Monday, May 14, 2012

Self-censorship and the lost art of subtlety

When it comes to writing, I just hate rules. I particularly detest when the industry imposes arbitrary rules that limits my creativity.  In an age where there are relatively few taboo subjects, those rules are tantamount to censorship. And yet they serve a purpose. Whether we follow or bypass them, they force us to improve our writing skills, to develop crafty ways in which to please this new form of censorship while retaining our personal style. Thus we become subtle writers.

Repression breeds good writers
Once in graduate school, a professor shocked our class by saying that political repression usually breeds the best writers. He used Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn as examples. In those Glasnost days, my teacher prophesied that no good writer could come from the freer atmosphere of the New Russia. Time has proven him right. I haven´t heard of any Russian literary masterpiece written after the fall of the former Soviet Union.

Moreover, Tom went on saying, and this time we had to agree, that all the genius of the Spanish Golden Age, whether it was reflected on Velasquez paintings or Calderon´s plays had seen the light under a climate of extreme social and political oppression. The Holy Office, the most dreadful censor that has ever existed, was in charge to approve or obstruct any form of artistic expression not only in the Iberian Peninsula but in its overseas empire as well.

The proof was that during their lifetime, Cervantes, St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross ran into trouble with the Inquisition. So, how could Spain reach such artistic zenith during those heavily censored times? Every great artist had to work with what they have, to create code ways to express their true ideas, to skirt around dangerous subjects. In sum, they had to learn to be subtle.
St Teresa and St John of the Cross

Subtlety is something modern writers and scriptwriters no longer recognize.  Despite constant whining about censorship, contemporary artistic expression has no boundaries, few taboo subjects and absolutely no nuance. It´s why we can hardly notice great films since their “greatness” is cloaked by profanity, gore and cascades of graphic sex. I am not saying writing or audiovisual entertainment should lack four-letter words, violence or sexual content, but the lack of delicacy that characterizes its usage diminishes its potential.

To torture or not to torture
Graphic violence has made me close a book several times, but I have to say it seldom happens when reading fiction. Depictions of torture, human experiments, and horrid ways of execution have made me ill, but only if I find them in history books.  Violence in novels doesn’t have that same effect because we know it is fictional, and because good writers know how to use it.

As a child I used to shake all over with Isaac of York’s ordeal in Ivanhoe. The funny thing was that Isaac is never really tortured by the dastardly Norman Front de Boeuf. A fortunate and timely attack by Robin Hood´s Merry Men saves the Jew from being roasted alive, but Sir Walter Scott carefully depicts the torture instruments, the iron grill, the oil, the fire, making the reader as terrified as Isaac of what is about to happen in that torture chamber.
Sir James Mason playing Isaac of York in Ivanhoe

In The 25th Hour, Constant Virgil Gheorghiu portrays with crudeness the suffering of Rumanian people before, during and after World War II, but its strongest scene does not include physical violence. Nora West, the female protagonist, finds herself in an East Germany cell.  When she bangs on the door demanding an explanation for her arrest, the jailer threatens her: next time she calls, she´ll be punished. Although he doesn´t specify what punishment expects her, Nora is terrified.

Unused to hardship or extreme fear, she crumbles apart. The author describes everything that goes through her head from the possible causes behind her arrest to the lice in the bed in the cell. Worse is to come, she needs to urinate but she can´t call the jailer to take her to the bathroom. With exquisite detail, the author describes her need to perform the bodily function: “She felt as if a hundred needles pierced her bladder and she couldn´t force her muscles to obey her.”
Nora West in the Spanish edition of The 25th  Hour

When The Sunday Herald serialized the novel in 1951, the censor cut that piece considering it too strong for their readers. To me is much more powerful and painful than any torture scene, like the one Robert Crichton includes in his The Secret of Santa Vittoria.

