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Dudes Writing Rape Scenes

I’ve been reading the Game of Thrones novels ever since I picked up the first one from a remainders table at the Jersey shore, and liking them pretty well. There are too many characters and the glossary doesn’t do a very good job helping me remember who’s who from one book to another (especially with years between the end of one book and the start of another) but I’m invested.

I don’t watch the show.

At first it was because I don’t have cable. No HBO. No desire to pirate. Normally, I’d catch up to shows like this when the DVDs come out, by borrowing them from the library. That’s how the family keeps up with ORPHAN BLACK, and I’m midway through S5 of JUSTIFIED right now (a show I have issues with but still find compelling).

Frankly, everything I’ve heard about the show makes me think they’re adding rape to the story as a cheap way to build tension and conflict. Robert Jackson Bennett wrote about this yesterday, and so did John Scalzi, both of whom are talking about rape scenes in general instead of the one from the most recent episode of the show. Both are worth reading, as long as you ignore the ridiculous cries of censorship and the raging misogyny that pops up in comments and in general discussion around the topic.

Why am I linking to two dudes in a discussion about rape? Because it’s usually (but not always) men who add rape to a story as a way to increase tension, show that a bad guy is really bad, or to just titillate the audience. And how do those posts relate to the show? Well, they’re not talking explicitly about Game of Thrones, but they are talking about applying a little common sense and good taste.

Me, I didn’t have a screenwriter-mentor. I had LiveJournal. When I wrote the first draft of Twenty Palaces, I included a scene were a couple of creepy guys made vaguely sexual threats against Annalise, and she beat the hell out of them. It seemed like a great idea at the time because it would increase the conflict and would show what a badass she is.

But I was also relatively new to LiveJournal, and I was reading a lot of commentary by female fans of TV shows like SUPERNATURAL. One of the first things I learned was how exasperating it was to see One Token Female in each show in Desperate Need of Rescue. The second was how tired they were of sexualized violence.

I was your typical dumb guy about both issues. I didn’t go to conventions and I didn’t have friends who talked about story, so it had never even occurred to me that these were things to complain about. I also had all the usual dumb objections you still see in comment sections, but I knew the people I was reading were pretty smart, so I kept my mouth shut and kept reading.

Frankly, I wanted to be a professional, and I was hungry to understand the ways that fans reacted to storytelling.

So I looked at that scene with Annalise again and asked myself what it was doing there? As a cheap attempt to pump up tension, it was a shitty failure. Many years later, when I was writing The Great Way, I came to a scene where the young female co-lead of the novel was captured, and I dismissed the idea of a rape scene (or the suggestion that it was possible) out of hand.

It’s a question of tone. Of taste. Of knowing what works in a story. Of understanding how the reader will respond to the words on the page. (That last thing, by the way, is the biggest hurdle many basically-competent but still unsuccessful writers face.) This isn’t to say that no one should ever write a rape scene (because duh) but that too many writers do it badly and for the wrong reasons.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 20th, 2015 05:53 pm (UTC)

I'd included rape in previous version of a novel as well, and chose to drop it all out. It *improved* the story, imo. And I've never read a review that said, "Wow, the story would have been so much better if someone had been raped!"

Putting on well-tailored dress slacks involves the same physical process as putting on jeans with holes in the knees. The result, however, can be quite different. ;-)
May. 21st, 2015 02:07 am (UTC)
Some people are super weird about rape in fiction.

But I'm with you. Most rape scenes in fiction are bullshit.
May. 20th, 2015 10:48 pm (UTC)
Curiously enough, some years back a female writer earnestly told me that a story she beta'd would be far improved if the heroine had some rape threats.

I shit-canned the story (which was supposed to be YA!), thinking that I hated reading about rape so I wasn't going to write it. Later I figured out that the story was boring.

Also in retrospect it turned out she had a rather odd hitch in her giddyap . . . she gave the same advice to a lot of people.

But in spite of those caveats, I have remained convinced that no story is improved by adding rape. Which is, in fact, why I have not watched any episodes of Westeros, Land of Rape and Flaying.

Edited at 2015-05-20 10:49 pm (UTC)
May. 21st, 2015 02:08 am (UTC)
I keep thinking GoT is something I should try, but I never have any enthusiasm for it.

Also, ugh for that beta reader.
May. 21st, 2015 03:09 am (UTC)
I don't watch the TV series and I didn't get more than halfway through the first book. I had just re-read "The Lord of the Rings"; after Tolkien, Martin was intolerably long-winded. And yes, deeply vulgar in his approach to sexual matters, which by all accounts the TV show has made far worse.

Edited at 2015-05-21 03:10 am (UTC)
May. 21st, 2015 04:05 am (UTC)
The worst thing about a TV show is that, while a book can describe things in an oblique way, TV people generally hire actors, take off their clothes, spray mist onto their naked asses so they glisten in the bright lights, and start the camera rolling.

It's a different effect. Both TV and text can portray things baldly, but TV doesn't have to same latitude to suggest. Or, if it does, I don't see it happen that often.
Jun. 2nd, 2015 01:47 am (UTC)
If it helps (you keep to your apathy-protection against it), I find a lot of GoT to be full of lazy writing. If you're clever with narrative, it's not only thick with pointless rape, it's also extraordinarily predictable. "Ah yes, a character has show up for point five of a second, just to hand a lead character an ITEM. Make your bets, everyone. It will be used how? You're right! To kill someone! Ding ding ding!"
Jun. 2nd, 2015 01:48 am (UTC)
Missed opportunity. I should have started my comment with "Aside from the gratuitous rape..." for extra snide points.
Jun. 2nd, 2015 03:07 pm (UTC)
And yet, I still have this weird feeling that it's something I should watch, because I write fantasy.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )