1. EllieKnell

    EllieKnell New Member

    Nov 17, 2017
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    Advice on writing sexual assault by a stranger

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by EllieKnell, Nov 17, 2017.

    TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault, rape, sexuality, PTSD

    I’m writing an adventure style story based on my own experiences and the true stories of people I have encountered. It’s not a true story by any means, but is fiction inspired by real experience.

    It’s set in a mid sized city in Australia, and in the secret underworld of that city. There are realistic criminal elements who exist side by side with witches, people with psychic powers and a tribe of people living in underground tunnels. The story centres around some teenagers (the protagonist and her friends) who are trying to survive and save their city from mind control. As far as possible, it’s set in real places, with real groups and characters who are real people. The storyline itself is based on true events as far as possible, blended with the imaginative version of my life I used to imagine as a child.

    Basically it’s in three parts. The first two seem to move along the path of a standard story. They meet the villain, discover that the protagonist has a connection to the villain who tries to get her to join him, they escape and join a resistance movement. Beneath this outwardly standard plot progression are a lot of sub themes, including violence and sexuality. The protagonist has an unstable and increasingly violent home life, which is mostly pushed to the side and described in metaphor (as a way to distance herself from it). To her, this petty violence is nothing compared to the actual issue of trying to save the city.

    She is also bisexual, but won’t acknowledge it, and has an obviously romantic but repressed relatonship with her best friend. Throughout the first two parts, the violence at home gets harder to ignore each time, her relationship with her friend grows and hovers on the brink of becoming official.

    Then, seemingly out of the blue, the protagonist is violently sexually assaulted. The assault isn’t described in detail, rather it focuses on disjointed senses and overwhelming fear and a desire to survive. She does live through it, and the entire third part of the book focuses on her struggle to continue her life after the assault. Nothing has changed, and yet everything has changed. She’s triggered by the sexual tension with her best friend, the violence at home becomes impossible to ignore, she struggles to concentrate and continue the fight against the villain. This is the real crux of the story. Her experience of violence, and how this impacts on her story, her mental health, her sexuality and her relationships. Each incident of violence until this point has been building and getting worse, and this is the tipping point. The rape (like most of the violence) is otherwise unconnected to the plot. It doesn’t serve a purpose for other characters, it’s not connected to the villain, and the attacker is never fully described or made human. It’s just the wrong place at the wrong time (something the protagonist really struggles with, because it’s easier to believe that something so horrible was foreseeable, deserved or at least had a purpose). Because assault in real life isn’t a plot device, it just happens and then you are left trying to pick up the pieces.

    Here’s my problem. I know that most sexual assaults don’t happen like this. They are more likely to be committed in the home, by people you know. But this is my experience with sexual assault. I was abucted by a repeat predator at 15, violent raped and almost killed. This is a story based on my experience living after something like that, with the very real effects of PTSD and the massive impact on my growing awareness of my queer sexuality. I don’t want this assault to be cliched, but I want it to be authentic to my experience as a survivor. The protagonist’s character is not really based on me, but the storyline is and I want it to be as true to life as possible. As a feminist author, aware of the importance of good depictions of sexual assault in media and fiction, how do I balance these two things? Can they be reconciled? And what advice can you give me?
  2. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

    Sep 17, 2017
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    I think in this case, you're your own best research and to hell with what anyone else thinks. You've lived it, and literally survived (bravo!!!), and nobody who hasn't walked in your shoes should dictate the way you write about it.

    Here's the thing: no matter what the subject, and no matter how you choose to write it, you can't please everyone and someone will complain. Given that it's a subject that is personal to you, and important to you, you, and not they, should decide how to incorporate it into your work. Do what feels right for you, and everyone else be damned. They're not all going to be happy anyway, so don't let them cheat you out of the experience of portraying it the way that feels right to you.

    You don't need anybody's approval to do this. You've got this.
    EllieKnell and izzybot like this.

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