T … is for Taboos

T[1] is for taboos. Nothing is taboo to a writer these days, or so you might think, but I would disagree.

I’d like to put that statement in perspective before we get into the body of this post.

I was a soldier for 23 years, and the first 7 of those, I was single. To say I lived a colourful life would be a massive understatement. More on that later, but please remember that this is a guide, based on my opinion.

Which areas are possible taboos?

There will be more, but there are areas where I would tread carefully. They include: rape, child abuse, torture, the disabled, the elderly, religion, poverty, addiction, racism, alcoholism, bestiality, gratuitous violence, and successful criminality (crime paying is not a good theme).

I know, I know. There will be some of you asking what is left?. I’m not saying we shouldn’t include or describe any of these things in our writing. I use several of them in my novel, ‘Beyond The Law’, but I don’t glorify any of them. Some modern writers can write a rape or domestic abuse scene, but it’s not done in a style that sounds gratuitous – it is done to fit in with the style and the genre of the book.

The best way I can think of describing the use of a taboo subject is to take care with your portrayal. It would be wrong to suggest that these themes or topics don’t exist, because they do, but it’s how they are used in writing that can make them work without being offensive or degrading.

Is there a simple guide?

I believe that there is. My own method is to use my own writer’s conscience.

What is my writer’s conscience?

My personal writer’s conscience is what I’m left with when I filter out the extremes of social conscience. There are many out there in our world who take political correctness to an unbelievable level. I’m talking about racism, sexism, sexuality, vulgarity, etc. When I write about such things, it’s not my opinion that is voiced; it is the opinion or voice of the character. Even so, I don’t use my characters as a cover for abuse of any sort.

If I wouldn’t like to read it; I don’t write it.

How do we recognise personal taboos?

If I’m reading horror, I want to be so terrified that I don’t want to continue reading in a dark room, with only a table lamp on.

If I’m reading erotica, I want to be aroused, and might prefer to be reading in a dark room with only a table lamp … (Yes, I know, too much information). lol

If I’m reading any story and I find it distasteful or the content is simply for the writer’s gratification, I stop reading it. This has happened more than once for me. Two things I don’t like are: bad writing, and stories written for those with morbid tastes.

That is how I recognise personal taboos, and how I’ve developed my writer’s conscience. I hope it hasn’t been too boring a journey today. As I said at the introduction; I’m not, and never have been a prude, but I do still have standards.

There was a hint at the introduction that I would say more about the colourful lifestyle I enjoyed before marrying. One of my next novels is, ‘A Life of Choice’, which is fact-based fiction. I’ve been working on it for several years, but I will aim to complete it this year. It will of course be publicised right here.

Thank you as always for your patronage, and I look forward to any comments, which I will of course reply to. I’ll be back tomorrow with ‘U’.

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16 comments on “T … is for Taboos

  1. ‘A colourful lifestyle while single and in the army?’ – Well, forgive me if I don’t reel back in shock and horror at that… lol.

    Well, now I’ve got that bit out of the way, I think it’s good you’ve not gone for an easy option in bringing up this topic; I’m sure it presents a bit of a dilemma, especially for a novice writer, when such topics as the ones you’ve mentioned need to be addressed. I think sometimes that perhaps it’s best to just allude to such things, leaving it to the reader to
    fill in the gaps for themselves (for example, in ‘a good man’ I refer to some of the things a particular character has done, but without actually going into explicit detail).

    There will of course be times when a little more detail is called for, but so long as such detail forms a part of the wider story, and isn’t gratuitous for its own sake, i.e. not turning the book into one that someone actually wanting to read about such topics or in such explicit detail would automatically turn to – I’m sure there are plenty of other avenues for such tastes – then yes, it can definitely add something to a book (for the record, I think you got the balance just about right in ‘Beyond the Law’).

    I think when it comes to, how shall I put it, ‘imaginative’ sex scenes, apart from not turning them into outright porn, I would say you also have to put aside too much self-consciousness; sex in all its different forms and varieties is a big part of life, and so likely to crop up in a book from time to time. but in writing such scenes, the writer needs to remember that such scenes relate to the character, not the person writing them, and readers will get that – it’s all too easy to be influenced by what you think your friends and colleagues will think or the conclusions they’ll draw about you personally; when I write and post something funny or a bit ‘off the wall’, as I sometimes do, If friends and colleagues enjoy it but think I’m slightly nuts, well, I can live with that, but I can see how a (new) writer might be a little reticent to write something that’s.. erm.. ‘enthusiastically raunchy’, or on the rough side of violent, and concerned how they themselves might be thought of in view of it – thirty odd years a ago I wouldn’t have given it a second thought (had I been able to string more than a few sentences together back then) since most of my friends/peers were all as young and crude and curious about such things as I was back then.

