Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Heavy Topics


Do I have your attention now?
Today I'm continuing my Lily theme, just because I can't get it off my mind.

When I was in high school, I remember answering a poll concerning "foul language" in literature--basically, for or against it? I voted for it, of course, even though I still lived under my parents' roof and hadn't had the chance to fully develop my swear vocabulary. I mean, what would "Damn Yankees" be without the Damn?

So, how about the other heavy topics?

Personally, pretty much nothing content-wise will make me put aside a book; at least, I've read nothing yet, and I've read a lot. I mean, I don't watch overly-graphic horror movies, mostly because I'm a big fat chicken and am home alone too often, but reading violence? Sure. Writing it? Even better.

Sex? Love it. Writing sex? Just read my mss.

Language? Hells yeah (I toned my initial answer down.)

When I started writing Lily, I had no intention to be exploring any sort of heavy topics, but they grew naturally from the narrative, and now everywhere I turn, there's something big to be dealt with.

Some themes from Lily:

-Child molestation
-Graphic sex
-Mental illness

   If I were to read this as someone else's list, would I immediately say, "Gee, I'd really like to read that book"? No. Not necessarily. Though I tend towards writing dark stuff, it's usually not my first choice in reading. By actively including all these themes and more, am I limiting my audience? Absolutely.

But I don't believe in censorship, especially self-censorship for the sake of a maybe-someday-potential-reader. Life is ugly, and so should be literature, which is most often a reflection of life. At least, I try to make mine that way.

Do I have experience with any of those? No (except for the sex, of course). Is it going to affect my ability to write those themes? I honestly don't know. I've already written a few of the bigger scenes concerning them and haven't gotten negative feedback on believability, so maybe not. Having experienced something first-hand certainly lends one authority on the subject, but then again everyone's experience of the same thing is different, so I don't think there's any one such way of writing about something.

Anyway, I'm starting to ramble, so let me end with this: Do you shy away from any "heavy topics" in your writing? If not, do you stick to topics that you know about first-hand, or do you give yourself the liberty to explore? And if you haven't done any yet, would you ever consider writing something that includes any heavy topics?


Stephanie said...

No shying away here!! For me, stories need to be true to life...I hate when I read something and say "Well, that would never happen in real life!" I'm not a huge fan of excessive language but there are times when it's necessary. In my book, A Bitch Named Karma, my MC walks in on her boyfreind in bed with one of her best friends. No one would say "You Jerk!"...they would definitely use some choice 4 letter words! And especially my would be out of character for her to not use those words.

Summer Frey said...

I agree. I swear, but nothing like Lily does. It's just a by-product of her upbringing. :-) I know reading is a form of escapism, but I feel there should be limits, especially if you write "literary fiction."

Unknown said...

GREAT topic, Summer. I feel that as writers, we don't actually write characters, we channel them. For that reason, if a character is bigoted or foul-mouthed or promiscuous, we have to portray them that way. It can be scary, going into the dark corners of a character's mind. But in order to stay true to them, and write with authenticity, we have to have the courage and the conviction to do so.

Patti said...

I had a friend say to me. When you write you can't think about your mom or dad, you have to write what the story dictates and not worry about whose going to read it.

Anonymous said...

My stand is the same. Keep it real. That said, I think some books add it for shock. Readers aren't stupid and can tell the difference. Stay authentic.

KA said...

Sometimes it's hard to write the heavy stuff like language if you don't naturally think that way, or if you're worried what people think. But I decided that everyone has a story to tell, and everyone is worth listening to, not just the squeaky-clean ones. If the reader isn't interested, then they don't have to read it.

Kimberly Franklin said...

I don't believe in shying away either. As long as it's relevant then it's in. There's no sense in censoring a character. Let them be who they are and they will ring a lot truer.

Great post, Summer!

DL Hammons said...

I don't write in the YA genre, but does that enter into your thinking regarding what's appropriate for that age reader? But maybe this isn't targeted for YA? I'm just asking.

Summer Frey said...

DL, I didn't even think to clarify. The story this post regards is NOT young adult; it's more literary/women's fiction. I wouldn't necessarily shy away from these topics in YA, but I certainly would use a lighter touch.

And I'm glad to have so many like-minded blog friends. :-)

sarahjayne smythe said...

