The Dark Side

>> Sunday, September 19, 2010

There's a great deal of talk going on this week (which is ironically Banned Book Week) about someone calling for a ban of the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Speak is a YA book about a teenager who is raped and feels unable to speak of it. Someone wants it banned from school libraries (on the basis of it being "soft pornography"). Blech! Anyone who's read my blog for some time knows how I feel on this subject or should. Not that the subject isn't offensive - it is - but it's offensive because it happens, because society has not yet managed to protect people from this kind of crime. And because society actually furthers it by encouraging silence. I personally think it says a great deal about the perversion of anyone who confuses a rape scene with sexual titillation (as I have mentioned about certain "romance" novels before). Obviously, I think banning this book is the last thing a school should do (especially in the name of Christianity - isn't that how the Catholic Priests who abused children got away with it for so damn long?)

But that's not what I'm here to write about (though there are some great blog posts out there talking about it, including this one by Janet Reid. Do a search if you're interested).

What I'm here to talk about is writing about the dark side. My husband hates it when I do something horrible to one of my characters, rape them, imprison them, have them lose someone close. He hates those scenes and still doesn't really understand why they are in so many of my novels.

But I have a reason. Part of it is because bad things happen. Part of it is because fantasy and science fiction allow for societal commentary - taking an existing condition (either from now or the past) and highlighting it (fearmongering, bigotry, sexism, child abuse, apathy, etc). The side effect of that is that the results, the impacts, have to be clear, to hit home. Taking a sympathetic character through the effects of an issue is a great way to illustrate the ills. But, more than that, having a good character survive and overcome those issues, those horrible events, sends a message, a message of hope to people who might have suffered something similar.

I don't think people readily identify with people who have no problems. I also don't think problems get solved if you pretend they don't exist or describe them euphemistically.

And it does make for more interesting characters. Which, in my opinion, is what I aim for.


  • Project Savior

    Sometimes the only way for the writer to learn about the character is to put them under heavy stress.

  • The Mother

    If we dare not speak of the dark side of sexuality, we send our kids out unawares.

    I'm into information.

  • Jeff King

    "But, more than that, having a good character survive and overcome those issues, those horrible events, sends a message, a message of hope to people who might have suffered something similar."

    this part hit home for me... you won me over. before this i was more on your hubby's side. but you make complete sense.

  • Don

    The motives of those who do wrong fascinate me, and I always wanted to explore the transformation of a decent person into something ugly. And yet I have not been able to begin, for fear that someone will read it and conclude scary things about me. This shows a) I am a fearful beginner and b) there might be something unresolved within myself. Writing, as all art, is a great way to address such a thing.

  • Stephanie Barr

    I toyed with that, Don, actually, in my latest novel. But I did it by looking back after traveling back into the light.

    I've seen it done effectively, though. One reason why I think "The Red Dragon" by Thomas Harris was such a great book was the insight we had into the creation of the monstrous antagonist.

  • Ken Lindsey

    This is a great topic, and a well thought-out post. I just stumbled onto your page, but I think I'll be coming back!

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