After the fall of Mussolini, the village of Santa Vittoria elects Italo Bombolini, the town´s drunkard, as their mayor.  When Germans invade Italy, Bombolini knows they´ll seize the wine the village produces. With the townspeople’s help, he hides over a million bottles of wine in a nearby cave. The Germans arrive and Captain von Prumm, the officer in charge, confiscates a couple of thousand bottles to send over to Germany.
Anthony Quinn as Bombolini

Then the S.S. turns up in Santa Vittoria. Furious because according to the pre-war statistics Santa Vittoria yields over a million bottles,  they demand hostages to torture into giving away the wine´s whereabouts. Bombolini, who has been reading The Prince, devices a Machiavellian plan. He tells von Prumm that to avoid guilty feelings, they should select as hostages the fist two men that walk into to the town square. Previously, Bombolini has arranged so those men are Copa, the former mayor, and another of his Fascist cronies.  The men are taken to the torture chamber and Crichton spends over a page depicting their torment:

“After that they did things with the blowtorch on Copa's body that cannot be written down. After the torch they cooled him with water. He was still conscious and they put the funnel in his mouth so that it went far down his throat and they bent his neck back and brought him to the point of drowning.”

When the time came to get Crichton’s novel to the silver screen, director Stanley Kramer was in a quandary. He wanted to sell his film as a comedy, so how could he balance that with a gruesome torture scene? (Moreover, 60’s sensibilities were not partial to such scene.)His solution was to reach out for subtlety.

Kramer had the camera focus not on the tortured men but on the villagers’ faces as screams are heard in the background. Like in a Greek tragedy, violence occurs off the stage, we don´t see the torture, and we don’t see the torturer or his victims. And yet it is a blood curdling scene (I am glad I found it in YouTube) with those sporadic shrieks of pain breaking perfect silence and the camera recording the reactions of both Bombolini‘s (Anthony Quinn) and von Prumm (Hardy Krueger.)

A reviewer once said that the torture scene was proof of Crichton´s masterful style. I agree, but I also feel that Stanley Kramer deserves some accolades for his timely self-censorship and skillful subtlety in directing a difficult scene. Too bad we cannot say the same about Rosemary Rogers.

Gifted with a fertile imagination and an almost elegant prose, Rosemary Rogers stood apart from the other bodice-ripper authors as the most “literary” of the lot, but she cramped her style with a taste for violence. Not only were her heroines incessantly raped, but her antiheroes were not immune to victimization either. With gusto, Rogers would subject her male protagonists to flogging, beatings, and stabbings. She reached heights of cruelty such as bounding them to cacti, slowly choking them with wet leather and staking them to the ground just to be covered with hungry ants. She even had he favorite macho hero Steve Morgan threatened with male rape. Rosemary Rogers was a good writer but she went too far. Too bad there was no censor around to curtail her sadistic imagination.

“And the earth moved…”
Over the years I have run into many books and films that could be perfect except for one flaw: excess.  An overflowing of shocking material can cause mental indigestion and it’s a sign of artistic immaturity. A writer doesn´t have to return to Victorian literature inhibitions and leave the reader wondering how and when the heroine got pregnant, but a bit of self-censorship will force the writing to be more ingenious and subtle.

I don´t want to linger too much on the subject of explicit bedroom scenes , but I think the most arousing books and films are those that display restrain. A friend of mine once complained about the amount of euphemisms historical romance authors used for male genitalia.  “Why can´t they just call it a penis?” she said. I explained that the word didn´t matter, much more important was what the penis did, something even authors forget. They shouldn’t focus on body parts or positions, but feelings and emotions.

 Guy de Maupassant wrote fantastically sexy short stories and novels and yet he never had to use anatomical references or lewd language. He concentrated on atmosphere, sexual tension and feelings. Just describing the shrill provoked by a girl’s fist orgasm was much more exciting that spending two pages illustrating every action that brought about that shriek. Just think of Hemingway’s phrase "and the earth moved out and away from under them” in For Whom the Bells Toll.  That immortal metaphor for an orgasm is all you need to realize that Robert and Maria are having a good time upon the Spanish ground.
Robert and Maria before making the earth "move"

Forbidden words
Recently Regis reminded me that the word “impotence” is not used in The Sun Also Rises to explain the hero’s malady, yet every reader knows Jake is impotent, just as we know Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Doryan Gray is all about homosexuality. Sometimes a writer doesn´t need to state the obvious. However, the fact that the film version includes the word “impotent” was a major breakthrough in an industry that couldn´t use the word “virgin” (referring to a physical condition) until “The Moon is Blue" (1955) and the term “pregnant” until “A Summer Place” (1960.) Nowadays those words are so common in television and moving pictures that we don’t even notice them. It´s only the first time they are used that they cause the desired shock.

