Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The reality of trauma and taking our characters to the darkest of places.

     Before I begin I would like to make you aware that this is a controversial topic. It is a topic that has been coming up a lot lately, thanks in part to HBO. Please know that everything I’m about to say is purely my own opinion, which is based on things I’ve seen, heard, felt, and experienced. I’m always open to hearing new opinions, as long as they are put forth in a constructive, non-argumentative fashion.
     I believe that in order to elevate a story to new heights, you must take your characters to the darkest possible places. Why do I think this? Because life is suffering, and fiction is about life. It doesn’t matter if your story is set in a fictional universe. If your characters are human, or creatures with qualities even remotely similar to humans, then your story is about life. Bad things happen in real life. All the time. Therefore, they have to happen in fiction as well.
     In order to take your characters to these dark places, traumatic events must take place.
For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to focus on rape. Unfortunately, rape happens. It is real. It happens every day, to women and men. Sometimes people don’t want to think about it, but that isn’t going to make it go away. Rape occurs much more frequently than statistics will tell us because a vast number of victims never report it. I never did, and I wish that I had.
     Therefore, why shouldn’t fictional characters experience rape? It is a real thing that really happens. If you want your story to be real, you must include real events, even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones. No one wants to read a story where nothing bad ever happens. That would be boring and unrealistic.
     I am going to very briefly mention HBO’s Game of Thrones, simply as an example. Unless you have never seen a single episode ever, there will be no spoilers. Promise. One of the reasons why it has become so controversial to explore rape in fiction is due to the graphic way in which HBO has depicted some of the rapes that have taken place in the story. It has sparked a lot of debate on what is okay and what isn’t. Okay, end of Game of Thrones talk. See? I kept it brief.
    In my opinion, the problem isn’t the fact that rape is taking place in fiction. The problem lies in the graphic depictions of the event. I do not believe writers need to describe intricate details of a rape. To be clear, I’m referring to the actual physical act. What is important, and sometimes necessary, is to describe the details leading up to the event and what happened afterwards. It is absolutely necessary to describe the way the victim feels. But the event itself? Unnecessary. It is traumatizing for the reader and leaves us feeling violated. I realize that the distinction I am trying to make here is a very, very fine line, one that I am currently tiptoeing across in my own writing.
      My current work in progress heavily explores rape and its aftermath. I hadn’t initially intended it to be such a major theme, but the story led me down that path. Yes, my stories and my characters lead me, not the other way around. I have not written out a rape scene, nor will I ever do this. Ever. However, what I have done is have characters describe their experiences out loud to other characters. I have one particular monologue that comes very close to crossing the line I have described above. It’s even possible that I have crossed that line, and am simply in denial about it. It’s a work in progress, so I can always dial it back if I have to.  
     These scenes have not been easy for me to write, not in the slightest. I’ve cried during a number of scenes, been forced to take breaks, and needed to journal about my feelings afterwards. Why am I writing about topics that are emotionally difficult for me? Because in order for a character to reach that dark place, the writer has to reach it as well. If a writer isn’t emotionally invested in something, the reader isn’t going to feel it either. Only by touching the darkest places within ourselves can our writing truly shine. And yes, writing this blog post has made me a bit emotional. My stomach is flip-flopping, I had a teary-eyed moment a few paragraphs back, and I am a little light-headed. I think that means I should keep going.  
     My point is that I do not believe these subjects should be ignored. By ignoring them in fiction, we risk ignoring them in real life. Exploring trauma in fiction allows us to explore the different ways in which victims cope and heal (or not) from these events. We can address how the rest of the world reacts and hopefully make readers more aware of real-life issues. Writers have a responsibility to be aware of how their depiction affects their readers. I’m not saying that my way is the only right way, or that I’m even doing everything right. I hope I am, and I aim to continue to learn and grow as a writer. I am always open to new ideas. While I expect my readers to feel hurt over what’s happened to my characters, I absolutely do not want them to feel so traumatized they can’t continue reading. Like I said, it is a fine line, and I welcome any tips on staying on that line.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions, even if they differ from my own. I only ask that people keep comments constructive and non-confrontational. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. As always, thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, etc.