Dudes Writing Rape Scenes


I’ve been reading the Game of Thrones novels ever since I picked up the first one from a remainders table at the Jersey shore, and liking them pretty well. There are too many characters and the glossary doesn’t do a very good job helping me remember who’s who from one book to another (especially with years between the end of one book and the start of another) but I’m invested.

I don’t watch the show.

At first it was because I don’t have cable. No HBO. No desire to pirate. Normally, I’d catch up to shows like this when the DVDs come out, by borrowing them from the library. That’s how the family keeps up with ORPHAN BLACK, and I’m midway through S5 of JUSTIFIED right now (a show I have issues with but still find compelling).

Frankly, everything I’ve heard about the show makes me think they’re adding rape to the story as a cheap way to build tension and conflict. Robert Jackson Bennett wrote about this yesterday, and so did John Scalzi, both of whom are talking about rape scenes in general instead of the one from the most recent episode of the show. Both are worth reading, as long as you ignore the ridiculous cries of censorship and the raging misogyny that pops up in comments and in general discussion around the topic.

Why am I linking to two dudes in a discussion about rape? Because it’s usually (but not always) men who add rape to a story as a way to increase tension, show that a bad guy is really bad, or to just titillate the audience. And how do those posts relate to the show? Well, they’re not talking explicitly about Game of Thrones, but they are talking about applying a little common sense and good taste.

Me, I didn’t have a screenwriter-mentor. I had LiveJournal. When I wrote the first draft of Twenty Palaces, I included a scene were a couple of creepy guys made vaguely sexual threats against Annalise, and she beat the hell out of them. It seemed like a great idea at the time because it would increase the conflict and would show what a badass she is.

But I was also relatively new to LiveJournal, and I was reading a lot of commentary by female fans of TV shows like SUPERNATURAL. One of the first things I learned was how exasperating it was to see One Token Female in each show in Desperate Need of Rescue. The second was how tired they were of sexualized violence.

I was your typical dumb guy about both issues. I didn’t go to conventions and I didn’t have friends who talked about story, so it had never even occurred to me that these were things to complain about. I also had all the usual dumb objections you still see in comment sections, but I knew the people I was reading were pretty smart, so I kept my mouth shut and kept reading.

Frankly, I wanted to be a professional, and I was hungry to understand the ways that fans reacted to storytelling.

So I looked at that scene with Annalise again and asked myself what it was doing there? As a cheap attempt to pump up tension, it was a shitty failure. Many years later, when I was writing The Great Way, I came to a scene where the young female co-lead of the novel was captured, and I dismissed the idea of a rape scene (or the suggestion that it was possible) out of hand.

It’s a question of tone. Of taste. Of knowing what works in a story. Of understanding how the reader will respond to the words on the page. (That last thing, by the way, is the biggest hurdle many basically-competent but still unsuccessful writers face.) This isn’t to say that no one should ever write a rape scene (because duh) but that too many writers do it badly and for the wrong reasons.