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Writing about assault is never easy: there is a fine line between going overboard with all the gory details and accidentally undervaluing the profound impact violence has on physical, emotional and mental well-being of the victim. While I don’t think that all writing should aim to be political and have an agenda, however, I do think that it is important to consider the message you are sending to your readers, especially when it comes to difficult subjects such as sexual assault. Unfortunately, rape culture is very real, and it is my firm belief that we should strive to change that in any way we can. At the very least, being aware of certain prejudices when tackling difficult issues in your writing will not only make your stories more true to life, but it will also allow you to pay respect to the victims.
- Use rape as a minor setback for the character
Rape has often been used as a plot device to create an “inconvenience”, especially for the female characters. This is not only inaccurate, but also an insulting way to approach the subject. In reality, rape victims can take months, or years to recover from the experience. This requires physical, mental and emotional healing to take place. General rule of thumb: if the incident is traumatic for real life victims, it should also be traumatic for your characters.
- Justify rape to punish a “bad” wo/man.
Nobody deserves to be raped. If you use rape as a punishment for someone’s misconduct, you are perpetuating rape culture.
- Use rape to make someone a martyr
The other extreme would be to write a rape scene in order to make someone a martyr, an angelic, idealized heroine (or a hero) whose only purpose is to suffer and show that justice is not served equally. Leave black-and-white characters to the Grimm brothers, and opt for creating more fleshed out characters.
- Make the rapist a movie villain
Rapists are not scary strangers lurking in a dark alley. More often, they are people the victim already knew, maybe even liked/respected them. It is your duty to flesh out both the victim and the perpetrator.
- Victim blame
Do not try to find a rational reason for rape, because there is none. The victim is neither an angelic being nor the lust driven female who provoked the attacker with her sexuality. There is only one reason why rape happens: because of the rapist.
- Resort to cliches
It seems to be more socially acceptable to write about the rape of a beautiful, young woman. However, the reality does not necessarily coincide. Men and older women can also be rape survivors. LGBT community is also at risk of being assaulted, even more so than the cis, hetero-normative people.
- Use excessive drama
When describing assault, allow rawness, brutality and vulnerability, but avoid excessive melodrama. Do not allow your characters to be characterized purely by the violence they have undergone. It would be unfair.
- Underestimate the power of healing
Healing is difficult, but it’s not impossible. While rape undoubtedly is extremely traumatizing, people can, and do get better. Show the glory of your heroine’s recovery, instead of making her commit suicide as a result of being unable to cope with the aftermath of violence. Imagine if you were a victim yourself: wouldn’t reading about someone else’s recovery encourage you more than reading about them ending up committing suicide?
- Write about rape as a wish fulfillment
Just don’t. Rape scenes are not literary tools for arousal. Rape is not sexy: it is a horrible, dehumanizing, violent crime. Bear that in mind.
Write about rape without thorough research
If you have considered all of the above and are certain that the rape scene is absolutely essential to your story for some reason, than you really should educate yourself and look into some real life experiences of the victims. You might be the most politically correct writer there is, but only reading up on actual assault stories can give you a clearer picture of what the short and long term consequences of rape are, and this will allow you to address the issue with both respect and authenticity.
There are some books that find you later in life than you would like. When you finally get to read them, you find yourself wishing that you have read them at an earlier stage in your life, when their wisdom would have been of greater usage to you in regards to your circumstances. Nevertheless, it’s never too late for good wishes or good books, and I am very glad that I have had the opportunity to read the books from this list after all, regardless of the somewhat late timing:
- 1984, George Orwell
This dystopian novel has been on my reading list for a very long time, but I have somehow managed to ignore it. After I finally got around to reading it, I realized what I have been missing all along. The manipulation of the public and the constant surveillance by the government sound all too similar to the society we have today. I wish I haven’t regarded this book as a quaint, boring classic I considered it to be before reading, because it is actually a fascinating, and unfortunately, rather relevant read.
