Claymore: Rape and Rules

Content Note: Rape

Claymore Recap: Teresa has decided to take young Clare under her protection, at least until they reach a human town where Clare can live and grow up as a human. But on their journey, they are being stalked by the bandit whose hand Teresa cut off. 

Claymore, Episode 6: Teresa and Clare 

Rape in Fiction

It's a rare piece of fiction that portrays rape sensitively and accurately. For the last two years, I've worked as an ABNA judge at Amazon, and I've also been in contact with quite a few indie authors, and I've seen too many works of fiction portray rape so wrongly that I've wanted to throw the book across the room. Lately I feel like the trend has gotten worse, possibly because Rape Is The New Dead Parents (Instant backstory! Just add rape!) and possibly because authors are anxious to recreate the million-dollar explosion that was Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, and the thinking goes that if Larsson's books had rape in them, then rape must mean instant bestseller material. (Writing Pro-Tip: It doesn't.)

I'm not going to say that rape shouldn't be in fiction. We have no idea how many people currently alive have been raped in their lifetime, but it would not surprise me at all if the numbers were 20-25% of the population. I strongly believe that everyone on earth knows someone who has been raped. If you disagree and you're reading this blog entry, you're automatically wrong: if you know me, you know someone who has been raped. And now that we've established that rape victims don't walk around with neon signs on their heads (or on their blogs, as the case may be), it's worth remembering that neither do rapists, and it's very possible that everyone on earth also knows a rapist. These aren't fun realizations.

Given all that, it's easy to see why rape is in fiction: it's a horrible experience that touches almost everyone on earth in some shape or form. It's common in real life, so therefore it's common in fiction -- I get that. But at the same time, there are too many authors out there writing rapes into their fictional works without understanding what rape can be like and how to write it without losing an audience entirely.

Hence, here are Ana's Rules of Rape for fledgling authors:

1. Rapes should not be written from the rapist's point of view unless you know precisely what you are doing and why you are doing it. Wanting the reader to dislike the rapist is not a good enough reason; readers will dislike rapists fine on their own without having to see and hear everything through the filter of the rapist's point of view. By forcing the reader to experience a rape through the rapist's point of view, you are forcing the reader into a mindset that they do not want to be in, won't enjoy, and may dislike enough to put your book down and not read further. Do not abuse your reader in this manner.

2. Rapes can be written with an emphasis on what the victim is experiencing emotionally, as in "Still Missing", or they can be written from a more detached factual-description perspective, as in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo". Both of these narrative techniques can be done well, but both can also be done very poorly. In the former case, you risk seriously triggering your readers; in the latter case, you risk alienating them if the narrative doesn't take the rape seriously. Whichever way you choose to narrate a rape, make absolutely certain that you are sensitive to both your character's and the reader's pain.

3. Rapes take many different forms. The "standard" fictional rape, characterized by brutality, sadism, and grievous bodily injury to the victim, is not the only kind of rape and is not even necessarily the most common form of rape. Understand that violent rape is not the only kind of rape, and make certain that your writing does not imply that a rape without a struggle is not a rape at all. Also understand that non-violent rape can be just as emotionally damaging to the victim -- if not more so because a lot of society will refuse to believe the victim was "actually" raped.

4. Rapes can stem from many different motives, but almost always a rape is motivated by a desire for power rather than a sexual attraction. In stranger-rapes and violent-rapes, the act of rape provides a feeling of power to the rapist that consensual sex would not. In date-rapes, it is possible that the act of rape may be seen by the rapist as an alternative to a rejected overture for consensual sex, but even in these cases the act of rape represents holding power over another human being. Therefore, when writing a rape in fiction, it is important to understand that the rapist is not motivated by the victim's attractiveness, rather the rapist is motivated by a desire to hurt, subdue, or have power over the victim.

5. Rape is never, ever the victim's fault in any way, shape, or form. Ever. Rapists rape because they are rapists, not because their victim was a certain level of attractiveness, or dressed a certain way, or in a certain situation, or drinking a certain substance, or anything else. Do not imply in your writing that the rape was somehow the fault of the victim or that the rape could have been avoided if the victim had only done X. This is called victim blaming and nothing good can come of it.

6. Rapes affect people, but do not necessarily change them. It is easy for an author to think they are being sensitive to the consequences of rape but then go overboard in their zeal. Rape can be a life-altering event, or it can be just another day in a victim's life. For most people, the effect of rape will fall somewhere between those two extremes, but it's important to remember that the effect of rape on victims is a sliding scale, not a one-size-fits-all response. Many rape victims are very sensitive to the idea that their rape is supposedly going to define them over the long-term or change their personality -- this assumption that rape must produce long-term affects on the victim can be seen as giving the rapist more power over the victim.

7. Rapes should not be included in a story without a good reason. Remember Kurt Vonnegut's 4th Rule of Fiction: every piece of your story should either advance the plot or establish a character. This applies doubly so for rapes -- if you are going to risk traumatizing your reader, there should be a reason beyond "well, Larsson did it, so I will too".

So having now said all this, how does this tie into this week's Claymore episode? Episode 5 saw Teresa and Clare attacked by a group of bandits. The bandits were initially frightened of Teresa, since she is powerful enough to easily kill the whole lot of them, but their leader reassures them that they don't need to be frightened: Claymores are forbidden to kill humans on pain of death.

The shift of mood in the group was immediate: once they realized that Teresa was effectively helpless to protect herself, the bandits began to leer at her and threaten her. Teresa reacted with amusement and told them that if sex was all they had in mind they should have said so: she'll travel with them for as long as they like until they've had their fill. She removes her clothing and the bandits are immediately repulsed -- the intense scarring on her body changes their minds and the bandits leave Teresa and Clare in peace.

Now, the first time I saw Episode 5, I felt that the writers had -- as usual -- missed the point when it comes to rape. Since rape is not about attractiveness, the fact that Teresa has a full-body scar shouldn't have suddenly changed everyone's minds. But wait and let's see if that's what the writers really meant.

In Episode 6, the wounded bandit catches up with Teresa at night. He pushes her to the ground and announces that he intends to rape her. Teresa calmly protests: he's seen her body, hasn't he? The bandit explains that he isn't interested in how pretty she is or isn't: he only cares about hurting her. Teresa closes her eyes and endures the assault, just as she has been taught to do in her Claymore training.

Here is where I changed my mind about Episode 5, and decided that maybe the authors really did understand after all. The bandits in the forest, I think, didn't let Teresa go because she wasn't "pretty enough" to rape -- I think they lost interest in raping her once they saw the marks of pain on her body that signified the extent of her training. I think they understood as Teresa understands and as this single bandit doesn't that raping Teresa is meaningless because they can't hurt her, not really. Nothing they can do to Teresa will compare to what she's already gone through as part of her training. As a result, she may submit to them, but they don't have any power over her.

This, to me, is one of the saddest things about the series: the Claymore training and day-to-day job duties are so painful and brutal that rape is a comparative walk in the park.

Rules and How They Work

Teresa is willing to submit to the bandit per the rules of the Organization, but when the bandit threatens to kill Clare, Teresa draws his sword. The bandit is confident that Teresa can't hurt him: after all, it's a Rule that Claymores can't kill humans... right?

In what is possibly my favorite moment in the series, Teresa explains to the bandit that he is confused. The rule, she says, is ultimately just that: a rule. Whether or not a Claymore chooses to follow the rule is entirely up to the individual. Teresa has a choice: she can choose to kill the man there on the spot, and accept the consequences of her action. And if he doesn't clear out immediately, she'll do exactly that.

This philosophy neatly encompasses all rules, but especially describes the life of a Claymore. These women have gone from helpless little girls, sold to the Organization as slaves and science experiments, to strong women who have a choice in how to live their life. The choice is incredibly limited, true -- obey the Organization or die -- but it is a choice. Teresa can choose to end her service with the Organization whenever she wants, and though the choice means death, it still provides her a modicum of control over her life. I imagine that small measure of control is worth quite a bit to the Claymores.

Teresa and Clare travel to the nearest town and Teresa leaves her young charge with a kind family in the village. Clare doesn't want to leave Teresa, but the woman urges her: Live among humans as a human being. This is the greatest gift I can give you. Once well away from town, however, Teresa realizes her mistake; she can give Clare a greater gift than a human life: she can give her protection.

The bandits close in on the town and Teresa arrives too late to warn the village: everyone is dead or dying. The doubts that Teresa felt during her rape -- "Is it for the sake of beings like this that we fight?" -- boil over into rage. Teresa vents her fury on the leader of the bandits and declares that they are worse scum than the yoma.

Once again, we come to the question of what defines a human and what makes a monster. The yoma are "monsters" because they are big and alien and they hunt and kill humans for food. They literally can't survive without feeding on human flesh, and so they wear the "monster" label pretty clearly. And yet these bandits kill just as much if not more than any single yoma. They kill not because they have to in order to survive, but for pleasure. Are they any less of a "monster" than a yoma just because they have human bodies?

And if Claymores are pledged to kill yoma but are forbidden to kill monstrous humans, how can we reconcile these conflicting orders? It seems clear that the Organization is less interested in protecting the innocent and more interested in... what? Protecting all humans, regardless of the consequences? Stamping out all yoma, with little regard for human safety overall? Simply running the Monster Protection Scheme in order to keep the money rolling in? Whatever the goals of the Organization, it is clear that Teresa no longer shares those goals.

After Teresa slaughters the bandits -- in a scene that seems specifically designed to make fun of Dragonball Z, and which made me laugh -- the anime cuts to Teresa's scheduled execution. She has chosen to turn herself in and suffer the consequence for her actions -- there are no exceptions, no matter who the Claymore or what the reason for her actions. As a last request, Teresa asks: what will become of Clare?

The contact from the Organization informs her that Clare is no longer Teresa's concern. Teresa rebels and refuses to submit to the execution. "I can't die yet," she thinks. "I've found a reason to live." Teresa has spent her entire life protecting humans for a living; now she's going to protect one who actually matters to her. For possibly the first time in her life, she's making a choice to live the way that seems right to her.


Heqit said...

Wow.  I think I really need to watch this series.

Cupcakedoll said...

My reading of the scene in the manga was quite a bit shallower than yours.  Since in the manga we don't actually see what it is about Theresa that turns the guys off, I guessed her torso had all the yoma disfigurement that her face lacks and the men simply lost their... interest... by sheer gross-out.  Or alternately that she looked so disgusting that manly peer pressure kicked in, "Dude, you're gonna stick it in THAT?!"  (though how manly peer pressure can exist without going "dude, rape is gross." is a mystery to me, but clearly these bandits don't think it's gross so... *shrug*)

Karen Nilsen said...

**TRIGGER -- society's reactions to trauma in general and teenage sexual abuse**

Thank you for addressing this issue with your usual great sensitivity and thoughtfulness.   While reading, I recalled your excellent post a few weeks ago about realistic heroes who have weaknesses--the reason I tied the two posts together in my mind is that I've had several disturbing experiences over the last few months while reading discussion forums/book reviews in which posters have demonstrated an intolerance towards any weakness in a character, particularly it seems when that character has been through some type of trauma and is in a vulnerable state as a result. 

It's difficult to read about people being traumatized, and I imagine some of the backlash I've witnessed is due to the natural instinct most of us have to push trauma/grief away before it somehow taints our own experience of the world.  Empathy is much more difficult to feel than blame when it comes to dealing with victims.  In order to feel empathy, you have to put yourself in the victim's shoes, which puts you in almost unbearably vulnerable state when you realize that trauma can happen to anyone at any time, even you.  The just-world bias (the erroneous belief that good things happen to good people, bad things to bad people) that insulates people from trauma falls apart when you feel empathy for a victim.   IMO, it's this state that authors need to find if they expect to write about trauma with any realism and subtlety.

Regarding #3 of your rules, I have a story to relate.  When the movie The Reader came out a few years ago, I was impressed with how the moviemakers handled the topic of a 31- year-old woman molesting a 15-year-old boy--after the boy grows the adulthood, the film subtlely shows how this experience of abuse affects him as an adult and limits his ability to form intimate, romantic relationships.  When I brought up this part of the film with other people and how impressed I was by it, their reactions shocked me--from outright dismissal that the woman's seduction of the boy had any lasting impact on him to the painful notion that somehow the abuse could only be an enjoyable experience for him, not a traumatic one.  These reactions disturbed me to the point that I quit bringing the film up for discussion.

Ana Mardoll said...

Karen, thank you for that post. :)

I haven't seen "The Reader", but I too am astonished by reactions that adult woman / young boy molestation and rape are not serious and terrible things. I try to use gender-neutral words in any discussion of rape because you're absolutely right that men and boys can be sexually abused as well, and sometimes rapists are female.

I would rarely recommend the proud-to-be-insensitive "South Park" cartoon in a serious discussion, but for all their faults, they lampooned that belief in their episode "Ms. Teacher Bangs a Boy". One of the boys goes to the police to report that a teacher is molesting a student and everyone takes the matter *extremely* seriously until they find out that it's a female teacher and a male student, at which point the (obviously wrong) police chief says they'll track down the boy and give him a medal. It's overdone, but the point is that molesting a young person is ALWAYS wrong, regardless of the genders involved, and that abuse like that can be very traumatic for a boy.

I would have thought by time "South Park" figured out a worldview was wrong and unhealthy, that everyone else would have gotten notice too, but apparently not. :(

Kit Whitfield said...

There's an interesting review here -

- about the use of rape in horror. The obvious trigger warnings apply, plus it's a review of The Human Centipede 2*, but it makes a very good point about the casual use of rape to amp up the horror or tension: it's dishonest, because it implies that it's even more outlandish than all the other outlandish things that are happening in the plot. Rather than being extremely common. 

Interesting analysis, anyway. And very interesting post, Ana, thanks for it. 

*Which, just for the record, I haven't seen. I read some reviews and watched some clips from the first movie one day shortly before I went on medication for postnatal depression, largely to see if I could get myself to feel anything. What I felt was eye-rolling cynicism. 

Ana Mardoll said...

Kit, that article was awesome, thank you. I rarely laugh during a post on rape, but somehow I did while reading that one.

Personal Failure said...

Rape is about sex in exactly the same way beating someone with a baseball bat is about the bat.

That being said, can we enforce the reading of the above rules by all aspiring authors everywhere? Rape victim= newly insightful/powerful/deeply caring woman is a trope I despise. Sure, having been raped will certainly change a person's perspective on things, but it doesn't automatically make someone a really great person, or a really insightful person, etc.. (The same thing happens with the disabled. Disabled people are always just so nicety nice nice nice, no matter what they were like when they were able.)

Ana Mardoll said...

@twitter-46666191:disqus  And the sister trope: that rape automatically renders you completely unable to associate with humans at all, constantly angry-bitter-fearful, and utterly unable to have intimate relationship.

I really, really dislike "rape automatically makes you..." tropes. Ditto on "being disabled automatically makes you..." tropes. I suppose we could expand that to "being ANYTHING automatically makes you..." because outside of tautologies ("Being white means you are white"), humans are generally WAY too complicated for any characterization to automatically happen in response to X.

Loquat said...

RE: why manly peer pressure doesn't prevent rape

Short answer: because plenty of male peer groups in real life think rape is a perfectly acceptable way of getting laid.

Longer answer: because those male peer groups subscribe to a definition of masculinity that casts women as sex objects, who exist to please men and whose preferences are therefore irrelevant. You can see it in the kind of fraternities that have gangbangs, for example - a group of men wanting to get laid gets a woman in their power so they can all have sex with her. It's a twisted form of male bonding, among other things. There's a talk from TED that goes into this kind of culture in greater detail - here - the speaker talks about an event from his early adolescence when he was among a number of neighborhood boys invited to rape a girl (she wasn't resisting, but wasn't in a mental state to give consent either). The boy who'd procured the girl and was delivering the invitations didn't call it rape, of course; he presented it as an opportunity to get laid. 

Thought experiment - if Theresa's body had been un-scarred and sexy, and she had some other way of making the bandits understand that she had suffered far worse than them and they could never have power over her, would they have lost interest in her the same way?

Loquat said...

Huh, Disqus must have eaten my comment. Bet it'll show up again 5 minutes after I post this?

Why doesn't manly peer pressure discourage rape?

Essentially because in rape-inclined male peer groups, such as these bandits, they see women as sex objects that exist to please men. Under that mindset, a woman consenting to sex is like a chicken consenting to have its eggs taken away and eaten - nice if you care about that sort of thing, but by no means necessary unless you're some kind of bleeding heart hippie wuss. Also, in groups like this gang-rape will often function as sort of a twisted male bonding exercise - if you've ever read any studies of fraternities with gang-rape issues, that's part of what's going on.

I had a link to a video of a guy who grew up in this kind of culture talking about its toxic effects, but that may have been what made Disqus eat my comment so I'll put that in a separate post.

Loquat said...

Video here:
It's an excellent talk, he has a lot to say about the effects of the macho culture he grew up with and how it twisted so many people he knew.

Kit Whitfield said...

 Also, in groups like this gang-rape will often function as sort of a twisted male bonding exercise

I've read, too, that gang rapes are often perpetrated against 'outsiders' - someone who doesn't conform to the standards of attractiveness the group sets, and is perceived by them as lower status. So attractiveness isn't an issue, except insofar as it may determine how protected they perceive the woman as being. 

Karen Nilsen said...

Thanks for the Southpark rec--who would have thought Southpark would get it right on that particular topic??  Interesting discussion.  The tropes of "rape automatically makes you . . ." or being "handicapped automatically makes you . . ." remind me of those earnest books (generally entitled something like How to Write a Bestseller in 30 Days) where newbie fiction writers could learn all the formulas of characterization and plotting, as if writing good fiction were akin to solving a math problem.  Character A + Character B + Situation C = Bestseller!  Myself, I never did that well in math. 

LIke any kind of artistic persuit, investing time and emotion in writing fiction is an uncertain venture, fraught with self doubt, strange flashes of intuition, financial insecurity, friends and fmaily feeling neglected, odd voices speaking in the night, and no sense of one's true destination.  In the face of such loss of control, it's no wonder that would-be writers long to take the easy, safe path of relying on tropes and formulas, especially when dealing with emotionally tough issues.  Unfortunately, formulas add up to clunky, lifeless writing, which for me as a reader goes from being an annoyance to being an insult when the writer decides to toss a topic like rape in the mix. 

Ana Mardoll said...

Will, so it's a Not My Nigel plot where the protagonist has to deal with the fact that her brother is a rapist?

I've never seen that before, and I think it could be good. Indeed, could be an opportunity to deflate some myths: nice guys can be rapists, acquaintance rape is common, your family isn't automatically blameless...

One thought is that the Protag's dealing with the problem shouldn't come off as harder than the Victim's being raped. (i.e. avoid Protagonist Centered angst where the Protag has it worse because she's the protag).

Other thought is that you'll have to be careful portraying the brother. You will have to walk between two extremes: Rape is a Special (Rare) Kind of Evil and he's a nice brother so rape isn't a big deal. The balance will be tricky because reading is a subjective act...

I do like the idea though. :)

Ana Mardoll said...

Oh, I think you can definitely do it without making the victim more integral to the story -- you'll just have to stress that the Protag understands (conversation, thoughts, actions, etc.) that what HE is going through is not as bad as what the VICTIM went through.

Heck, he could get a guilt-complex about THAT before realizing that pain isn't a one-up game and that he doesn't need to COMPARE the pain, he needs to be sympathetic and active to make the world a better place -- it's like the story that keeps on giving from a debunking standpoint!


Re: Universe Changes

I feel your pain and if you find an answer please let me know. I am currently writing a fantasy story right now that is set in sort-of Europe (everyone has Italian names. That's about it.) but with fairies who openly travel around cursing royalty and shape-changing people so obviously this isn't Historically Accurate.

I, too, am sick of "Dragons, but misogyny, because Realism" so I have several black characters set in the story. One is a rich widow, now remarried in a mixed race marriage, and the other two are her daughters, and this is all perfectly normal and no one thinks twice about it. There's mention that in the big city, black people are just the same as everyone else in terms of social status, and the only "racism" in the story is that the small village people are a little rude/staring/judging of the women when she and her daughters move in. But whether it's racism or just mistrust of strangers I don't clarify because...

...I really do NOT want the world-building to become a plot tumor -- I was initially just planning to write it and say "it's Fantasy, not History, duh". But my reading partner found it a little confusing because, well, it's easy to slip into "fairies, but otherwise Realism" since it's such a common trope in literature. I'm not really sure how to get around this.

Will Wildman said...

Race is another tough one, yes - the question of how to make it reasonably clear to the reader that racial diversity is both common and unopposed in a world without having characters make a big deal about something that isn't a big deal to them.  Because I know too well the pitfalls past authors have encountered when they gave readers too much credit (as I understand it, all the major characters in Earthsea are kinda red-brown, but when they filmed it somehow everyone got bleached [except for the wizard, which is another facepalm]).  It's not all JK Rowling's fault I spent the first half of Harry Potter thinking that Angelina Johnson was white; that was just me assuming on no information.

I'd like to think that names can help, but I have all sorts of issues surrounding the decision to use or not use Earth names in a story.  (I'd like to think that in a protag trio of Gen, Rika, and Nakato, a reader might guess that at least one of them had higher melanin, but even then they may not realise that the first two are 'Japanese' siblings and the third is 'Lugandan'.  Or would be if Japan and Luganda existed in that world.)  If I'm not using Earth names, I have to put even more effort into developing names that clearly sound like they originate from different cultures, in the hopes that people will realise Bree and Oanash and Nsovan and Xella don't all look the same.  Which may or may not work.

I envy Sir Terry simply and brilliantly taking a footnote or two to mention that racism is uncommon on the Disc because speciesism is more interesting; "black and white live in perfect harmony and gang up on green".  Maybe the solution is just for everyone to embrace Footnote-Encapsulated Worldbuilding Facts.

Kit Whitfield said...

I think there's a strong case than in a society that's genuinely equal, rape statistics would change drastically in one of two ways. Either women would get raped less, or men would get raped more. Or, more likely, both. 

A big motivator in sexual violence is sexism; a man who rapes a woman tends to have an assumption that women are, on some level, less than human creatures. Rape, as everyone keeps saying, is a power crime, and a lot of it is motivated by a man who feels entitled to assert power over a woman. If women are universally seen as equal...

Well, here are the points that occur to me:

1. A man who raped a woman is more likely to be a man who has power issues with both men and women. If he feels entitled to assert power over an equal gender, his behaviour to men may also have an undercurrent of aggression. He may, of course, use 'niceness' as a tool of social control; a lot of rapists and abusers do. But if women aren't disempowered, his power issues will be less contained. 

2. Rape will have a different cultural context to bystanders. If a man is accused of rape in this world, people tend to take his word over a woman's - but if they believe he did it, he becomes seen as a man who has a problem with women. Neither of these would apply in an equal world. 

3. The attitude the rapist has towards the victim will be, in a way, more personal. If he doesn't see her as lower-status because she's a woman, he needs another reason to see her that way. Is she a member of a different social caste? A different nationality? Does she lack the qualities he considers most important? What is it that gives him an excuse to depersonalise her? 

4. If the sexes are genuinely equal, men may also be afraid of being raped. In which case, a man whose brother raped a woman won't necessarily feel safe from him. He may not expect to be raped himself, but put it this way: if my brother raped a woman, I'd feel, among other things, that he clearly had a problem with women. And since I'm a woman, that would me he had a problem with me. When feminists say rape is a crime against all women, that's what they mean: if you have so little respect for women that you think it's okay to rape them, your problem is not confined to your victim. Depending on why the brother raped this particular women, his problem is either going to be with people who have whatever quality he attributed to her, or else just with people in general. In either case, the protagonist is going to worry about it, and if it's the latter case, he's going to feel both betrayed and afraid. 

