Writing about Uncomfortable Things

By K. Trian

Just a little bit of light in the darkness.

Okay, different people have different comfort levels, but I’ve noticed over the course of our “writing life” that T and I tend to veer towards rather uncomfortable things in our writing.

Sometimes this makes me nervous.

Just yesterday we came up with a new sub-story line to our current WIP, but already I’m wondering how other people would react to it. It’s about a woman who coerces a man sexually. This is a subject little discussed. A man can’t be raped right? Definitely not by a woman because women are so small and weak, right? It’s a difficult subject, and in Solus we wanted to take different angles to (sexual) abuse.

In fact, our sci-fi WIP, Solus, is turning into an uncomfortable juggernaut in other ways too. The science part of it is not pretty, the portrayals of human greed and corruption in the space colony of Solus don’t warm my heart whenever I’m writing or thinking about these subjects, and sometimes I feel like crying whenever we write the most damaged characters, the victims of the abuse from above, from people who have more power. I know I want to discuss these subjects, and I want to tell these stories, but sometimes they make me so uncomfortable, I start to wonder if there’s any sense in writing like this. Should we really carry on?

We always do, though. It’s like we owe it to the characters who are trying to survive in the dark and hostile world we’ve created. If we never finished the story, I’d feel like I had forsaken them there, in the dark.

Sometimes I’m afraid what others, possible future readers, will think. Will they misunderstand everything? Think the content is gratuitous? (I know it isn’t, but as said, people are different) Question our sanity? (likely). But here we, T. K. Trian, just have to trust our writing and vision, tell the stories we think should be told. And it’s not all doom and gloom either. There’s lots of humor and romance as well. But especially with Solus, I feel the uncomfortable is always there, hanging heavily above like a storm cloud, or out of sight, like a poisonous river running underground.

What types of uncomfortable issues have you addressed in your writing? Have you ever found yourself biting more than you can chew?

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8 thoughts on “Writing about Uncomfortable Things

  1. I know what you mean here. It used to be that you write what you were comfortable with, but nowadays, that just doesn’t cut it anymore. What I’m comfortable with may be boring, and I like being uncomfortable when I write… at certain times.

    After reading a bit of Solus ( I know I can’t be an expert on it, yet ), I haven’t really been uncomfortable with it, nor have I yet to question your sanity. So maybe I just don’t get bothered by a lot of things, but I know that while I was writing certain scenes in LoC, I had a feeling that I may have done something really bad.

    And it turns out I was overreacting about it. If you want, you guys can send me the chapter you’re talking about, and I’ll give you my honest advice. Hope this little comment helps. Good luck! : )

    • Thanks for the comment! Good thoughts 🙂 I don’t think I ever went through a transition of writing nicer stuff and then craving to write darker stuff. With T we jumped straight to the deep end. Our first story, Blood Calling, contained Very Bad Priests and knife-up-and-through-the-rectum caliber revenge (a woman had been treated less than nicely by her ex-husband, who then challenged her to a duel. He lost.). LoC was quite violent, and at times I did wonder how your parents have reacted to it 😉
      -K

      • Ah, well, I didn’t tell them I was writing LoC until I was a hundred and fifty pages into it. It’s true that it is quite violent. I’m just glad that my parents know that I don’t really want to become a mercenary or anything like that. xD

        Do tell me how this thing pans out, though. Curious to see how you’ll overcome the uncomfortableness factor. : P

  2. I think writing turns flat if you only deal with what’s comfortable to you, and it’s not a bad thing to challenge your readers. I seem to keep dealing with rape or almost-rape in my stories (which is interesting, since I write romance!), and I’m not even sure why. I think ultimately it isn’t whether you have uncomfortable content, it’s how you then deal with it that matters.

    • I agree. Plus, where’s the fun in just writing what we’re comfortable doing. I mean, I doubt (hope) none of us writers are comfortable with killers. So then how would we write a murder mystery?

      My writing is pretty dark, or at least I like to think so, but I’ve learned that there’s a difference between being dark and being violent. Both are uncomfortable for me yet at the same time, I’m a tad bit dehumanized by the whole ordeal.

      It’s the violence that more people are uncomfortable with, such as rape or murder, than the overall dark tone that seeps into the background. Make an entire civilization greedy, and readers will complain about the neighboring warmongers first. Who’s more wrong?

      Ah, but that delves into gray morality… Might have to write about this some more. 🙂

      • Thanks for commenting! Good points there, both, Erica & Caleb, especially about people getting uncomfy over blatant violence, often even ignoring e.g. greed that causes lots and lots of bad stuff. In Solus, it’s greed that leads to one of the most uncomfortable situations in the novel, and while we don’t write it in a descriptive manner, I always feel sick while thinking about the aftermath, how the greed of some leads to the misery of others.

        Another reason why I feel uncomfy about a woman sexually abusing a man is that somehow the default is men abuse women, not the other way around. I’ve read so many awful feminazi statements about this type of depiction being chauvinistic, e.g. that you should never tell a story of a woman who lies about rape because women NEVER lie about rape just like men ALWAYS lie if they deny rape. I hope I can get away with that, me being a woman myself and not a stranger to abuse either. After all, it’s only one character and one sub-story, and she isn’t demonized throughout. In fact, I tend to look at the characters as people first, rather than as mere representatives of their sex and gender. But still it’s quite harrowing when I try to go inside the head of a person who’s so determined (and damaged) to reach her goals, she’s willing to do anything.

        On a side note, I’ve often found stories sans violence darker and more uncomfortable than those soaked in it. Herbjorg Wassmo’s Dina’s Book is a good example; the depictions of cold Norwegian winters and looming mountains contributing to a very dark atmosphere.

        -K

  3. Going into my Book 3, I am concerned about my capacity to handle certain scenes that I’ve been planning from the beginning. There’s…a lot of bad stuff going on in my world, and the characters are just getting to the point where they’re stepping out of the protected zone and peeling back the curtain on the nastiness. I worry that some characters will cross the line for some readers and never be able to come back — and that’s actually a theme I want to play with. Guilt and shame and the loss of the person you used to be.

    I try not to glorify it. I don’t do grimdark; most of my characters have enough of a moral compass that these events will be like a gut-punch to them, and force a fight-or-flight response rather than the darker ‘join in’ one. Really, the story all the way from Book 1 has been about reactions to horrifying events — including the characters’ own actions — so even though this is an escalation of the nastiness, it’s not coming from nowhere.

    But yeah, as a woman steeped in the cultural conflicts of our times, I worry about some of the portrayals and events that I’ve planned. I’ve already been prodded about some terminology — hooray for beta readers! Still, if you don’t intend to write fluff, if you have a serious story in mind, even if it goes to a dark place — even if it stays there — I think that as long as you write with integrity and don’t do things just for the shock value, you’re doing okay.

    Yes, people can misinterpret it. People can misinterpret anything. But if you stick with just the ‘allowed’ stories because they won’t offend anyone, then what do you have? It’s certainly not art.

    • That was so well put, thanks for sharing =) And props for you, having the courage to tackle difficult themes as well. Suppose it’s important to trust in your own vision and integrity when it comes to writing about difficult matters. People can and will misunderstand, and we can’t appease everyone, but it’s still scary if people start branding you based on the content of the novel (like many brand George RR Martin a misogynist). Your stories sound very interesting, by the way, we’ll have a little excursion to your blog as well to see what’s what 🙂

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