1. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    Transgression in fiction

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by AlcoholicWolf, May 1, 2015.

    I'm the type of person who... doesn't have a similar psychological wiring to other people. What some people think of as morally outrageous, I will often not hold an opinion on. Some things are bad, yes, but I tend not to get emotional about them. Unless it is animal cruelty!

    I actually get incredibly fascinated by deviance, and I think certain human behaviours have to be studied in order to further understand them. I also think writers have a responsibility to bring certain issues forward so that others are made to contemplate them.

    There have been plenty of transgressive films and books out there which have shocked and outraged society; it's nothing new. Just look at A Clockwork Orange, Fight Club, American Psycho, The Wasp Factory. In fact, I'm going to see a play tonight called "Sodom" which, as you can probably tell from the title, is not going to be for the faint of heart or young of age!

    My stories touch on a lot of taboos and themes that disturb and upset. The probable reason I am fascinated in them is that they are so forbidden, that they evoke such disgust they must be hidden. It makes it more exciting to study them. Things such as murder, obviously, but also child abuse, the horrific mutations that occur as a result of consanguineous relations, cannibalism, deviant sexual interests (including sexual interests outside of humans) and death.

    My question to put to the floor is this: how far is too far? Do you write about social taboos, and if so what do you think is the best way you to go about it. Obviously, sensitivity is key. And if you avoid social taboos, what is your reasoning for that?
     
  2. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    I'm a big fan of authors like Chuck Palahniuk and probably the majority of my favourite books are within the transgressive category. I'm very new to writing but I prefer not to shy away from taboo subject matter. I think you can take it as far as you need to go with regards to disturbing and upsetting themes but within two boundaries; you have to handle it sensitively and it must, must, must be relevant to the plot. I've got a couple of things and a couple of lines in my story so far where i've thought to myself "yikes is this too far?" I just picture people I know reading it and thinking "God you're sick" but i've decided to keep them as they are (for now) because they are realistic and in reality the world isn't a nice place sometimes. I think it's all about getting the right balance between drama and depravity.

    Have you read a book called Burnt Tongues?. They handle a lot of taboo subject matter, it's shocking to read but at the same time it gets you turning the page to see how on earth it will end. The one that probably shocked me the most was a story called 'Heavier Petting' by Brien Piechos. I would definately recommend it if you're in to transgressive fiction if you haven't already read it that is!
     
  3. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you can sit through Pasolini's Salò and eat all the pop-corns... :D
     
  4. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    I heard about the book Burnt Tongues @Shbooblie. Haven't actually read it, but read about it. lol. I should look into getting a copy, although now you have me apprehensive about it. Are they the kind of stories that will sit in my mind forever and disturb me for the rest of my life? Because, I don't know... Oh, whatever, I'll read it anyway. I'll just have to read something really happy and fluffy afterward to balance out my head. :D

    How far is too far? Go as far as you like. As long as your reader knows ahead of time that this might be something they find offensive or disturbing, then it's their choice to read it. I don't feel like a writer should have to censor themselves just because other people don't like the topic. Although a heads up about the content is always appreciated. After that, it's the reader's choice.

    For example, I don't read books about child abuse. I read A Child Called It a long time ago. Now I'm done. I don't even like to hear about child abuse because I once heard a story about someone who microwaved their toddler. Now I run in the other direction whenever anyone starts telling such stories because I know I don't handle them well. They haunt me. They leave me feeling completely hopeless about everything, and I'm incapable of understanding how anyone could do such things. I sit around thinking about it and worrying about it and crying about it, so I decided a long time ago it's best for my psychological well being if I limit my exposure to such topics. I'm not sticking my head in the sand about child abuse. It's more like recognizing that me being deeply disturbed over the topic isn't actually helping anyone.

    The same is true for animal abuse. (And why do so many dogs have to die in horror movies? Can that stop happening? Just kill the people please. :p I like horror movies but get oddly disturbed when the dogs die which is probably exactly why it keeps happening... )

    Most people figure out pretty early what they can handle and what they can't. And some people want to read the things they "can't handle", things that disturb them and push their buttons, for a myriad of reasons that I won't go into.

    As for your other question, do I write it? Yes. I actually just started a new novel which is the most taboo of anything I've ever written. It's so taboo that I can't imagine ever publishing it which is part of the reason I started it. I get paralyzed by fear at the thought of publishing things which I think is causing me to never finish what I start. Writing about something I know won't be published has freed up some creativity in me. I don't have to worry about what readers will think. I can go as far with it as I want and do whatever I want, in ways, I guess, I didn't feel like I could before. So that's how I go about it, and I will be the first to tell you, that's probably not how you should go about it. Deciding ahead of time never to publish it is not at all the best tactic. lol. It's cowardly, but it does stop you from wondering what your grandmother might think.
     
