Reader Friday: Are There Any Subjects You Avoid?

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Are there any subjects you avoid completely in your writing? For example, is there anything you avoid writing about because it might be too disturbing to readers?

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14 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Are There Any Subjects You Avoid?

  1. I almost didn’t respond because I was afraid of how controversial my answer would be, but I’m trying to break that habit.

    There should never be off-limit topics. You should write about anything and everything if it fits the Story you’re telling.

    I still struggle with that, not because those topics would be disturbing for “some” readers, but because those topics would be disturbing to specific readers in my circle and I’ve seen enough firsthand backlash from it that it has made me trigger shy.

    Still, nothing should be taboo.

    • Speaking as reader, I agree. I’m willing to tackle any piece of quality writing.

      If Gabrielle Wittkop can pull off the “Necrophiliac” then all topics should be considered accessible when framed thoughtfully and purposefully (and if need be, filed in the somewhat protective category of “literary experiment”).

  2. I’m willing to deal with any subject in a non-explicit way. Even so, I received a poor review from one reader who simply didn’t want to read about sexual abuse of children. It didn’t bother me, because I remember loving Tom Clancy’s books. Until I read one that opened with the aftermath of a rape scene on board a boat. It grossed me out so much, I put the book down and never read another of his books. So I totally understood this reader’s reaction. But we still need to deal with the tough issues of life, even if we soften the delivery.

    • I just finished a novel by JA Jance that deals with incest. That book is a perfect example of dealing with difficult topics without being too graphic. Some subjects are so grotesque that it is unnecessary to be graphic because just the mere hint of the topic is enough to cause revulsion.

  3. I used to have certain boundaries regarding children, but if treated with sensitivity, the subject can be powerful. It can trigger strong emotions in my character(s) and provide great motivation for action.

    I generally won’t kill an animal in fiction because I know how it feels to read it. It can turn me off an author.

    I read a mystery/crime fiction book where the author killed off the detective halfway through the story, after I had become attached to him, as a reader. I was SHOCKED, but the author replaced the protag with an equally compelling detective to solve the case. At the end of the book, they find the body of the first cop & return his remains to his girlfriend (after she had his baby). Really good stuff. I’ve never forgotten that book plot. But it takes courage to take that kind of risk.

  4. I try to avoid political stances simply because I see no reason to lose half my audience.
    In my upcoming release, I had a scene in an elementary school, and the subject of active shooters came up, but I drew the line at actually having an active shooter scenario as part of the plot, and I was writing it when another school shooting had just occurred.
    A lot depends on the genre, and what readers want/expect/tolerate. Mystery readers accept more “violent” topics than my audience for my romantic suspense books.

  5. I agree with Logan–books should be able to explore real-life topics and problems, no matter how uncomfortable. Since cave drawings, stories are humankind’s way to understand, teach, and make sense of the senseless. As readers, we have a choice. We don’t HAVE to pick up a book or finish it if it turns objectionable.

    Law & Order SVU tackles graphic subjects that make me cringe yet are part of life. Do I wish such problems didn’t exist? Of course, but not seeing them doesn’t make them go away.

    “Gratuitousness” is my guide of what to write or not write. If rough language, violence, sex, abuse, etc. are necessary to the story, I include them, but not for sensationalism or shock value. I try to handle them tastefully with sensitivity in context.

  6. If you’ve seen the movie, you know the scene.

    You know, Dustin Hoffman as Little Big Man, leads Chief Dan George as Old Lodge Skins, across the river as Custer’s 7th attacks the sleeping village. Many men, women, and children are shot and killed by the cavalry bastards. Finally, Aimée Eccles as Hoffman’s wife, runs from their tepee and tries to make it to the river. She and their baby are shot, she in the back, the baby in the face.

    Every time I have seen the movie in a theater, the audience is deathly quiet for some time. The horror is just too difficult to endure.

    For me, it’s worse. See, that scene is based on the real-life attack of the cowardly Custer and his damned 7th on Black Kettle’s camp of Cheyennes on the Washita River in Indian Territory on the morning of November 27, 1868. The Cheyenne leader Black Kettle and his wife were gunned down trying to flee. They died in under the flag of the United States of America. See, they had been told that, if they flew the flag, they would be safe from attack by the U.S. Army.

    What’s bad about it for me is, my great-great-great Grandmother, A-Gope-Tah, was in that camp that morning. She survived, thank God. She had also survived the Sand Creek Massacre by the federalized Colorado Volunteers. We can document the her presence at Sand Creek. We know she was at the Washita River.

    The horror at the Washita River is something I cannot write about. I have tried. One morning, when I was much younger, my wife and sons were visiting her family in Tulsa. I had reached the part in my novel (it is one of those that sits in the proverbial trunk) one early morning while they were away. I wrote for hours, working on that one scene. When I finished, I broke down and cried for a long time. I was so upset that I went out for breakfast about 3 a.m. because I knew I’d wouldn’t be able to go sleep. Later, I destroyed every one of the 15 typewritten pages that described that event.

    I’ll never be able about that. Never. Never.

    • I have been to the monument at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, or as the native Americans called it, the Battle at Greasy Grass and the ghosts of all who lost their lives still haunts those windy hills.

      • Honestly, Brian, that concept doesn’t fit my personal beliefs. I believe that there is a place of eternal punishment as well as a place of eternal rest.

        But if not, I hope those ghosts wander, unrested, forever.

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