Norman Mailer´s epic war novel The Naked and the Dead presented the reader with a new verb: “to fug.”Mailer had to yield to his publisher´s advice not to use the “F” word since books that had previously used it (i.e. Joyce´s Ulysses and Lawrence´s Lady Chatterley’s Lover) had been banned in the US. But two years late, James Jones dared to actually use the “F” word (60 times) in From Here to Eternity.
Nowadays profanity is so widespread in fiction that I hear a good way to attract an agent is to begin a novel with a dialogue line that includes a “bad” word. I guess that after rating a dozen manuscripts that start with “F...k” or “S...t”, agents are probably immune to such novelties. The problem of overusing resources is that they become boring and predictable.

I remember the first “bad word” heard on national TV. It was uttered by Hawkeye Piece (Alan Alda) in the “M.A.S.H” episode “Guerilla My Dreams.”A M.A.S.H.  fanatic, I still recall the electric current running down my spine when that “Son of a Bitch!” was hurled by Hawkeye to a Korean intelligence officer bent on torturing a patient. In the 80's, profanity was unknown in open television. Nowadays the S.O.B term is used even by children on the small screen and we scarcely bat an eyelash.
"Guerrilla My Dreams"

My father once gave me a great piece of advice. “Never use a four-letter word when you have a better term at hand. Extreme profanity is a sign of ignorance and lack of vocabulary.” Every time I watch “True Blood” I remember Dad’s advise because everyone in the show from sophisticated vampires to working-class shapeshifters suffer from a bad case of gutter-mouth. This applies to the heroine as well.  Sookie Stackhouse in her books doesn´t curse as much as her television counterpart who comes across (excuse the non PC word) as the prototypical “white trash.”

 I am tired of hearing that “explicit sex, gore and foul language sell.” How come extremely successful shows such as “Downton Abbey” and “Mad Men” do not use that cheap device?  “Mad Men,” a show that is all about sex, keeps profanity to a minimum. In five seasons it has yet to show nudity or naked sweaty couples huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf about to blow away the homes of The Three Little Pigs.

After this tirade, I have to confess that I have been guilty of every fault I criticize in this post. I have written gory and sexually explicit scenes, and twice wiser-than-me Beta Readers have counseled me to erase an untimely “F” word. We are the product of what we see and read. How could we then circumvent the inevitable excesses of poor taste?

My advice is read, read and read. And watch your reaction to all that reading. Could you name novels (or films) where offensive subjects were skillfully and tastefully managed? Have you turned off the TV, walked off the movie house or closed a book because of a particular mishandling of delicate themes? In general, how do you feel about too much sex, violence and profanity in literature?  Should we exercise self-censorship to balance the excess?


  1. Timely post! I was just listening to two (young, male) writer friends bragging about how violent and unrestrained their latest works were ... as if that was terribly daring. Show me a short story written by a young man that isn't full of violence and sex, and I'll show you a blank page. (Here's where all the young men yell at me for generalizing. But really.)

    Once writers can get over the idea that it's daring and thrilling to drop random f-bombs and violence into a story, they can learn to discern when those devices are actually helpful. What I hear you saying, Violante, is "don't do it, unless you really have to." I agree. I do use the f-bomb liberally in my campus novel, because hello -- it's a campus novel. It would not read right if the characters were exclaiming "Oh, my stars!" when they were upset. But my 19th C. novel hardly has any cursing.

    That said, I have almost never closed a book because the violence or sex is too graphic. This may be because I don't read too much commercial fiction, which is where you're more likely to find gratuitous sex & violence. But I also think it just doesn't bug me that much, in itself. If it doesn't belong in the story, that will bother me: anything that doesn't belong in the story bothers me.

