How Far is Too Far?

“Hey, I’m curious… I’m starting a new story and I was wondering how far you can take things? Like do you have any opinion on how dark you make subjects? Would you write about murder, rape, torture, etc, and would you limit how much detail or what goes on? At what point does it go too far?”
-(Asked to remain anonymous)

Well reader, it really depends…

(I actually sat staring at the screen for 10 minutes trying to figure out what to write.)

I’m sorry reader… I’m afraid I can’t help you. I’m neither saintly nor scholarly enough to make the determination on what’s going too far, nor would I want the job if I were. Honestly, I’m not sure there is an answer. There really isn’t a rule for that.

Given today’s society and what modern literature is, it seems that the level of sadistic themes and neurotic narcissism throughout keeps getting pushed. As I said in a previous thread, being edgy sells. So if you want to write about someone being tortured and feel the need to drag your reader through every single cut, every drip of blood, every… well all power to you.

That said, there should be a few guidelines. Firstly, refer to topic on Writing Characters You Hate and make sure you’re being edgy for the right reasons. Second look at your target audience. If you’re going with the young adult readers, it’s probably advisable to stay away from anything too edgy.

After that, it really depends on you. In Magnifica wrote about racism and a character being tormented and nearly raped because of that character’s race, but my main character stepped in before it happened. I was willing to bring up and examine the topic, but I saw no need to take it any further. For you, perhaps violence will be a pathway to realism depending on what you’re writing about.

So that’s it. That’s really all I can say, your only limits are how far you’re willing to go and what your readers can stomach. The only piece of advice I can offer is that you ask yourself why. Why am I making this gory, violent, or sadistic? Is it necessary and will it make the story more captivating? If the answer is yes, then have at it. If not, then perhaps a little more thought to the makeup of the story is in order.

Anyway, I hope that was helpful and good luck on your endeavor. I hope to see it in print soon!

What does everyone else think? Should he limit himself, and if so, by what standard?


Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Thanks friends!
Catch you on the flip side!

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9 thoughts on “How Far is Too Far?

  1. Ray says:

    I think I would have to say it’s all about context. Does whatever happen need to happen, or is it just there for the shock value? I’ve learned that no matter what you write, you’re going to be alienating one audience or another.

    Hell, I’m currently writing a novel about Jesus killing zombie-like things. In fact, I’m on a scene right now taking place outside of a Dairy Queen, where they are being chased by ‘Taken Over’ cops and firefighters. I’m sure my whole novel is going to offend some people. Hell, a lot of people. But I can’t stop writing it for them, I have to write it for me. I’ll worry about them later.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Ray is right. It’s about context. And it’s about the size of the audience you want to reach. Ray, again, pointed out that you will inevitably alienate one group or another, but if you want to capture the largest audience, PG is probably the rating your looking for. But what do I know. Game of Thrones novels includes many graphic scenes and shudder inducing acts, and those books are doing well (can’t wait for the next book!).

    Like

  3. Fahad Sheikh says:

    Hey. Can you please review the story I wrote continued from my latest blog post? Thanks;

    Like

  4. harmony77uk says:

    Boundaries are there to be pushed, I mean, look at fifty shades of grey… That book took any idea of rules and smashed them. (Not in a good way in my opinion, but, they are extremely popular) I think that you should never expect a certain type of reader to exist, because they probably do not.
    I think, as long as you are comfortable with what you are writing, and you have done your research into it, then you should feel free to write whatever you want.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lausanne says:

    I just lost my comment – will try again:

    It’s a timely question that I am struggling with from the opposite direction. I’m not out to push boundaries of edginess. I set out to write a fun historical adventure story, but my research made me realize that certain horrors would be inevitable for one of my major characters (hint: a 14-year-old girl kidnapped by mercenaries…. oh, ugh.) I am now caught between either sugarcoating reality or cutting her entire POV from the book. For now I am just going to write the whole thing and decide later. But it is turning into a more serious story. That’s not to say I think I have to give every gory detail – but living through her eyes automatically darkens the story. Problem is: in order to have a hero, you need someone in distress. We like reading about the hero. The damsel’s side of things is not pleasant.

    Like

    • StCyril says:

      Might I suggest re-watching Pirates of the Caribbean. They were able to create a fun adventure from one of the most legendary cutthroat times in history.
      There are ways to write a fun adventure while recognizing, if not delving into the horror and gore.
      Ask yourself seriously, how long do you think Elizabeth would have lasted in a realistic pirate story on ship full of men who don’t see shore, let alone women, that much?

      Like

      • Lausanne says:

        Thanks! You’re certainly right. And, I eventually need to decide on the overall tone and stick with it. I’m having some trouble making that decision just yet – now that I’m confronting reality. For now I’m going to keep writing while reading/watching other works with this in mind. Then the question will be: take the blatantly fun road (Pirates)? the more serious historical fiction route? or something in the middle? I’m afraid the middle road might be the most forgettable.

        Like

      • jimiholmes says:

        I would say to be true to the story and let it find its own target audience. If you want your heroine to have powerful reasons to hate her captors, you’re gonna have to show at least some of the nastier things that happen to her. You may offend some people, but the story isn’t gonna ring true if she goes on a rampage against them, yet the worst thing the reader’s seen them do is slap the back of her hand. If you want us to feel her violation, we need to see it, though that is gonna mean it’s likely to end up pg-13 or R

        Liked by 1 person

  6. evan72 says:

    Hmm…funny you should post that now, just after I’ve written about all three of those. Murder (real and attempted), planning to write detailed torture, and also implied rape of a main character. And I’m writing for a young-adult audience, ages 13-20.

    Here’s my thinking: I’m a young adult, ages 13-20. 17, to be exact. And in a nutshell, if I can write it, people my age are capable of reading it.

    But on a more drawn-out note, I as a young adult and writer of young adult fiction really detest how older writers tend to get sensitive around touchy subjects depending on their age demographic. It may seem like we’re being spared some great evil, but big surprise: We already know. We know what murder is and how it happens. We can imagine vividly what torture feels like. And we are all acutely aware of rape, I promise you that, boys and girls alike.

    But beyond that, these moments, especially when written, offer great depth into what it means to be human. I write with, in part, the intent to provide a vehicle for imagining the world complexly, and there is nothing more raw and animal and base than the three things you’ve described. And to rob a young-adult audience of exposure to that is, I feel, one of the worst things you can do as somebody who wants to cultivate a strong future generation.

    Running from issues like these, especially within the relatively safe introductory medium of written language, is doing a great disservice to young people and to all people. It breaks down the understanding we have for one another through our darkest times.

    So I write murder. I write rape. And I write torture. But not because I want to cultivate a sadistic audience. In fact, just the opposite–I want to have a hand in creating thoughtful young people who are fully and acutely aware of the pain people face around the world on a daily basis. Until we fully understand the horrors of something preventable, we will do nothing to prevent it when there are more pertinent things to deal with. And that’s true for any age.

    So write gritty. Write real. Don’t just jab the knife into someone, pop it into a joint and twist it around. Because that’s what real people go through. And running from that saves us, yes…but it does nothing for everyone else.

    Like

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