1. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    Writing about hard or disturbing subjects

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by TheSerpantofNar, Aug 30, 2013.

    I have recently begun writing a southern gothic short story. Set around the 1940's or 1950's anyway it involves both the murder of children,poverty and cannibalism. I just wanted to know how people here approach that kind of twisted and depraved subject matter.
     
  2. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I've never approached any of it, actually, lol. It isn't an issue that has come up for me, but.... children are murdered every day (now and then), poverty is rampant (now and then) and cannibalism has happened.. many, many times. I've read books about murdered children and cannibalism, one of my favorite books, in fact, and I think it was approached realistically, as a fact of life in the story in which it was contained. I liked it that way. I wouldn't try to dance around it or anything, if you're going to do it.. do it.
     
  3. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    Well it's hard to write but I'm not going to dance around it. I have been reading some Cormac Mcarthy recently and his writing is beautiful but his subject matter is most the time very very disturbing. Blood meridian is a damn fine piece of liturature but its very disturbing but its central theme is violence really. I'm thinking about picking up Child of god to read as well.
     
  4. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    LOL, the book I was talking about was Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Great book :)
     
  5. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    Yeah I will have to pick that one up to :) I guess by now its obvious my main writing style gothic fiction :) I don't know writing tough subjects is good I think. Yeah it's tough to write but if it helps you grow as a writer it's good.
     
  6. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I agree with you, I think it's much more satisfying, for me personally, when I write the stuff that makes people cringe a little. But that might just be me, lol
     
  7. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    I mean if you are writing in a genre like southern gothic. It has to have messed up characters and macabre situations. I mean I watched Killer Joe recently it was a twisted movie but it has a noir quality that I like. I have no read any of William Faulkner's literature either :p
     
  8. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Why do you want to know? Are you wondering whether your themes and topics are even worth writing about? Because, you know, if done well and in a sellable way, it's bound to be worth writing.

    I approach controversial content realistically. I usually ask myself "why am I writing about this?", then I pinpoint the motive(s) of the character(s), and then write it as it is. However, I tend to draw the line to certain subjects, e.g. I've never written rape graphically (and would definitely never ever write it gratuitously) 'cause I don't want any sicko to get their kicks out of it, but maybe that's 'cause it's a sensitive subject to me.
     
  9. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    Most people avoid that kind of stuff. But as you already know: Good writing is good writing. Kick me in the balls for saying this but there is a way to write on those topics in an interesting and fresh way. For one, you don't often hear about that....I say go for it. The worst that could happen is that no one likes it.
     
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  10. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    If this is the genre you want to write, then write it. The only way I could see it being a turn off is if it's done for shock value. Trying to cash in on society's taboos is an easy way to earn your readers' ire. But, based on your hesitancy to touch the subject matter, I don't think that's your problem at all.

    IMO, your problem is that you're treating the subject matter as a monumental landmark instead of as a piece of the story's landscape. It's not this big looming, terrifying thing threatening to overshadow your story. It's just there. Don't write around it, over it, or under it. Just pass through it, as naturally as you would anything else. Don't speed by it, as if afraid; don't slow down and call attention to its details to show how brave or daring you are… just maintain your pace and tone as you lead your readers through it.

    Treat it the same way you would treat any other scene(s), of equal importance. If you can't do that, it might be a clear sign this scene doesn't belong or that the tone of your story needs adjustment to accommodate it.
     
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  11. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    That's a good point and that's what I am doing. I do find writing dark subject matter can help you become a better writer as its challenging. I rely on implied violence more then anything but the mood should be disturbing.
     
  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    "Both" means you are presenting two items, but you have presented three. You really don't need any kind of quantifying adjective at all, but "both" is clearly wrong.

    In my writings thus far, the only one of the three topics I've addressed has been poverty.
     
  13. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    Lol I will go back and edit that :)
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That sounds like very good advice to me. Just dive in and write, without worrying about whether you should or shouldn't. See what you come up with.
     
  15. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    When it comes to writing disturbing or taboo subjects it is a challenge but if the writer is up to the challenge then write about the distrubing or taboo subject
     
  16. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    A short while back, I'd been working on a really brutal scene, and by the time I was done I felt completely sickened, so much so that I had to give myself a bit of a break. I went back to the scene a couple of weeks later and felt that it was nothing more than a fine example of torture porn. This was not my intention. The event is pivotal, and I firmly stuck to my belief that it's inclusion was necessary. It needed to be beyond horrific. I wanted my readers guts to churn just as mine had done writing it, but felt that the way I was going about it was just... I don't know... nasty.

