August 23, 2019, 02:38:10 PM

Author Topic: Torture/Cruelty  (Read 1636 times)

Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #15 on: June 20, 2019, 10:59:37 AM »
I dunno that that's a good reason. I don't need to suffer just because the character suffers. If you can't make me understand or empathise with the suffering of the character without making me live through it, you're not doing enough with your writing. Because the point isn't what happens, but what it does to the character, how it makes them feel. And you can probably deliver that without all the nitty gritty. In fact, it's possible that the nitty-gritty--and my reaction to that as a reader--will undermine what you're trying to communicate about the character.

I didn't argue that you needed to put in the nitty-gritty. I argued that if the psychological development of the character that results of the torture is important to the narrative then you can't skip the actual torture scene. The story comes first. Making a reader empathise with that psychological change doesn't have to mean a detailed and gruesome account of the torture. But neither can we empathise with a character if we don't have a clue what happened to them.

I don't need to suffer just because the character suffers.

Do you need to feel joy if the character feels joy? It seems to me that you just want to avoid books that make you feel bad. That is, of course, completely fine, and entirely your choice. But if you don't want to read books that make you feel negative feelings, it's up to you to avoid such books.

As a reader, if I'm not empathising with the character's feelings, good or bad, I will put that book away. As a writer, I consider making the readers feel what my characters feel a vital part of my job description. In fact, if I'm not empathising with my characters as I write a scene, I know that scene isn't good enough.
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Offline Matthew

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #16 on: June 21, 2019, 01:08:51 AM »
Thinking through my favourite books, there aren't many that feature gritty torture.

I suppose that means I'm not a fan of it, but I also don't shy away.

There are many ways to tell a story, and if you stripped away every unnecessary description you would end up with novellas nearly every time; why describe the night sky as pierced by starlight when you could just say night...

Torture has it's place in books, even gratuitously, so long as it adds to the scene.

Offline cupiscent

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #17 on: June 21, 2019, 04:57:54 AM »
Sorry, Magnus, I guess I'm primarily agreeing with Bender:
I'm not against torture per se, just the gory descriptive version. You can have fear inducing writing without actually describing the nail pulling and eye gouging in descriptive  detail.

I'm not saying "don't have torture", but I'd really and genuinely prefer not to read the details of it, and I find it hard to imagine a scenario where those details are vital to the scene or story. (Like, even if it's a matter of the torturer only realising this is his sister when he peels off the part of her skin that has that distinctive birthmark... you can be sparing with the rest of the details while still conveying the personal horror that he suddenly realises he is committing.)

I'm perplexed about this, though:
Do you need to feel joy if the character feels joy? It seems to me that you just want to avoid books that make you feel bad. That is, of course, completely fine, and entirely your choice. But if you don't want to read books that make you feel negative feelings, it's up to you to avoid such books.

I'm not sure if I want to avoid books that make me feel bad. The Fifth Season was amazing and brilliant and I loved it and it did terrible things to me many times. I think I just want there to be a reason for--and, I think perhaps more importantly, a resolution to--my feeling bad. And that's one thing that Jemisin got extremely right in that series.

But mostly, I'm curious as to how you suggest I avoid books that contain, for instance, detailed descriptions of torture when such books generally do not advertise such on their cover text? (I mean, I personally am ALL in favour of content/trigger warnings.)

Online Alex Hormann

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Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #18 on: June 21, 2019, 04:42:22 PM »
As a general rule, I think nothing should be 'forbidden' in fiction.

With torture more specifically, I think it's perfectly fine to have in-depth, gory scenes. Torture is horrific, that's the whole point of it. if you can breeze through it with 'they tortured Rali for two days before he spoke' then it loses the impact. I'm not saying you have to dedicate whole chapters to a character being tortured, but if there's no detail, no visceral description, it's easy to overlook.

There's an argument against torture of 'It's just shock value' too that I disagree with. I remember reading somewhere (pretty sure it was Mark Lawrence's blog) about the fact that 'shock value' is a perfectly legitimate technique for a writer to use. It's really no different to telling a joke for 'humour value'. The point is that if you want to have an effect on your readers, then a brutal torture scene can be very useful.

As to the arguments about torture not working, that strikes me as a fairly modern take on things. Obviously there's a lot of truth to it. That's one of the reasons torture isn't used by many modern nations. But would a quasi-medieval tortures feel the same? More than that, torture isn't just about getting information out of somebody. It's a show of power, proving that you have complete dominance over them. Not to mention the people who get pleasure from torturing others.