    On the other OTHER hand, I did have to skim through the torture bits in Steven Pinker's nonfiction masterpiece, "The Better Angels of Our Nature." He includes the violence for a very good reason, but once I got his point, I just didn't need 20 more pages of graphic suffering.

    Good post! (And I owe you one!)

    1. Sister Stephanie,
      Don´t mention it. I just happen to have it sort of ready.
      I have no problem with cops, gangsters, soldiers, jailbirds and those of the criminal classes (teen students fall into that category, I guess) cursing their mouths out, but I never understood why Roman ladies in Spartacus had to use the F-word every five minutes! It was “fetch me my f---g comb” “I hate this f---g house” all the time. The Soprano ladies used more refined vocabulary.

      Many aspiring writers, I am sorry to say, think they may fool the industry by delivering shocking material. Sad, but it doesn´t work. I fell for that and went for shock value thinking it was a sign of originality: the four-page description of a wedding night, a combination of orgy and Black Mass ending in a vivisection, ECT. It embarrasses me to read it now. If you don´t know how to do it, you end up writing unintentionally hilarious muck.

      There were R. Rogers’ novels that I never finished, and I hate to say it but I could never finish Outlander after reading poor Jamie´s rape. Just like (and I love Tarantino) I have never been able to watch “Hostel”.

  2. Regis says; First, last week, I missed congratulating the Sisterhood for wining the well deserved award. I told another aspiring writer; that studying the archives is like a course in fiction writing.
    Whether it is a cultural or genetic thing, I have never gotten the so called ' Dopamine rush' from violence; my feeling is more one of nausea. I have intentionally avoided war movies. A moderate amount of violence in fiction is often necessary, but why carry it to extreme? Does fiction full of violence appeal to the masochistic side of readers?--or what?
    Violante, are 'cuss words' in Spanish also four letter? An interesting post, worthy of discussion.

    1. Dear Regis,
      Thanks in the name of the Sisterhood.
      I don´t know about literature, but television has become the kingdom of gore, and reading viewer’s comments, they like it that way. I think it appeals to their sadistic side.
      Originally (as with sex) extreme violence was considered a sign of “realism.” In the 90’s, medical shows like ER (and House followed suit) began to get graphic in the depiction of wounds and surgeries. Supposedly that anesthetized audiences and made them immune to the sight of blood and guts.
      So, shows started a race to see which one was gorier. In the last season of Spartacus, he slices a man´s face in half. So far they haven´t been able to top that one…but I´m sure they will.
      Some Spanish bad words are 4-letters long, others like the one for “sh—“are longer

  3. I was just now visited by a friend who has a little device which is connected with Amazon by internet. You may have seen one of these in book stores. He scans the Ibn. and it instantly tells him what it is worth at Amazon, and other details. He sends valuable ones to the A. warehouse and A. pays him when the book sells, although it may take months. Now to get to the point. He says if book is about vampires, mysticism, cannibalism (he named others) it will usually be a hot seller. One 8-for-a-dollar book he found at the Salvation Army sold for $39. Not only violence, but weirdness is popular now. Regis

    1. HeHe, what you call weirdness is what others call Fantasy. But it is true that Fantasy has grown increasingly bloody in the last years.

  4. In total agreement with you about the need for self-restraint and subtlety in films/TV shows and books, Sister Violante. The easiest thing to do is to use sex/gore to allure the audience and keep them watching/reading. I just finished reading a novel where the frivolous use of sex was a turnoff for me. There is a time and a place for everything and when someone wants a serious read, to see it flooded with tasteless sex scenes cheapens it in the eyes of the reader (at least in the eyes of this reader). I think it's justifiable/understandable in the case of beginning writers, but when an established author does it for no good reason (like the case of the book I just read) it's disappointing and frustrating.

