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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Writing about Rape and the Indie Writer

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

A few days ago I finished reading Deadly Election by Arthur Crandon. The prologue features a very violent rape that left me unsettled. While it did set the tone for the rest of the book, it didn't feel necessary. The scene takes place during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Though historically correct, it adds nothing to character development. None of the characters mentioned in the scene ever appear again. All it did was create a very icky feeling.

Deadly Election by Arthur Crandon
Of course, this is how we should feel about rape. But should we be writing about it?

Another book I read this year, Mythology by Helen Boswell, deals with rape in a completely different way. The main character is a survivor of date rape. It is a key reason for her entire demeanor. While it's not a story about rape, the act completely changed the character and impacts her story arch. Mythology's target market is young adult and I couldn't help but feel the whole rape back story would be gutted if she published through one of the big publishing houses.

Who wants our teenagers to read about rape?

But they should be reading about it. Because it happens. And maybe seeing character who is real and flawed and still in love with life after being violated will help other victims. Actually I shouldn't use that word. It has a bad connotation. In mythology, Hope is not a victim. A horrible thing happened to her but she does not let it destroy her. She doesn't begin a series of revenge murders. She struggles to get back to real life. When she has a chance to violently punish the rapist she chooses differently. She decides that she will not be defined by the actions of another.

NOTE: There's an entire sub-genre of movies about rape and revenge

My first book, Council of Peacocks, had a rape scene until a few drafts ago. One of my beta readers, Charles Ekeke, told me it made a certain character completely unlikable. That character is immortal and it happened over a thousand years ago but it was unforgivable. It was also not relevant. It felt gratuitous. Cheap, actually. So I took it out.

Reading Deadly Election and Mythology helped me realize something very important. Independently published writers have no real filters. We can write about anything. No one is telling us we can't do something. So why not pick something meaning, a story no one else is brave enough to tell?

Mythology by Helen Boswell

My next book, A Fallen Hero Rises, features Tadgh Dooley: a high school student who is also the victim of gay bashing. He and his boyfriend are attacked by classmates. Tadgh is hospitalized and his boyfriend is murdered. Unfortunately for the attackers, Tadgh has superpowers and uses them to take revenge.

I realized that was too one-dimensional so I went further. The book takes place after the assault and after the revenge. It's more about Tadgh dealing with what he allowed himself to become because of his anger and loss. And, because it's an epic fantasy set on an alien world, there is also magic, zombies and dragons.

As independent writers, we can write about anything we want to write about. However, we should think long and hard about what we're trying to say. Just because you can write about it doesn't mean you should. Trivializing rape serves no purpose and helps no one. We should strive for something better.

Buy Mythology by Helen Boswell
Buy Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Taboos and Tropes: Writing About Rape
Writing About Rape by Jim C. Hines


Amazon: M Joseph Murphy on Amazon: Paperback and ebook
Smashwords: M Joseph Murphy Author Page on Smashwords
Kobo: M Joseph Murphy Books on Kobo

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