That got a little more long-winded than I planned, but my point is that there are a lot of reasons why including torture is fine, maybe even necessary.

Offline Matthew

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #19 on: June 21, 2019, 08:47:21 PM »
As to the arguments about torture not working, that strikes me as a fairly modern take on things. Obviously there's a lot of truth to it. That's one of the reasons torture isn't used by many modern nations. But would a quasi-medieval tortures feel the same? More than that, torture isn't just about getting information out of somebody. It's a show of power, proving that you have complete dominance over them. Not to mention the people who get pleasure from torturing others.

This, in parts.

It drives me a little nuts when I hear people decree that torture doesn't work. The fact is that it's only the relatively modern idea of human rights and such that prevent torture, not the supposed lack of efficacy.

Torture to obtain confessions is a common argument and on that I agree wholeheartedly; anyone will admit to something if tortured.

Historically however, torture was (and still is) used to gather intelligence, which can then be verified by other sources (like a rebel safehouse, military supply lines, counter espionage, etc). Torture works, and shouldn't be excluded from books just because it's grotesque subject.

As to the torturers themselves, while certain people enjoy inflicting pain, professional torturers had more in common with the hangman than a serial killer in that they were there to do a job, no more, no less. In that way you could create the distinction between torture and cruelty (a profession vs a sadist).

Either way, scenes depicting either will often provide an excellent way to showcase the trials of the protagonist or serve to get the reader to hate the antagonist, be it an individual or an empire that condones torture, etc.

Offline Neveesandeh

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #20 on: June 21, 2019, 09:55:30 PM »
I did a bit of Googling on torture for a book I was working on once and the results were a bit confusing. I wouldn't put to much faith in a quick google search, but from what I found the effectiveness of torture seems to be quite hit or miss. One site also said people with strong political, religious etc. convictions are much less likely to give in.

I guess this ties into the topic of an overwhelmingly dark tone, and how much darkness a story needs. In a lot of work I have planned characters who torture others aren't doing it for information, they're doing it because, in short, they're evil. I don't have much faith in humanity and I can't seem to write anything without it going to some pretty dark places. I'm pretty sure it will be off putting for quite a few people. It doesn't really bother me much, I've read a lot of books featuring cruelty and torture and the only ones that have really got under my skin were 'American Psycho' and that one scene in 'Godblind'.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2019, 10:20:11 PM by Neveesandeh »

Offline isos81

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #21 on: June 22, 2019, 11:41:18 AM »
As a general rule, I think nothing should be 'forbidden' in fiction.

Couple of months ago, a writer in Turkey was arrested due to his detailed description of pedophile in one of his books. He defended himself as fiction but is still in jail. I read those lines and felt sick although it was fiction. What do you think about this?
 
Kallor shrugged. 'I've walked this land when the T'lan Imass were but children. I've commanded armies a hundred thousand strong. I've spread the fire of my wrath across entire continents, and sat alone upon tall thrones. Do you grasp the meaning of this?'

'Yes' said Caladan Brood. 'You never learn'

Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #22 on: June 22, 2019, 01:52:11 PM »
I'm not saying "don't have torture", but I'd really and genuinely prefer not to read the details of it, and I find it hard to imagine a scenario where those details are vital to the scene or story. (Like, even if it's a matter of the torturer only realising this is his sister when he peels off the part of her skin that has that distinctive birthmark... you can be sparing with the rest of the details while still conveying the personal horror that he suddenly realises he is committing.)

I think we're pretty much on the same page here; "Don't put it in unless the story requires it."

I'm not sure if I want to avoid books that make me feel bad. The Fifth Season was amazing and brilliant and I loved it and it did terrible things to me many times. I think I just want there to be a reason for--and, I think perhaps more importantly, a resolution to--my feeling bad. And that's one thing that Jemisin got extremely right in that series.


Again, I think we're on the same page: if the bad feelings/scenes aren't resolved in some way, I don't think they support the narrative, and therefore shouldn't have been in there.

But mostly, I'm curious as to how you suggest I avoid books that contain, for instance, detailed descriptions of torture when such books generally do not advertise such on their cover text? (I mean, I personally am ALL in favour of content/trigger warnings.)