    Your professor's view on censorship is interesting. It's ironic that when we have too much freedom and we decide not to follow any rules (like when you and I started writing) we had so many possibilities that we lost focus. Someone telling you: "You can't do this" makes you think more creatively on how to write a scene. This happened to me when I finally understood POV. When I started writing I had an abundance of POVs, head-hopping and subplots. I was also relying heavily on cliches and situations I'd already seen in fiction. Once I realized I had to limit my POVs and get rid of cliches, I had to sit down and think on how to convey information to the reader in more subtle/creative ways (since I couldn't explain the actions of every character). I think the novel benefited from this "restriction." People who've read all three drafts, noticed a huge improvement in the third version.

    Another example: I used to be a fan of SNL in the 90's, but since it became more gross than funny in recent years, I stopped watching and one of my close friends told me the other day she'd walked out of the movie theater during "There's Something About Mary" (and let me tell you, my friend is no prude). I didn't say anything because I actually laughed a lot during that film (but was also disgusted!) But it goes to show you that some people have no tolerance for vulgarity or excessive sexuality.

    1. Dear Sister Lorena,
      I love ice-cream, I love steak. I would vomit if someone placed a scoop of pistachio on top of my meat. Erotica and pornography have their place and purpose; they shouldn’t mix with serious stuff.
      Having no boundaries (this applies to everything) puts you in a very shaky position, you drift aimlessly and that is not conductive to creativity, despite what Timothy Leary may have preached. Having said so, I must add that I just read an Italian novel and found abundant head-hopping which means that POV rules are still strictly an American thing.
      Something about Mary is the Ben Stiller film?
      After watching the SNL videos you sent me I came to the collusion that humor collapsed with the Twin Towers, and that what passes for humor in the post-911 era just consists in being offensive .

  5. Lorena, , I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who thinks SNL has deteriorated to the point of childishness. It also disrespects, not only the president, but religions and some minorities.
    Gentility may be a thing of the past, Regis

    1. Another thing that bothers me, Regis, is that many kid movies are now PG or PG-13 because they feel the need to "entertain" the parents (at least they think they're entertaining us) by using sexual innuendo and stuff. An example of this is "The Cat in the Hat" (Mike Myers's version) and even Shrek II and III. It goes back to what Violante was saying about censorship. Back when TV had to be cleaner, they found ways to be funny that didn't involve sex or vulgarities (ex: "I Love Lucy") now most jokes have to do with sex (I sometimes watch "The Big Bang Theory" and even though it's pretty mild in comparison to other shows, I still have to "screen" the episodes before my kids can watch them.)

    2. Dear Regis,
      As I said in an earlier post, taboo-creating is part of human nature’s need for boundaries. Nowadays is not taboo make fun of the President, religion and “SOME” minorities. But you have to know which minorities you may target and which you may not, woe betide to you if you make fun of the wrong group. The problem with the First World, Western civilization whatever , is that they make the rules of the game (i.e. they decide what should be taboo.) But as my father once woefully remarked “They change them at will.”
      You are right; the era of gentility is gone. Let´s be glad we got to know it.

  6. I hadn´t thought about that! So the reason why PG entertainment has so much adult content is because they want to entertain the parents? Hey, it makes sense, because adult entertainment sometimes does get a bit juvenile. Now I know who they are trying to target.

  7. Far be it from me to always try to get in the last word, but I felt I had to mention a marvelous book I just bought; by John Sutherland a noted British literary critic; "Lives of the novelists' (294 of them 800p, $30 at Amazon. The subjects are arranged in chronological order from John Bunyan in 1650.
    To get to the point again, John Cleland, the author of the notorious, Obscene "Fanny Hill", claimed he wrote the novel without using even one of the common vulgar sexual words then in use( 1750), nevertheless, he was tried and convicted for 'corrupting the king's subjects' and imprisoned for a while. The book has been in and out of print ever since. I'll have to admit to having borrowed a copy as a young man.
    One more rumination. 'Obscene English lit. used to be published in France, without prosecution there. Did they rationalize that no one in France would be be corrupted by the stupid English stuff, or were they freethinking? Conversely, was obscene literature in other languages ever printed in this country without interference? Lately, the case of Salmon Rushdie comes to mind.

