Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tone Down But Don't Water Down

This may not become one of my most popular posts, but I feel like this needs to be said. I'm going to keep it all at PG level.

One thing that's always bothered me as a Christian and just as a lover of stories is with a lot of movies, shows, and books out there they're either too explicit or watered down in content. Game of Thrones though it has a very interesting plot and setting is so explicit I can't even watch it. Some shows designated for younger audiences (Hey, some kid shows have good plots without the added crap) are so watered down that the baddies or events don't seem realistic.

For example: The baddie should've killed that one person, but because it's a kid show, he didn't.

I'm a stickler on realism for my books. My bad guys are bad. I don't like cartoony villains. So much so I wrote two posts about writing good ones. My characters go through real and sometimes very severe issues and have done or do terrible things, because people go through those things. But if I can avoid cursing, too intimate scenes, and extreme gore in my media I do, and I'm twenty.

Call me a pansy, but those things affect us and adult or no I don't think we don't need to expose ourselves to that. We get enough not of our will. I know I'm not the only one out there who thinks this. But these severe things also happen. It's just the world we live in. But there's a way to write realistically without making it hard on a reader.

So I'm going to show you how to imply these things. In my opinion, implying a severe event is often more powerful than showing it because your reader can fill it in. Readers aren't stupid. They figure stuff out.

1.) Drop Clues - Mention the past severe event subtly. Just give the reader little puzzle pieces so Avatar: The Last Airbender did this very well. It's a show set in an Eastern-Asian-like environment where people can bend the elements.

Warning: Some spoilers here. 

For Example: In the episode Day of Black Sun Part 2 Ozai and Zuko (father and son) spoke. Zuko's mother had been missing for years since her mysterious disappearance. Zuko wanted to know what happened after Ozai taunted him with information.

Up to this point we've only been given minimum clues. Ozai threatened to kill Zuko for the position as Firelord (basically king in their country), Zuko's mother told Zuko that she loved him no matter what on the night of her disappearance and Zuko's grandfather, the current Firelord at that time, died that night.

When Ozai told the story he used subtle words so they would go over a younger viewer's head, but obvious enough so an older viewer can watch it and understand the severity. Ozai said, "Your mother did vicious treason that night. She knew the consequences and accepted them. For her treason, she was banished." Not watered down and not overly explicit. A happy medium, and it worked beautifully.

Firelord Ozai from Avatar: The Last Airbender
2.) Minimum Description - Describe the current event just enough so the reader gets a picture. Suzanne Collins in the Hunger Games did that well many times.

For example: In Catching Fire one of the characters "drew a red smile on [another character's] throat" with a knife. We get what happened without gory details, but a good enough picture so we're in the scene.

Another example is if someone is beheaded we don't need extreme details about the head. It's unsettling and just plain gross, and this is coming from a country girl who helped her dad clean deer since she was four.

This can also be applied to cursing. Just say "He cursed" or "He screamed obscenities" or something of the like. I don't like cursing. A lot of people don't like it. It's not classy. I may get some tomatoes thrown at me for that, but it just is.

You're a writer. There are so many words out there that can express frustration, anger, joy or whatever without using a curse word. And don't pull a Cornelia Funke in Inkheart where she says her character cursed then just has them curse in dialogue, too. That kinda defeats the point. If you want a swear word and you're writing speculative fiction, you can make up alternative curse words like "Gorram" in Firefly or "Pigsnout" in Jill Williamson's Blood of Kings series.

3.) Have It Happen Off Camera - For a severe event that happens in the current timeline, just cut past the severe scene entirely and imply what happened either by visual evidence, interior monologue or both.

For Example: In Avatar: the Last Airbender (Yes, I know I mention this show a lot, but I love it. XD ) Zuko gets severely burned by his own father, but we never see it. The camera pans off of poor thirteen year old Zuko, and we just hear the flames, and his scream.

For Example: In Captives by Jill Williamson and Masters & Slayers by Bryan Davis, two severe intimate scenes happen or have happened, but they are done off camera. Jill Williamson's character wakes up in bed and Bryan Davis has his characters recollect the dialogue of the perverted man.

I have a character that's intimate with someone under duress, but I just have him walk out of the bed chamber and think about it subtly. We don't need extreme details about what happened, but we get what was done was bad, and the event isn't watered down.

Young Prince Zuko

A perk to implying in your books, is that you get a more diverse readership. I've heard people boycott a book for cursing, but not a lack of thereof. Another thing, I urge you to imply when especially writing for YA if you're a youth yourself or no.

Young people are very influenced by what they read, and let's try to keep the bookshelves clean if we can. We want to be good examples for ours and the next generations. We already get filth from just being out in the world, let's try to keep it pretty clean while still being realistic in the imaginary worlds and give our readers a sanctuary. :)

What do you think? Have you read books that imply severe elements well? Have you read books that are overly explicit?

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  1. Firstly, I want to say that you have a lot of wonderful insight, and your writing style is very appealing.

    Secondly, I whole-heartedly agree with the points you've made on this issue. This is something that I dislike as well. Avatar is certainly one of the few kids shows to get this right. Writing is a powerful tool, and I think we do our readers an injustice when we try to make light of dark issues, such as death, evil, immorality, abortion, etc. There are tasteful ways to discuss such topics without glorifying them. I applaud you for this post and look forward to next Saturday! Keep up the fantastic work.

    1. Thank you. ^ ^ If you read some of my sample chapters, they're old. I really need to update them one of these days lol.

      Thank you very much. ^ ^ That's very encouraging to hear. :)

  2. Thank you, THANK YOU. It's a bit depressing to pick up a "teen" book (that, mind you, looks really interesting) and stumble across a bunch of swear words in the first few pages. I don't know about other people, but curse words almost never ground me in the story; they jolt me out. As for "other" stuff, just...why? There are so many ways to characterize the characters, so why choose a method that's so controversial and, in fact, limits your audience?
    I don't want to overgeneralize here, and this topic has been discussed by countless blogs. I'll end up going on a soapbox about this on my own blog eventually. :) But from what I've read, the general consensus makes the same point you did: it's usually not necessary and it's usually detrimental to the story.

    1. You're very welcome. ^ ^ I agree. I choose some of the "other" stuff for my characters to be realistic, but I do it in moderation as displayed in the blog post.
      Heh heh. I haven't seen too much about actually how to portray more mature concepts in your writing discretely though hence why I wrote this post.

  3. This is SUCH a great post with such a great point! LOL I dunno what else to say! X3