This week at the Cafe we wrote stories based on what might be considered a controversial painting. With all of the violence in the news lately, certain things seem to slide into the “taboo” category. Movie producers and book publishers might shy away from printing certain subject material, deciding that there are lines they won’t cross, but what about writers? Are there lines even we won’t cross in our writing? It might be as simple as not crossing a line because something has been drastically overdone, but it could also be a moral or ethical line, as well. How do we limit ourselves?
As a writer of YA fiction, I’ve barely crossed the “paranormal line” and will probably never pander to the lowest common denominator by including werewolves, vampires, unicorns, and the like in my work. Manipulating reality and history is a lot more fun for me than creating silly beasts out of nothing.
There are two types of things I write, stuff my parents will see and stuff my parents won’t see. Ever. Needless to say, there are quite a few more uncrossable lines in the stuff my parents will see. Fan-based writing that isn’t intended for publication is a whole different story and if there is a line that I haven’t crossed it’s just because I haven’t had the opportunity yet. Of course, all these lines go out the window halfway into the bottle of wine… and that’s why I edit.
I’m not loathe to cross many borders, but I do struggle with graphic scenes, be they violent, creepy, or sexual. Putting that much intense imagery on the page for others to read has always been difficult for me.
I have a soft spot for kids, so I’m pretty sure I’ll never write anything that depicts children being victimized. To give you an idea of how strongly my feelings run in this area, I don’t believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent for those who might commit murder, but I’m fully in favor of it when it comes to crimes against children. As far as I’m concerned, if you mess around with kids, you’ve forfeited your ticket to the get-to-keep-on-living show.
If I’m writing for myself, I don’t think there is a line I won’t cross: anything that makes me uncomfortable as a writer is a way to challenge myself and become better. That being said, anything that might be controversial or offensive, or even an idea that has been beaten to death but I needed to get out of my system, would never see the light of day.
I think every writer has a line of comfort. For me, I don’t like watching, reading, or writing about people torturing other people (animals and sentient alien life included). Movies like Saw or Hostel really turn me off. I know I could never write like that. I think that’s also why I don’t like to read/write true crime.
If there is a line, I haven’t found it. Horror author Jack Ketchum wrote a great essay called “Splat Goes the Hero.” It’s about honestly recording what is happening in the story and “not looking away.” I really bought in to that idea. I will write whatever the characters show me, no matter how horrible or gruesome. When I re-write, I might tone it down. It’s easy to take stuff out. It’s almost impossible to do the opposite. Lines are for editors and publishers. My job is to write, not censor myself.
Short answer: Probably. Longer, perhaps more nebulous answer: Probably. Whether consciously or not, I haven’t written anything that’s ever made me uncomfortable. That said, when I’m writing for public consumption I try to balance what goes in with social mores as they exist. It’s not necessarily a restriction, more self-editing. When I’m writing solely for myself or for a targeted (read: private) audience, there are no limits. Well, I suppose that’s not strictly true. I can’t imagine what I wouldn’t write if it fit the story, but I might try to work around a subject that might violate those social mores.