- Lord of the Flies, William Golding
While 1984 explores the concept of evil and oppression on a larger scale, Lord of the Flies scales it down to a small group of boys trapped on a tropical island. When I was an adolescent, this book managed to pass me by, and when I have read it as a twenty-something, I regretted not getting my hands on it earlier. I believe that there is the right time to read certain books, and Lord of the Flies is certainly meant primarily for adolescent readers. Not to dismiss it as a light read, on the contrary: only teenagers can fully appreciate the juicy darkness that permeates this book, but it can also be read (and loved) by adults.
- The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
The only novel written by a famous and somewhat controversial poet, the Bell Jar convinced me that it is okay (even necessary) to accept one’s own darkness. As someone who has struggled with anxiety during puberty and well into my early adulthood, I wish I have been able to read this book earlier. Plath left nothing out: and her sensation of being trapped under a bell jar, struggling for breath, felt all too familiar to me. This novel gives hope to everyone who is struggling, and shows that, under the right treatment, it does get better, and nobody is a lost cause.
- The Edible Woman, Margaret Atwood
The Edible Woman was my first literary encounter with Margaret Atwood, and I was immediately hooked (noways, Atwood is one of my favorite authors of all time). It wasn’t just her master storytelling that ensnared me, but also her profound understanding of a woman’s mind. As a feminist, there were so many times while reading this book that I felt relieved: someone understood. I wasn’t the only one who feels like this. Marian, the protagonist, taught me the importance of taking control over your life and standing up for the things you believe to be true.
- Women Who Love Too Much, Robin Norwood
I have shared my experiences with failed young love (or what I believed was love once, anyway) in one of my previous posts. A friend recommended this book to me, and it honestly blew my mind. Every embarrassing detail felt astonishingly familiar. Everything suddenly made sense. Except for one thing: if I had read this book earlier, I wouldn’t have stayed in a toxic relationship for as long as I did. Noways, I wholeheartedly recommend Norwood to every woman who feels like she is the one putting all the effort in a relationship and receiving nothing in return. The truth is, when love is real, it doesn’t feel like a constant battle. And everyone deserves a chance to find someone who will treat them the way they deserve to be treated.
- Stoner, John Williams
I might not be entirely to blame for not reading this book earlier: Stoner has been under a sort of literary renaissance in the past year. For fifty years, the general public has decided to ignore this book, and today you can’t even find it in the library because all the copies are out. The plot of this book sound ordinary, almost boring, but in reality, it is a novel about what it means to be human: it means to go on with your life, despite everything and everyone. It shows us that work is the ultimate consolation, and it is our dreams and passions which ultimately drive us forward, despite the sometimes dull chores of the daily life.
- The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell
I rarely recommend a book based on a film, but this 1988 documentary is an exception to the rule: Campbell’s ideas about the ongoing role of myth in contemporary society are truly fascinating, even more so for writers. It refers to the general mythology, however, much of his theories can be applied to creative writing, and give you some ideas about basic plot structures. Personally, I know that his elaboration on different types of heroes, their transformation and evolution was of great help to me while trying to come up with story outlines.
There goes my list. Do you have a similar one of the books that you wish you have read earlier? Let me know!
Both you and your friend suffer from a mild case of a writer’s block? These ideas could get your creative juices flowing again.
- Ask one another about your earliest memories, then switch the said memories and describe them from the first person perspective.
- Each of you should write 3-5 character, plot and setting ideas on different pieces of paper, fold them, mix them up and pick random ones from each category. The task is to write a story about the words you have picked.
- Both of you should bring some old family photos, and let the other choose one photo to use as a story prompt.
- Each of you should write only the beginning (or even the first half) of the story, and then switch and finish each other stories.
- Write about each other’s secrets from the first person perspective.
- If you are still struggling to find inspiration, go to a coffee shop together and eavesdrop. It is a good chance that both of you will spot (or hear) something intriguing to write about!
Remember, writing ideas are everywhere: the difficult part is turning them into actual stories.
I wish all of my wonderful followers a productive writing day! 🙂