  8. I read Fanny Hill in English and its sequel Fanny Hill’s Daughter in Spanish. Fanny was risqué, very erotic but it had a romantic ending, and no bad words. Now, we have to think what was a foul word in the XVIII century (“whore” was considered an indecent term.)
    As I said in a previous post, the French had a reputation for being libertines and indecent. In fact, in Fanny Hill´s Daughter, the heroine attempts to pleasure one of her master-lovers using oral sex. He is outraged, calling the act “a French perversion.”
    Salman Rushdie was condemned to death not for being obscene (in the sexual meaning of the term) but because in his writing he poked fun at Islam and The Prophet.

  9. In one of Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas, the court jester sings regarding the trials of his work:
    "And if it by chance, be imported from France. Five? quid will be knocked out of your wages. Regis

  10. I liked your insight in this post, Violante. I've often thought a lot about why music, films, and tv shows have "ratings," which in and of themselves are a form of censorship, but the literary world does not. Case in point -- I was in a Target store the other day and they keep the top ten selling books on an end row (right across from the toy aisle, of all places) where anyone could come along, pick one up, and read a few pages here or there. The top three selling books were the "Fifty Shades of Grey" series (which I'm surprised nobody has posted about here in the comments) and because I'd heard so much about it, I picked one up and flipped to a page. First -- Not for the prudish or faint of heart. Secondly -- The page I read was so graphic that I was slightly appalled that these books were right there, out in the open for any person (kid, teen, adult) who has any skill in reading (and who doesn't) to pick up and read. Actually, it made me a little sick to my stomach. I know why this series is so popular, and let's just say it has nothing to do with a good story line. Graphic sex and that's it. Now, I understand the whole "Don't censor me!" argument, but jeez, why is that out for anyone to pick up? And for argument's sake, why is every other form of entertainment censored with ratings, but not literature? Imagination comes in all forms. When I learned to teach, I learned that everyone learns a different way -- Some are better with visual aids, some learn better by hearing, and (Hello!) some learn better through reading.

    Now you've got the wheels in my head turning!

  11. Ouch, Sister Mary, Mary, as a former librarian I’m used to good honest labels. You don´t place a computer science manual in the Cook Book section, you don´t mix Adult with children´s materials, but it´s unwritten law for libraries and bookstores alike that the “hottest” material should be displayed as publicly as possible, as it´s unwritten law that you can’t stop a teenager from going through the books beyond the YA section (and nowadays adolescence starts around 10 years old) so you can´t stop a 12-years old from leafing through Anastasia and Christian’s S&M adventures at a bookstore.
    A friend of mine who is head of Children’s Services told me that at her library computers were placed between her section and the restrooms and water fountain. People would come and download porn (apparently is not illegal if you are an adult) while children strolled by. Once, she tried to steer a ten year old away from a client who was enjoying a video clip and all she got from the kid was “I’m going for a drink of water.” A very long drink of water! Librarians dread the word “censorship” but we all long for it.

    1. I'm not sure what the law is regarding pornography in libraries, but I have seen signs in many libraries in town that say that pornography and chatting are now allowed.

  12. I just discovered this great article in the L.A, Times, that tells it like it is. People are beginning to be disgusted with the unbridled, unnecessary sex talk in movies. L. A. times has great columnists. Regis,0,6207484.story

  13. I'm sorry, it seem the URL has to be on one line try it this way,,0,6207484.story

  14. “Before you write me off as one of those prudish types too, what offends me the most is the lack of respect for language itself. The power of words to reach us, move us, amuse us and discomfort us should not be taken for granted, squandered so cavalierly. It angers me that the discourse in so many movies has indeed been dumbed down by words carelessly and thoughtlessly thrown in for nothing other than senseless shock.”

    Excellent article Regis. We are all isolated voices in the wilderness here. I´s nice to hear ne coming from a high podium like the LA Times.
    B. Sharkey is right; culture has grown coarse and infantile.
    But reading the comments elicited by the article, I realize that those who think like Betsey Sharkey are prudish and elitist. Remind me please, what is wrong about being prudish and elitist?

    1. Here's what I'd like to know -- since when was it so horrible to write a character that actually has a moral compass and the author wasn't instantly placed into a feel-good genre? One thing that annoys the heck out of me is when I read a "hot" book on the shelves and the characters are a mess from page one and don't do much with their moral situation.