    I think ‘A Life of Choice’ will be very popular and successful, especially when you consider a lot of the rubbish that’s been written, often based probably on little more than a brief spell in an ACF or ATC followed by a few subsequent paint balling w/ends years later (you get the picture I think).

    Anyhow, apologies for rambling on in this reply, but it was a welcome distraction from something I’m working on.

    Cheers mate…

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    • Thank you for the visit, and for ‘rambling on’ Paul; which I enjoyed. Yes, it is a fine balance and I’m pleased you mentioned ‘Beyond The Law’, because that was in effect what held the story together.
      Anybody can write sex, or violence, but providing it in an entertaining style is what I aim for, without stealing the limelight from the plot.
      I know exactly what you mean by the ‘true life’ military memoirs. Unlike most of the ones I’ve read, there will be no need for a legend at the back of my story. It will be easily understood. There will be sex, drugs, violence, alcoholism, adultery, murder and much more besides.

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  2. Personal Taboos are I think that personal (and I have many ) Was it Oscar Wilde who said something to the effect of no book being moral or immoral but rather Bad or well written? I have not read 50 shades of Gray but from all reliable sources the great success is badly written and full of taboo subject matter. If the story is well written and interesting in and of itself I agree with you that certain topics need not be avoided but certainly used with discernment. I am really enjoying your posts. #AtoZchallenge visiting from http://4covert2overt.blogspot.com/

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  3. You are right; the voice a reader should hear is the character’s, not the author’s (unless you’re writing from an omniscient point of view, which isn’t one that’s quite so popular now as it once was), which makes it vital for writer to really know their character(s). It’s also important for writers to know their audience, although many avid readers love reading across genre and ‘age appropriate’ books (I’m currently reading Grimm’s Fairy tales, Jane Eyre, Harry Potter, Ten Days in Panama and the bible -now there’s a book that has it all!!). In my most recent manuscript, I had a rather unpleasant teenage character say something that would never cross my lips. After sleeping on it, I actually changed what he said, not because I found it offensive (which I did!) but because it was actually unnecessary to be so explicit in the particular context; sometimes, pared back and suggested can be more menacing, erotic etc. Readers have imaginations and part of the pleasure of reading is often when an author allows the reader to use that gift. It’s a fine line.

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    • You’ve hit on a one of the things I constantly keep in mind Julia. We must remember to give the reader the credit to have an imagination – and give them the opportunity to use it.
      I have in the past found stories were the information is spoon-fed, and it’s quite insulting. lol
      Thank you once again for dropping in, and with such a good comment.

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  4. I think that recognizing personal taboos is important. Some of the things I have read (and stopped reading) have made me sick. The violence for the sake of violence, especially on those that are unable to help or protect themselves, turns my stomach. But, to take the same topic and explore how the mind and body are able to recover, or in some cases how they are unable to. To empower those that are abused, that takes it out of the realm of taboo for me. Perhaps I really just want a happy ending.

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    • Hi Melanie. Thank you for the visit and comment. You can have violence and still have a happy ending. It just depends who the ‘victim’ is. I don’t think I’d be giving too much away if I said the bad guys don’t get let off the hook in my stories.

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  5. I read Still Missing by Chevy Stevens and, even though there was rape, it wasn’t graphically described. She kind of glossed over it…and I think that happens a lot in novels. You can cover it without going into detail. It’s an art. I write children’s novels, but I remember reading a description a while ago that said if something dark happens to the main character, it’s YA. If you write middle grade, that bad thing happened to someone else in the story and the main character helps him/her through it.

    Stephanie
    http://stephie5741.blogspot.com

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    • Hi Stephie and thank you for dropping in again. Yes, it really is down to how the topic is handled. Skill and subtlety both play a part, but being aware of your readers is a very valid point.

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  6. Great topic for T. I struggle reading many genres due to my need for fluffy fun reading these days. Lots of things are taboo in my writing because I want to write something I’d read.

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    • You are doing exactly the right thing Lynne. Writing what you read, as far as I’m concerned is the same as writing what you know. If the genre or story leaves you cold, or putting in too much effort, it isn’t going to work for a reader. Thanks again for following my posts.

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