(orig. published June 18, 2014 )
**This discussion applies ONLY to fiction. This is in no way, shape, or form a condoning of real rape. I hope that readers can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. I don’t think vampires are a good idea, either, but I still find them fascinating to read about! **
In fiction, what is the difference between rape and consent? It’s not necessarily the consent of the heroine. It’s the consent of the reader.
Um, what the hell do I mean by that??
I read an interesting pair of articles over the last few days that talks about the idea of reader consent. When the heroine is pushed against the wall, saying “no, no, please stop,” and he doesn’t, do we all cry RAPE! and write off the man as unredeemable?
Well, it depends.
Have they created a relationship over the preceding pages? Is there some emotional connection between them? Are there some redeeming qualities about him, somewhere? Is there something about him that makes you want to give him another chance?
If your author has done a good job, then there is something that makes you want to keep reading. Something that makes you agree to go along for now, to give him the benefit of a doubt, to be okay when she finally submits to his caresses, to allow her to have that HEA ending with him despite his actions at the beginning (or middle) of the story.
I have a friend who is writing a story where the “hero” (we are still waiting for him to become that) rapes the heroine early on. Many people read that scene almost peeking through their fingers, uncomfortable, but willing to hang in for the ride, perhaps seeing the beginning of a relationship, or at least willing to trust that it would happen. One friend didn’t. He saw nothing redeemable about the guy, no relationship between them, no remorse at the way he treated her. He couldn’t give consent to what was happening, and it has soured the story for him.
Consent (in fiction) is in the eye of the beholder?
There is no magical line that an author can stay behind, sure that she isn’t going to turn off any readers. We all have our lines – mine is further than most, I’ll admit, and it has caused me some grief as well.
I struggled with the section in Odyssey where Liz is taken by car from the militia base to the Weiss Estate, about to serve a sentence of two years as a sex slave for the crimes of her leader. It’s a rough scene. Readers could not come along with me for the transition. The men at the estate are not supposed to be the bad guys, but that’s how they were seen. Liz could make that transition over the next few chapters, but I didn’t understand that I had to bring the readers along with me and help them make the transition as well.
I didn’t have reader consent to think of them as good guys.
I was at a loss for how to do this when my editor (bless his heart!!!) came through AGAIN and suggested a way out. I think it will work. I hope it will work. You guys will tell me if it doesn’t, I’m sure. But after reading his suggestions, it dawned on me that the very issue I had learned about just two days ago was the problem here.
I need the reader’s permission to take Liz into the dark side and have it be OK.
Here are the links to the two articles:
So, readers, where are your lines? What makes you cringe and keep reading, and what makes you hit the delete button on your e-reader?