Have you ever read a book that was difficult to get through? Not because the writer lacked talent, but rather because the content of the book made you uncomfortable?
I have. Many times. As a young, voracious reader I was at a college reading level by 8th or 9th grade. I regularly wandered into the adult section of my local library, seeking out nice, fat books (usually fantasy) to keep my attention longer than the bite-sized Young Adult novels I could read in a few brief hours. I was a book-devourer with a hyper-fast reading ability, and I always wanted MORE. (Anybody else relate?) Wandering into the adult section meant I had a higher chance of running into “adult” material. I am a good, Christian girl. Some of that adult content went over my head. Some of it didn’t, and it sank deep into my soul and made me feel VERY uncomfortable. At that moment, I would make a value judgement.
Was it worth reading? Even with that one sex scene, or that sexual abuse or rape, or that violence or language, was it WORTH something? Was it worth risking that there could be more scenes like it in that same book, if I continued?
Sometimes, the answer was no. Other times, the answer would be a resounding YES. The book was making me FEEL something that, by the end of the book, was actually more positive than negative. It was like magic, the way some authors could take me from the depths of a character’s experience and bring me up into the light of hope again.
I wanted to write a book like that. A book that made people feel. So I wrote Woven. And partway through a difficult revision, one of the POV characters came to me and told me her story, a story that shook me to my core, a story that I had never experienced personally, but one I had heard too many times from friends and acquaintances. Her story, as you may know, or not, involves a childhood of sexual abuse. Part of me didn’t want to write it, but the story wouldn’t go any other direction. I had to make the decision to write it, or to abandon Woven without finishing. I chose to finish the book. Then I was editing, and agonizing again over those scenes, the really gritty and dark ones. Could I soften them? Take them out? Should I even publish it? A lot of prayer went into those scenes, prayer and self-reflection.
Ultimately, I published it. And I’m glad I did. Two weeks after Woven launched, I received a full mental download of the sequel to Woven. A sequel I never intended to write, but one character’s story clearly wasn’t finished. Bound will be released in 2018, a story that will be filled with forgiveness, hope, and healing. And it never would have been written without the darkness that’s in Woven.
There are plenty of people who believe that “that” kind of material doesn’t belong in media. That we should censor EVERYTHING. The more I read the more I disagree. We NEED to gain a deeper understanding of what our fellow human beings experience, how it feels, and how they heal (or not). By doing so we become empathetic, sympathetic, filled with deeper love and care than we could ever manage on our own. That doesn’t mean EVERYONE should read EVERYTHING. On the contrary, I do my best to make sure readers are aware of the content of my stories before they read them (and if you didn’t feel warned, and it caught you off guard in a bad way, I apologize; again, that’s not my intention).
There are things that don’t have a place in literature or media, in my opinion. At the top of the list are: graphic sex, abuse, violence, or rape purely for the sake of increasing the entertainment value of something or for the purpose of marketing. Those scenes rarely improve anyone’s perspective, and rarely add value worth the damage done.
Next time you read something difficult, something uncomfortable, something raw and so powerfully written it puts you there, with the character or even in their perspective, take a deep breath. Whether you finish the book or not (and I encourage you, in most cases, to finish it if you’re able), try to use the experience of reading THAT scene for good. Ponder how you might feel if it happened to you. How you could help someone else go through it. How you could improve their lives from where you are with the new understanding you have.
No author writes a book that’s for “everyone”. Good authors write first for themselves, books they want to read, and then they decide to share them with the world. Personally, as a writer, my intention is to inspire you to FEEL something. Emotion is powerful, and often uncomfortable. But with a little bit (or a lot) of mindfulness, perhaps pondering, perhaps prayer, perhaps a conversation with a friend or family member, we can turn those hard, uncomfortable feelings into soft, healed, joyful feelings, and come out better for it.