Dear Fellow Writers: It’s Not for Adults, Either

notforadults

Dear fellow writers,

Let me begin with a story. It’s what I do best, after all.

It is a sunny afternoon. You and I are walking down a country lane next to a brook of water. We have talked about everything from philosophy to chocolate to characterization, and now we are on the subject of the lovely summer weather.

“Such a beautiful day,” I comment.

“Yes,” you answer with a smile. “I just love walking underneath the clear blue skies.”

Without warning I slap your face. Hard. On purpose.

With pain shooting through your cheeks and anger rising in your stomach, you turn and stare at me. “Why on earth would you hit me?” you demand.

“Because it makes this story seem more realistic.” I shrug, grin, then skip off down the lane.

Now, friends, what do you think?

Rather, do you even have to think about it? I just can’t do a thing like that. Hitting you for no reason was gratuitous, hurtful, and just plain cruel. I would never really do a thing like that, and neither would you. Slapping people like that makes me look like a selfish child who doesn’t know anything.

Now, then. If you wouldn’t slap a person across the face for the sake of realism, why on earth would you slap them with a curse word, a mindlessly violent act, or a pornographic scene in a book?

I talked about this some time ago in my article “The Wince Factor” at Kingdom Pen. A Wince Factor is a sudden, unexpected slap that authors put into their stories for various purposes. As I said then, some of these Wince Factors have a legitimate place in the story- like, say, slapping Bruce Wayne for trying to get illegal revenge on a crook. Others, though, have absolutely no place in a story- like having a Tyrannosaurus Rex swear in a children’s movie for no apparent reason, or like putting “adult” scenes in Titanic.

So what’s the difference? Here’s a better question- do you want your future children doing the same things you make your characters do?

Let me say it this way: gratuitously putting so-called “adult content” in books is abusive to the reader and only proves the author to be a lazy amateur.

If I have to use swear words, sex scenes, or sword-killings to make my story seem real and “juicy,” then I am either lazy or an amateur, or perhaps both. Whatever the situation, at some point I must grow up and start putting some educated effort into my occupation. 

Mine is not an unqualified opinion. I’m a published author myself, and I’m learning to make indie films and podcasts. As far as audiences are concerned, I’m eighteen years old and a second-year college student who watches lots of kids’ movies with my siblings. I also read the books that were intended for people well into their thirties or forties. All in all, I’m the intended audience for most television shows and books. Therefore, I am more than qualified to make a statement about all the stuff writers are putting into books and movies.

But is the media really playing to the tastes of the 32% or more of consumers who share my values? I don’t use swear words, and I get uncomfortable every time someone uses a swear word around my younger siblings. I don’t like watching excessively violent character deaths. I have a zero-tolerance policy for gratuitous sexual content in media.

Now I know some of you are about to go to the comments section and start flaming me for being a Christian bigot. I don’t blame you; Western culture in general has the uncivilized notion that to be an adult is to drink alcohol, watch pornographic movies, and use swear words, and their only defense against opposing viewpoints is to slap them with a label and call it a draw.

But it seems that a person who cannot discern the best action in these cases is simply an oversized version of the child who throws a tantrum at the grocery store when his mother doesn’t buy him all the candy in the store, and who sticks out his tongue when told that he is misbehaving. Who is the bigot- the mother, or the child? Writers ought to know that there is a distinction: growing older is getting the ability to purchase all the candy, but being an adult is discerning whether it’s good for your waistline and your wallet. Likewise, being an adult writer is choosing to have a positive impact on the worldview and behavior of your audience.

Think of it this way- if the good guys like something, the readers love it. If the bad guys are motivated by something, the readers loathe it. The author’s opinion becomes the reader’s. Whether or not mass murderers are inspired by films, you can see evidence of a storyteller’s power even in the grocery store: Elsa and Anna on party napkins, or Captain America’s shield on a cereal box. Think about that- Marvel influences your choice of breakfast foods. We writers have great power, and with great power comes great responsibility.

Media rules the world, so don’t be a tyrant.

Here’s a big news flash- you don’t have to describe every detail in order for readers to know that a thing happened. Andrew Klavan, author of If We Survive, knew that it was crucial for one of his protagonists to use a swear word as part of her character arc, but he was still writing for Christian teenagers who don’t appreciate those sorts of things. So what did the ingenious Klavan do? He made the swearing scene happen off-screen. The character’s arc was completely developed and the story still packed quite as much of a punch, but Klavan didn’t have to verbally abuse his readers to achieve that effect.

Again, in the 1950s, if someone was beheaded in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness or if the Duke of Gloucester had a you-know-what scene with Lady Anne, Mark Robson and Laurence Olivier just made those things happen off-screen. And no one ever criticized Olivier for being a bad storyteller. So are our stories in the 2010s more developed, or just more debauched?

No more excuses. At this point, we all have two options. One, we can take out the bad stuff and write purpose-filled books, proving that we know right from wrong and care about helping people to understand the world we live in. Or two, we can leave the bad stuff in and prove that we don’t really care about anything but the money.

It’s your choice.

Sincerely,
Hannah A. Krynicki

Am I right or wrong? What do you think about gratuitous content in media? 