Qwer said...

hmmm....sure i really think you should watch the anime or read the manga. do ever get past ep 6 or watch the whole anime? you should

Anonymous said...

Yeah, she did blog posts for the whole anime, one episode at a time, but she hasn't written up the manga (not being her, I do not know whether or not she's read it).

I tried to read the manga, but I kept getting impatient because the beginning is parts that I already saw in the anime and knew about, but then I wanted to read it because I knew there would be subtle differences, and then I couldn't find where in the manga the anime ended (that's the part in the manga I would have started paying closer attention to). And then I got distracted and never went back to it.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yes, if you search the page for deconstructions(claymore), you'll find the full anime. I'm reading and reviewing the manga, slowly, and will note where it diverges from the anime.

Will Wildman said...

One thought is that the Protag's dealing with the problem shouldn't come off as harder than the Victim's being raped. (i.e. avoid Protagonist Centered angst where the Protag has it worse because she's the protag).

This is the main thing that concerns me about deciding how much to feature the victim.  As an additional note, the Protag in question is male, with a close physical resemblance to the brother, whom he always looked up to as a child.  The fact that it's a male character makes it all the more important to not cast him as appearing to suffer more than the actual victim, and makes me very uncomfortable about not having the woman as a main character, but I haven't yet found any way to do that which wouldn't just come down to awkward authorial fiat.  I don't think there's any risk of ever suggesting that rape isn't a big deal, and I'm (admittedly) taking the easy way out by having him be dead, which should prevent sympathy or forgiveness for the rapist from becoming a thing.

And there are even more complications because I'd really like to be writing a universe with gender equality (I am bored with fantasy that says suspension of disbelief is fine for dragons but broken by the absence of cultural misogyny) and I'm not sure to what degree that should affect things.  If I try to give the whole context for the story we'll be here all afternoon, but I appreciate the insights.  I'm starting to feel like I'm treating your blog like it's my blog - time for a break.

Will Wildman said...

I've been trying to work for a few years now with a plot that does involve rape in the backstory - it didn't take me too long to realise that the initial idea had plenty of the usual problematic features, and the simple solution seemed to be to throw it out entirely, but I have kept a kind of conviction that there must be a way of telling the story properly, in a way that's meaningful to the real world.  So when I encounter an intelligent discussion about rape in fiction like this, I usually try to haul those characters' histories out and see how they can be improved.

The 'don't' rules aren't too difficult to deal with: don't imply that rape has X universal effect, don't use it to justify transforming a person into a caricature or a living sociopolitical statement, plus the same rules that apply in reality (no victim-blaming, etc).

One of the main things that I've deliberated is the degree to which given characters need to be featured.  Neither the rapist nor the woman he assaulted are main characters, and it would be strange to shoehorn the woman into a larger portion of the plot specifically to avoid that marginalisation.  (The now-dead rapist was a major character's brother, and the discovery of that information is the core of the larger traumatised headspace the major character is in when the story begins.  It's part of the overall theme of enemies within; evil as internal rather than the monster at the gates.)

So one of the thoughts that I've had is that excessively focusing on this rape and this particular woman would also contribute to the idea that rape is bizarre, an incredible abnormality, a one-in-a-million freak occurrence.  Rather than trying to calculate exactly how to feature more of that character, it would be better to expand the major character's awareness and get them to look at their environment more, because they live in a major city and there is still evil in people, so the problem is rape is likely still prevalent.

I'm not sure if this is a solid idea to work with yet or if it's still fundamentally flawed.


where newbie fiction writers could learn all the formulas of characterization and plotting, as if writing good fiction were akin to solving a math problem.  Character A + Character B + Situation C = Bestseller!

For all that I like TVtropes and will usually stand in defence of it, there are people for whom it certainly seems to support and enable this paradigm, which makes me froth and facepalm.  (I maintain that it is in concept a tool that may be used for good or evil, but I'm open to the possibility that it is not a tool that the internet should be entrusted with.)

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