
    On the other hand, other people may just be more discrete about their own twisted mind ;)
     
  25. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Why do you need to fantasise about rape in order to write about it? Writing about something and desiring something yourself are not the same thing, especially when it comes to taboo subjects like rape and incest. That separation between author and text is the reason people can write about things like that without the police(/lynch mobs) knocking at their door.
     

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