Dilemmas

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?

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7 Responses to Dilemmas

  1. I think the important thing is that, as originally written, it bothered you. I try to write things to where I like them, then get beta reader feedback. Even so, reactions can vary so much between my wide-range of readers. I take into consideration what’s said and revise until I’m comfortable with it again. The novel I’m pitching right now will annoy a lot of folks, which means they aren’t my readers. 🙂

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  2. Thank you Ellen. I want my story to be realistic, but not offensive. I’ll always go for cold and hard realism, but I’m always mindful of other people’s way of thinking. For the time being I think I will go with the light version, get feedback from my betas, and ask them about if they would have liked the scene more detailed. I might even send them a separate file with the scene as it was originally written, and see which one they prefer.

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  3. Giving them the options sounds like a great idea.

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  4. Yes, always give options to others, and then make your decision as a reader. What would you like to know in the scene?

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  5. The question is, how far is too far? I mean, I’m not trying to shock with my story. Far from it. At the same time, I want it to be a realistic story, and in a post-apocalypse world where moral and societal values will most probably be discarded and everyone will have a personal agenda (survival), terrible things will happen. We still, however, have moral values (to a certain extent I guess in some cases), so I’m not sure if showing the mother and child dying is the right way (albeit, it is the realistic one) to go. What Ellen said in a previous comment, the key point is the original, realistic version bothered me. But then again, so does the cencored version. Which brings me back to the question at the start of this rather long comment: how far is too far?
    For the time being, I have opted to keep the super cencored version for my betas, hoping to avoid shocking them (like I said, It’s not what I’m aiming for). But I will send them a separate file with that scene as it was originally written, and ask about it.

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  6. belindacrane says:

    I’ve not been down the path that either you or your previous commenters have as I have not published anything, well except for my little blog. For me, there are certain things I don’t enjoy writing. I find if I don’t connect with a situation or a character it becomes hard to write. You have already written it though Chris. To me, that would mean that everything that came after this scene was actually a progression from this particular scene. By describing a mother and child dying, you have created an atmosphere for reader’s to immediately connect to the scene in sadness or horror. You don’t have to write about too much, because people will automatically feel saddened. In relation to your moral dilemma, I’m sure there are many people that will review your every word before it is printed. How far is too far? Our society has become very loose with what is too far. I’ll look out for what your final decision is Chris. Your post has really made me think! Thank you and good luck 🙂

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  7. Thank you Belinda 🙂 I’m glad my posts stick with my readers. It means I’m not the only one whose mind tries to grasp things.

    Your post added to what others mentioned and what I seems to be the best option at this stage: a lighter version where the death scene will remain, but without going over it in detail. Just brushing over it, let the reader fill in the gaps. I will, however, allow my betas to see the original version of the scene and tell me which one evoked the emotion I’m looking for.
    Thank you 🙂

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