No, I don't shy away from heavy topics or dark themes. I've written rape, torture, genocide, and while I'm not familiar with all of my topics first hand myself, I do know people who are and don't mind asking them or doing research about the subject. If it's part of the story, I try to give it the respect it deserves. :)

Unknown said...

First off, heavy topic and I love it!!! I don't shy away from the topics, but I think it's because the book I am writing doesn't have a lot of heavy topics, only dealing with life and death, no real trials that the list Lily has. Only something in the spirit sense :) But I can appreciate a good story with all the heavy topics, I read all sort of books!!!

I'm with you on the movie end of things, I'm kind of chicken because I am alone a lot too!

Guinevere said...

Great post, Summer. I don't purposefully avoid certain subjects, and I think I hit my fair share of heavy subjects. Yet there are some things I certainly avoid writing (and prefer not to read, given a choice). I used to write a lot more of those sort of dark topics when I was younger, but now that I'm older, they seem so truly horrific that I don't want to broach them unless it's essential to a story.

Summer Frey said...

That's a good point, Guinevere. I actually started reading Let the Right One In and had to put it aside after about 100 pages. Not sure what it was, exactly, but something about it just...disturbed me. Maybe just the certain combination of elements, I don't know.

I also really hate any stories about war. It's so sad that I don't want to willingly put myself through it. (Goes for war movies too.)

Guinevere said...

That wasn't very clear, since I said I don't purposefully avoid subject and then that I don't want to broach them. lol. I meant that it isn't a conscious decision. In my novel, April was raped in her past and it's a part of her story, but I found those scenes very painful to write -- I wouldn't include that part of her story if it weren't necessary to the plot or character. I don't go looking for darker topics, because I know how much damage it's going to do to my psyche to try and get through writing it! But if it seems necessary, I will write it. I just naturally avoid things that will leave me feeling emotionally wrung out, the way I used to feel when I spent days and days in the library researching medical experimentation during the Holocaust for my senior thesis. I don't let go of things very well, I guess -- I stay haunted by whatever I read or write!

Christine Danek said...

I think if it fits the character then explore away. I write YA mostly so some things I do tend to write a little lighter but would that stop me if it fit the character--no. It may make the story jump to a different genre but that is o.k. I think for me I am still exploring my writing style so I have not written anything that "heavy" yet--it doesn't mean I would shy away from it if the opportunity came along.
I think if you are specifically talking YA then I don't think too much detail is necessary. I know it is reality for teenagers everywhere but I think there is a cerain way to write it without candy coating it too much.
I think now I have turned to babbling so I will let it go. Great post!

Shelley Sly said...

Excellent topic, Summer. I've battled with a lot of "should I/shouldn't I" thoughts concerning potentially offensive content. My family is very conservative, so I've kept them in mind when writing, but then things didn't seem right. Saying "oh heck!" in a crisis and limiting romantic scenes to simple kissing just felt fake. I realized only recently that I need to be authentic with my characters, and I can't care so much about what others will say about it.

Artist said...

Art is always about life may it be writing or like for me painting. I'm a synesthesian painter. As being synesthete I live a life

in colors. Synesthesia means that I

see colors when I see words and

numbers.I transform this in

paintings of names and birthdays.

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Hmm, this is a tricky subject for me because I write YA--although I write edgy YA, so I have a bit more freedom than some others. Still, there are limits, at least in the presentation of the material because of the young audience. I usually allow myself more freedom in the first draft and then carefully cut, tweak, and shape subsequent drafts to make the ms more YA friendly. It's not an easy thing to do, though, as I lean towards verisimilitude, even though I do write fantasy.

Excellent post, Summer.

Bish Denham said...

"Life is ugly, and so should be literature, which is most often a reflection of life."

Life is only as ugly as we allow it to be. Having worked for 23 years with abused, neglected and emotionally disturbed kids I've see my share of ugly. Yet in the midst of that there was far more beauty. Their ability to heal and experience life differently is what life is really all about.

I personally choose not to use language and sex and violence as a means of carrying a story. There's already enough misery in the world without my adding to it.

And I certainly don't believe in censorship.

Hannah said...

I never thought I would but my Muse always leads me to tales that are sometimes difficult to tell. Sometimes average words don't get point across and sometimes violence occurs and we all know sex happens every day. I would rather see it weaved to create something than used in the media for ratings.

More power to you!