That's a good question. I'm surprised Goodreads hasn't put in a function for crowdsourced content warnings; it would seem like a natural function to add just like on imdb.com. A cursory Googling doesn't turn up any up-to-date crowdsourced pages for the purpose either -- I would have thought it an obvious course to create such a resource for all the people who want it (and allow the people who don't to avoid it). I'm all for writers putting up content warnings for their materials as long as it's somewhere off the beaten path (like in the back of the book), and I do think it should be common practice. But I still think the final responsibility of what a person reads should be their own (barring extreme cases where there's some kind of deception about the content for 'shock purposes'), so if such warnings do not exist, I guess you can ask around in the community.
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Online Alex Hormann

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Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #23 on: June 22, 2019, 02:40:04 PM »
As a general rule, I think nothing should be 'forbidden' in fiction.

Couple of months ago, a writer in Turkey was arrested due to his detailed description of pedophile in one of his books. He defended himself as fiction but is still in jail. I read those lines and felt sick although it was fiction. What do you think about this?

I'm not sure of the context for that, but I would imagine you were supposed to feel sick. I don't know Turkey's laws, but if he knew he breaking a law, then it's a different matter. My personal opinion is not more important than the law. It's not as though he actually committed crimes against children, he just wrote about someone who did.

The thing is that you can write whatever you want, that doesn't mean you'll find anyone who will agree to be your agent, or your publisher, or even read it.

Offline Matthew

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #24 on: June 22, 2019, 06:04:35 PM »
As a general rule, I think nothing should be 'forbidden' in fiction.

Couple of months ago, a writer in Turkey was arrested due to his detailed description of pedophile in one of his books. He defended himself as fiction but is still in jail. I read those lines and felt sick although it was fiction. What do you think about this?

Was he writing it as pedophile erotica, or was he writing it to highlight what the character went through / make the reader hate the perpetrator? With a subject that touchy it could go either way, but I do think context matters (or any scene in any movie where someone breaks the law in any way would also see the writer, director, actors, etc arrested). 

Online Alex Hormann

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Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #25 on: June 22, 2019, 06:11:46 PM »
As a general rule, I think nothing should be 'forbidden' in fiction.

Couple of months ago, a writer in Turkey was arrested due to his detailed description of pedophile in one of his books. He defended himself as fiction but is still in jail. I read those lines and felt sick although it was fiction. What do you think about this?

Was he writing it as pedophile erotica, or was he writing it to highlight what the character went through / make the reader hate the perpetrator? With a subject that touchy it could go either way, but I do think context matters (or any scene in any movie where someone breaks the law in any way would also see the writer, director, actors, etc arrested).

Exactly. It's fiction, so no one got hurt. But if it's actively encouraging criminal behaviour, then it becomes a problem.

Offline Bender

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #26 on: June 23, 2019, 03:26:14 AM »
Writing about a illegal action isn't really illegal, right? I mean, rape/murder/pillage etc aren't really rare in fantasy. Paedo is especially sensitive, but I doubt there is any scale on which despicable stuff is acceptable and which are not.
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Offline Matthew

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #27 on: June 23, 2019, 04:56:13 AM »
Writing about a illegal action isn't really illegal, right? I mean, rape/murder/pillage etc aren't really rare in fantasy. Paedo is especially sensitive, but I doubt there is any scale on which despicable stuff is acceptable and which are not.

No, but then again it depends on context and intent.

The same goes for most countries regarding hate speech. You can say what you want, but if you're trying to promote a violent act it becomes a crime... even if done without using the words "go out and kill one of them [insert slur here]".

If you have reason to believe that will be the result of your words will be something illegal, it makes you culpable in most places.

Without knowing the story in full I couldn't actually pass any judgement whatsoever although the adage 'write what you know' springs to mind. If I write a fight scene, I will picture the actions as I write them... Then again, he may have been writing about his own experiences as a child, who knows?

Plus, there's a lot the general public has become desensitized to. That isn't one of them.

Offline isos81

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #28 on: June 24, 2019, 11:08:39 AM »
I haven't read the full book about the pedophile but the said passage was in detail.

I'm not sure what is the difference between criminal fictions. People do not say anything about a serial killer where they strongly oppose to pedohile. Both are fiction, both never happened. It must be the sensitivity. There were some actual cases in news recently that some pedohiles raped and killed some children. I think that was the reason why people were furious.
Kallor shrugged. 'I've walked this land when the T'lan Imass were but children. I've commanded armies a hundred thousand strong. I've spread the fire of my wrath across entire continents, and sat alone upon tall thrones. Do you grasp the meaning of this?'

'Yes' said Caladan Brood. 'You never learn'