Top 10 Villains

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Last week, gretald tagged me for the Top 10 Villains post. With cheering and trumpets moderate excitement, I now accept. And, Greta, in the words of Bilbo Baggins, thag you very buch.

So here are the rules. (Because what is fun without rules?)

  1. Post the button.
  2. Thank the blogger who tagged you.
  3. List your top ten favorite villains (they can be from movies or books).
  4. Tag ten other bloggers.

I will probably end up breaking #4, but so did Greta, so I am not too concerned about that one. One more thing you should know is that I am terrible at making “top ten” lists like these, as my favorite kind of anything tends to change weekly. I will probably reread an old favorite book next week and smack myself for not putting that particular bad guy on this list… but here it goes anyway. In no particular order, here are my top ten villains of all time.

Spoilers will necessarily follow…

Morgoth from The Silmarillion (J.R.R. Tolkien)

If you see this guy on the street… run. Just run.

Tolkien knows how to write Dark Lords. As bad as we thought Sauron was, his boss Morgoth is even worse.  He is evil personified. Dragons? Spiders? Balrogs? Torture chambers? You name it, he has it. Darth Vader and the Emperor have nothing on this guy- and he is dead set against the free peoples of Middle-earth. He is the villain, and he wants Silmarils! (history geek reference)

Richard from King Richard III (William Shakespeare)

“Villains, set down the corse; or, by Saint Paul, I’ll make a corse of him that disobeys.”

Leave all historical debates aside on this one; Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard is terrifying. Hunchbacked and hated, Richard believes that his only chance of fulfillment lies in the throne of England. A terrifying yet understandable villain drawn from English history? Duh, yes. Besides, I appreciate his dark sense of humor, which is much like my own.

Gru from Despicable Me (2013)

“Pause for effect…”

I’m chuckling evilly to myself as I type this. I. Love. This. Guy. He’s been equipped with gadgets and weapons and cool cars, more dark humor, a bizarre accent, many layers of complexity, and backstory which never fails to elicit an “aww, poor Gru.” Plus, he is one of those few sympathetic INTJs like me. So he doesn’t exactly play the role of Bad Guy in the story, but this a list of “villains,” not “antagonists.” He deserves a place with the best of the best.

Gollum from The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)

And he loves games!

What can I say? Gollum is simply adorable, and half the time he’s nothing worse than a Stinker. All he ever wanted was his Precious. I think we can all see a little bit of ourselves in Gollum sometimes: we all want to do good, but we have to fight with our darker side to do it.

Brian de Bois-Guilbert from Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott)

Hey- there is a movie?

You cannot possibly understand the depths of my hatred for de Bois-Guilbert. The overweening Templar tries to seduce and then abuses the Jewish girl Rebecca while she is a prisoner in his buddy’s castle, only desisting when the house is burned to the ground. And even then he drags her off into the forest so that Ivanhoe can’t get at her. What sort of horrible person does that?

Loki from Thor (2011)

It seems he has an affinity for glowing blue things.

As overrated as the film itself may be, Loki is a believable, even sympathetic baddie. He starts out as a friendly little brother, and then his world is shattered by the news that he will never be a king, only “the monster that parents tell their children about at night.” You might say he was just a victim of bad parenting- even if the horns and super glowstick are a bit much.

Ra’s Al Ghul from Batman Begins (2005)

I recently discovered Christopher Nolan’s film. Let us just say that I now have another favorite movie.

Ninja swords, tragic backstory, and Liam Neeson. ‘Nuff said.

Simon Legree from Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe)

FYI, finding a picture of this guy isn’t the easiest task in the world.

Ugh, just thinking about wicked Simon Legree makes me shudder. I hate him for all the reasons I hated de Bois-Guilbert, except that no chivalrous knights stopped him from destroying the lives of two young girls and killing his other slaves. No wonder Stowe’s novel had such an impact in the 1800s; Legree is one character that you can never forget.

Baroness de Ghent from Ever After (1998)

She had a snazzy sense of fashion, too.

I hated the stepmother from the original Cinderella because she was so irrationally evil, but I loathe the Baroness even more because she has reasons for being so terrible. Her husband died and left her with a headstrong daughter who threatens the wellbeing of her own children. Who wouldn’t turn a little bit nasty about that? And she is indeed nasty. Sometimes it almost seems as if she wants to love Danielle as a daughter, but she suppresses that tenderness and instead punishes the girl as a wicked servant.

Scar from The Lion King (1994)

Scar is not impressed. He is never impressed.

As terrible as it sounds, I identify a little bit with Scar- that is, his cynical humor, meticulous mind, and unforgettable lines. He is never at a loss for words and always has a plan. And of course he is evil; Scar has no qualms about wreaking havoc on the whole kingdom so that he can take over it. Just like Richard III, and Loki, and Morgoth, and Gru… maybe I do have a favorite kind of villain after all.

Now for the tags. I don’t know many other bloggers who do villain posts, but, like Hans, I will do what I can.

Finally, if you are a blogger and want to take the tag, go right ahead- just let me know so that I can read about your top ten villains. Let’s see what y’all come up with. 🙂