    I went back to the drawing board. Originally, the pov was that of the victim, and I catalogued her demise in unflinching detail. Knowing I needed to provoke a visceral response, I started to think how I could do so without resorting to a first hand account.

    In the end, I decided not to go with her pov and changed it to that of her husband. When my main character finds the bodies of his wife and son, I resisted the urge to relate the situation through his eyes, and pulled the reader back to act as witness to his grief. The full story only comes to light as he prepares their bodies for their funeral pyre, when I allow the reader into his headspace. The injuries are revealed, as he cleans the corpses, and he wracks himself, trying to come to terms with what he sees. The grasping nature of his thought processes ended up far more disturbing than my original account, without resorting to using schlocky imagery.

    Of course, as I'm finding out, there are any amount of ways I could have written that scene. I just listened to my gut and went with it. The first draft didn't work for me; the second might well be my best piece of work to date.

    This scene is part of a novel I'm currently working on, and is poles apart from the kind of stuff I usually write. I just figured if I was going to include subject matter like murder, mutilation and infanticide, it deserved to be as well written as I know how.
     
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  17. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    Well I must admit its easy to get to graphic. I like implying things more then showing everything.
     
  18. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Hmmm... I'm not so sure I agree with you. It wasn't for me. I'm sure it's possible to handle even the most graphic of accounts in a way that doesn't come off as schlocky. I'm simply not skilled enough yet and, to be honest, I don't think the style I'm trying to cultivate particularly lends itself to it.

    I remember reading a scene, years ago, that really disturbed me. It was bloody, and gory, but the thing that disturbed me most of all was the nonchalance of the narrator's tone. Unfortunately, for the life of me, I can't remember who wrote it. I might try and dig it out... I have a feeling there's a lesson to be learned there somewhere.
     
  19. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    Yeah that is true I think your right its easy to avoid.
     
  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I like the way your mind works. If something doesn't sit right, you aren't afraid to change it and experiment with POV. Much better than just digging in with the original approach, and refusing to entertain the idea that it's the only way. Sometimes turning something like this on its head and trying new perspectives is the way to go, as a writer. There is certainly more than one way to tell a story or develop a crucial scene.
     
  21. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Yup... sometimes it can be hard to go at a scene from a perspective different from the one originally envisaged. As my auld Gran used to say, "The proof is in the pudding." Now when I read back a scene, if it's not sitting right with me, I look for other ways to approach it. Hopefully, as I gain experience, looking at various scenes in this way will help me establish a dynamic feel, without nearly bursting braincells to do it.
     
  22. DPVP
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    DPVP Active Member

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    i honestly don't find those things hard to write, its the how to write them that's hard. what im writing is military science fiction so blood and combat is common. what i find harder is when things get outside normal combat. i originally had a clear statement of a character gunning down a mother and child.

    i have changed it to a more implied killing where they where described being in a room then the character guns everyone down. the same goes with a interrogation where a female character threatens to rape a female enemy combatant. i currently settled on her using body language and acts to imply what she will do if she does not get the information.
     
  23. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    I think violence does have its place in darker stories. But I tend to avoid most the time as my last story that was violent did not turn out very well.
     
  24. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think everyone has a limit, something that pushes them out of their comfort zone in some way, and it is those topics that we worry about the most. I have one such scene, actually two, that I haven't written yet, they belong in different novels but both proved to be a bit of a stumbling block for me. I am still writing around them, I figured, if that's the only scene left unfinished at the end of the manuscript, I'll be a lot better off trying to force myself to write it then if I keep stumbling now and end up procrastinating endlessly.
     
  25. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There are a couple of disturbing scenes in my and KaTrian's current WIP, but I wanted to include them anyway because I felt those stories needed to be told. One thing I want to avoid as much as I can is what KT already mentioned, i.e. providing kicks for the sicker wankers out there, so my approach to such scenes is to treat them with respect. As if I was writing about something that happened to a close friend or a family member.

    Presently I'm fairly content with the end product since I dread the day we have to proofread the scene (and it's not far off) because it always makes me feel sick to my stomach even though it's not as graphic as it could be, but I focused more on the atmosphere anyway.
    However, because things like that really do happen (I've known actual victims of rape/sexual abuse/violence and I've read true accounts as well), I want to put the issue in the spotlight. If even one reader becomes disillusioned by reading it, starts to think about the atrocities that take place all around the world, or, God forbid, does something to help the victims, I have accomplished my goal.
     

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