In one of the more exciting moments of the summer, I ordered Let The Right One In off Amazon yesterday. I'm not being sarcastic about that being one of the most exciting moments of the summer either: to say the time off uni has been a let-down is something of an understatement. But I'm not writing about that now; it's for another day.
I know roughly what it's about, and I expect it to challenge me. I expect to feel disgusted, horrified and just plain dirty. My hope is that the themes will help the book get under my skin and have me disturbed. Paedophilia, molestation, vampirism... We're not talking light stuff here, and I expect them to affect me.
This got me thinking: is there a subject I wouldn't write about? Would I write about child sex and rape? I initially dismissed it. Just because I haven't done in the past doesn't mean I wouldn't in the future. Besides, it's not like I'm planning on writing anything like that right now. Dark, yes, but not quite that dark. The point is largely moot.
But could I write something that genuinely repulses me like that? The thought wouldn't go away. Perhaps I could. I could certainly imply that something like that happened and allow a reader's mind to take over, and I could easily mention something like that in a character's past. But could I actually write a graphic scene depicting something like that?
No. I don't think I could.
There's a difference between something being implied and something being explicitly depicted. It's fade to black versus porn, in its essence. I've always been on the fade to black side of things (especially when it comes to sex scenes - I think I've written about two, but implied or mentioned about 50). Some would argue that a good writer is brave and takes the decisions that will lead to a visceral experience that will get under a reader's skin. I'd respond with the argument that you can do that without graphic depictions, and it can actually be even more effective. Allow the reader's mind to do the leg work, don't ram scenes into their brain.
I don't have a problem with writers who do want to depict these things, so long as it isn't done for the sake of simply shocking the readership. We live in a world where paedophiles, rapists, murderers, sadists and more live; we can't afford to brush them under the carpet in the fiction we write. We need to write about them to elict strong responses and keep them in the public eye as a problem that won't go away. But I can't write about what they do, not explicitly, at least.
Maybe that means I'm not a brave writer. Not that it really matters to me right now: I'd rather be a safe writer in relation to things like that.