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  5. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    Your novel sounds like something I would like to read @BookLover

    To quote Chuck Palahniuk on Burnt Tongues: "The worst thing you could do is read this book and instantly enjoy every word. This book...I hope you gag on a few words - more than a few. May some of the stories scar and trouble you."
    So yeah there's that. Saying that though I really did enjoy the stories, they were certainly different. I don't think they are as disturbing as you're thinking though, but saying that I think I have a high tolerance for things like that and only certain subjects will seriously affect me. One story to avoid though is 'Charlie', all I'll say is it's about a cat and I was nearly in tears reading it in the canteen at work!

    When I was reading tips on how to start writing, someone said to write as if your mother will never read your work which is what you seem to be doing. You could always adopt a pen name @BookLover :)
     
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  6. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    I have three writing projects on the go, each one is quite dark, and I hve written a number of scenes which I may have to edit out. I think a publisher would be happy printing them, and I don't think it is half as shocking as what is on TV etc, but in the back of my mind is a nagging voice that asks the question ' what would my mum think of this?'

    Project 1: serial killer/ general bad behaviour
    Project 2: sexual abuse (I can't bring myself to write this but I know the story is really worth continuing with)
    Project 3: zombies

    Chuck is one of my favourite authors, 'rant' is a masterpiece.
     
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  7. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is a difficult question, to be honest. I'm not sure where I draw the line. I hate animal cruelty, and pedos and rapists are never shown in a sympathetic light in my and my writing partner's (@T.Trian here) work. Other than that... it's quite dark in places. Our WIP started with the premise of darkness of space, pretty much, and at this point only one beta reader has finished it (can't be a good sign!), and he compared the ending to a black hole. There's one scene we're super nervous about and there's one character that has the potential of making readers put the book down, at least according to a poll we once ran here on the forum. We also ended up writing quite a lot about prostitution (and human trafficking). It's an ugly, depressing world.

    I can understand many people -- most people? -- can't see the appeal in such darkness. To me it's almost therapeutic. For example, I never get triggered from depictions of rape. I get annoyed and angry if it's shown naively or gratuitously; I just want to scream at the writer "have you ever been fucking raped??"

    I just feel like some stories have to be told, no matter how dark, to show that this shit happens and how it affects the people who go through it.

    You should tell your stories if they inspire and fascinate you. You'll find readers, I'm sure.
     
  8. VirtuallyRealistic
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    VirtuallyRealistic Active Member

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    Nothing should be off-limits to a writer. However, including disturbing or taboo scenes just for the shock factor is where I'd draw the line. These things should only be included if they are relevant to the plot.

    I haven't read It by Steven King, but I've heard the ending spoke about. If you plan to read it, stop reading this post now.

    I may be mistaken since I haven't read the book, but the 11 year-old gang rape at the end sounds unnecessary to the story. I feel like it was only included as an additional shock to the reader. I personally think this is wrong, and shouldn't be done.
     
  9. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    When I read Cujo, I felt nothing but pain. There was nothing redeeming about the story. It was just a tale about a sick dog. And a lot of crap about cereal. And anyone who has ever had or loved their child will find it distressing.

    I at least have to have my tale tinged with hope. Yes, most of my heroes die at the end. But it was a sacrifice worth making - the evil has been ended.
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Depends on what you feel comfortable with. I personally don't like stories when the elderly, children, or animals are being threaten/killed so I don't write them.

    True, nothing should be off limits yet some would rather not get themselves ass deep into a very sensitive subject they either know very little about/are not comfortable with. However if you're going to do it, put some meaning into it; don't do it for the shock factor.
     
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  11. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm glad you said this, Link. I think there was a trend for a short while in fantasy to make it really gritty. While I was for the most part really happy about this 'cause I connect better with more realistic fantasy stories (yeah, yeah, it's paradoxical), it was slightly jarring when I thought I noticed the author was ass-deep in the mire but didn't seem to know how to handle it. Specifically in terms of violence. I admit, I'm a nit-picker in that regard and I don't think a lot of readers noticed or even cared, but to me it's important to treat dark subjects... seriously? I mean, there can be humor, but that it comes across that the author knows what they're doing. If they don't, maybe it just seems more gratuitous that way, like they're just trying to shock.
     

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