    2. Rationalization got rid of concept of Wrong. Everything is right (quoting Regis) depending on who is making the judgement. The end result was that "moral" became the new "bad word" You can´t have a "good" or"moral" person because nobody really knows ewhat is means and there is always the fear of turning a character into a goody-goody two shoes (dull) or a judgemental puritan (negative)

  15. It depends on who is making the judgement. Novels are one thing, public broadcasts, another. Children are going to learn the words and about bedroom activities nowadays, regardless. The thing I object to, is giving kids a dirty mouth, and thinking that everybody talks that way. Of course, people who have been raised that way, will think it's normal. Regis

    1. When I came to America I thought that one way to disguise my ignorance of the English language was to use foul-language constantly. I thought I was really cool until a fiteen year old (my age) said to me quietly one day, "you are so smart and nice, but sometimes you come across as a real vulgar person." I still recall the heat in my cheeks. The thing is that today is "chic" to be vulgar. In my country, politicians think is cool to use profanity in public.

  16. This is an interesting discussion. As a mother of young children I've found my taste for graphic violence, and strong language is pretty much non-existent. So it's been easy for me to write that way. Now I wonder whether there are any readers out there who will find a book boring because it DOESN'T have lots of torture and swearing - because I know the reverse is true. I've been turned off authors (and films) because of violence many, many times.

    Self-censorship would be hard, I think, when you're going against your own inclination. This is one area where I think it's a good idea to take the advice: write what you like to read. If you like reading material which is heavier on violence and language, then your path is clear. And you'll probably know enough about how other authors have written this stuff well to do it in a way which isn't too gratuitous!

  17. How you doing, Adina?
    Last night I watched two films, both involved car chases, and several smashed cars. I don´t see the point, but in Europe they always say (“Americans like it!”) I am sure that Americans would prefer to get a new car than see one smashed. So hiding excess behind the “public loves it!” excuse is a silly lie that none of us believes anymore.

    On the subject of self-censorship, oddly enough I feel very comfortable and enjoy writing sex scenes (provided there is a romantic element present,) but as with car chases, I don’t see the point of including them or making them too long. I don’t see how they could enhance my text.

  18. Depends on what theme you're writing, and what you're trying to focus on, doesn't it? Things are and aren't realistic and appropriate in different settings, blanket statements are not useful.

    Reminds me a lot of first world war propaganda. Colourful euphemisms masking an ugly reality. Government propaganda posters suggested the war was a great game that young men would miss if they didn't sign up in time. In 1920 Wilfred Owen's poem was published: "Dulce et Decorum est", a graphic depiction of war.

    In the past, the reality was disguised because it undermined the social order for people to tell the truth, and it was not people speaking in inuendo who toppled horrid regimes, it was those who spoke honestly. Media is graphic because that's how life is. Euphemisms are great, but excesses in writing about sex or violence are comparable to excesses in describing something else, or using language inefficiently. What's really the difference in describing a good meal, and good sex? Surely the later is more influential in terms of character development?

    If the author's role is to describe the intensity of a fictional character's life, then they ought to describe events that mean something to the character. That can be sex. It can be violence. Hell, it could be cuddles. It could be a sandwich. I don't think it's necessarily a good literary criticism because someone doesn't like reading about sex, to comment sex exists and there's too much of it... especially when I bet they've had plenty of sex that meant something to them in their life.

    1. I was no advocating banning sex or violence from books. I am just against excess, or as you put it, using language inefficiently. Sometimes, reading an overly long sexual or violent scene makes me think of poor editing. Perhaps the writer should have cut some words here and there, and lower his word-count.

      I remember being in the middle of The Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom when I had to put the book aside. I wasn’t nauseated or shocked by all those children being raped and tortured. I was bored. Excess usually causes indigestion.

    2. *grins* 120 Days of Sodom is not the kind of thing I'd choose to read!

      But of course, I think we agree; anything for its own sake is pointless. There has to be connection and plot progress or character development, etc.

    3. N, I wouldn´t reccomend it to you. Not fun reading at all!


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