I have a question for you, dear followers. How do you deal with a scene you think will most probably be annoying, if not outright offensive, to your readers?
Here’s my conundrum: The first draft of the chapter I’m editing at the moment, has a scene which I think is too much. By too much I mean too shocking. The scene showed (shows?) a mother with an infant child die to their shadows. In case anyone has forgotten, in the world of The Darkening, the shadows humans make come to life and kill their owners, in a rather gruesome way.
Originally (around last September I think), I had written the scene in a very descriptive way through the eyes of my main character. For both the mother and the infant. Mind you, by ‘descriptive’ I don’t mean graphic. ‘Detailed’ is probably a better word. By the end of it, I realised it bothered me. Because of the baby. Because of what a mother represents. Because of how shocked, whoever the reader, would be. So, I broke my rule about not editing until after the draft was ready, and rewrote part of it. In that new version, I kept the description of the mother’s death, but I intentionally brushed over that of the infant’s. I was still torn between what my main character would actually see (the full detailed version), and what, in a loose way, was politically correct (meaning the censored version).
Several months later, it was time to edit the same chapter this past week, and while rewriting the scene (I’ve rewritten everything, hence the delay in finishing), I decided that even the censored version was too much. Again because of what a mother represents in our culture, in our societies. So I brushed over the deaths completely, and forced my main character, who originally watched the events, to only hear them die instead of seeing them. Now I’m really not satisfied. Usually, the answer to such a dilemma, for me at least, is rewrite everything, choose a different path. BUT! That scene was there to make a point to the reader about the intentions of another character (their deaths are not accidental, someone did it on purpose, you see). I have no doubt the effect will be identical whichever way I write it; the reader will want to actually hurt the bad guys. It’s just that I’m not satisfied. And I know I have to write the story from the point of view not only of the main character’s, but through the lense of a dead world, where no moral values exist. It’s a post apocalypse story after all. I also have to take into account what drives the bad guy to do what he does. The bad guy has reasons for doing what he does, even though it involves something so brutal. But is that a sufficient enough excuse to be descriptive about something that can be shown in a different, less blunt way?
In the beginning of this post, I wrote “how do you deal with a scene you think will most probably be annoying.” This dilemma may very well be in my mind, and not an real problem at all. I’d like to know, however, if you ever had to make such a decision with a scene in your stories. What was your choice based on, and how did you cope with the (probable) outrage of your readers, be it betas, agents, or anyone else?