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Preface: there are three main characters in the story, all three of them in their mid twenties. Two women and one man. For simplicity, lets call them Jane, Sally and John. Jane and Sally have been best friends since childhood and Jane has been in a relationship with John for a very long time. John is good friends with Sally. Even though Sally and John admit they find the other attractive, Jane is fine with it and there's no jealousy involved. Both partners are faithful to each other and would never think to do anything behind the other's back. Likewise, Sally doesn't do anything to get in-between the two, despite her feelings for John.

Somewhere half-way through the book, the big bad, a powerful spirit capable of possessing people, imprisons all three of them. He has immense hatred for all three of them as they were a massive thorn in his side up until this point in the book. He doesn't plan on killing them, however, and you can probably guess what he ends up doing based on the title. He takes control over John and not only rapes John's girlfriend (Jane), but also does the same to Sally, right in front of Jane's eyes. John is fully aware of what is going on, but can't do anything to stop it. All three of them end up deeply scarred from the experience and it influences their future actions and interactions with each other. They end up being saved from the spirit by a third party.

That's roughly what I had planned, anyway. I didn't think I would try to include a rape scene in one of my stories, but given how I characterized the big bad as an irredeemable monster who takes pleasure in causing pain, it would seem fitting for him to do something so horrible.

Rape is obviously a very risqué topic to tackle and I'm not sure if I'm equipped to handle it. The scene isn't taken very lightly: most of it isn't directly "shown", just heavily implied to have happened, and none of it is in any way eroticised. Every second of it is pure horror for all three.

Let's recap: Jane sees her loved one John have his body and his free will taken. Not only does he attack her, but her best friend as well. Both women have a man they both care about be forced on them, and it's not even his fault. He's a puppet being used for a crime, and both women are fully aware of this. Sally's body is used to spite Jane, and despite not having had a choice, feels a lot of guilt and shame for being forced into doing it with her best friend's boyfriend. Even worse, and that's a massive red flag to her, she secretly enjoyed it a bit, which makes her feel even more guilty. John meanwhile is just a tool being used, being put in a situation where he's the one doing all those heinous things against his will and effectively has a front row seat to the crimes of someone else.

Obviously, I'm a bit nervous, but also kinda excited with what kind of opportunities this would open for the plot, but I also don't want to offend anyone, especially not victims of actual sexual abuse. Obviously someone is always going to be offended, I'm just looking for a way to reduce that number. How do I tackle this topic gracefully and tactfully? What are some things I should build on / mention / focus on? How could the characters act from then on? How could they deal with such an experience?

Side note: one thing I kinda fear is that it would demean the main heroines a bit too much - even if that was kinda the goal. The big bad wants to torture them, after all. I worry especially because both of them are shown to be capable fighters, yet they still end up in a horrible situation like that, to no fault of their own.

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Rape scenes require an expert hand or you could be writing a rape fantasy, which is where I think people tend to get in trouble. The trick is, to focus less on the act, and more on the horrific scenario.

I think Steig Larson handled this subject well in his best seller, 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'. In chapter 13, he takes us through a vivid rape scene, which is actually the 2nd assault in the book. Although you can imagine what has happened, there is nothing offensive about the way he describes the incident.

So let's break it down. I'm assuming you're familiar with the story, if not check out a brief synopsis here: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Synopsis.

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MOOD

At the point where the main character Salander goes to see Bjurman's (the antagonist/rapist) home, she is there to hurt him for a previous assault. Unfortunately, she already knows something is off by the time he opens the door.

"The plan began to go wrong, almost from the start. Bjurman was wearing a bathrobe when he opened the door to his apartment. He was cross at her arriving late and motioned her brusquely inside...

"Haven't you learned to tell the time?" Bjurman siad. Salander did not reply."

The author goes into a few details of what she's wearing and goes into Bjurman's mood a little further.

"Come on" Bjurman said in a friendlier tone. He put his arm around her shoulders and led her down a hall into the apartment's interior. No small talk. There was no doubt as to what services Salander was expected to perform.

For the most part, Larson told us to expect that something really bad is about to happen. You can anticipate it as he pretty much tells you

The plan began to go wrong, almost from the start.

And he proceeds to take us through Bjurman's mood swings...first annoyed and then creepy. Taking her to the bedroom is a good indication of his intentions and expectations. You know she's not happy about the situation.

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THE SETTING

In most cases, you should use the setting to your advantage. Larson does a great job at making something as intimate and cozy as a bedroom seem like a dangerous, unforgiving space. He describes the room in detail so we get a feel of what she's seeing:

She took a quick look around. Bachelor furnishings. A double bed with a high bedstead of stainless steel. A low chest of drawers that also functioned as a bedside table. Beside lamps with muted lighting. A wardrobe with a mirror along one side. A cane chair and a small desk in the corner next to door. He took her by the and led her to the bed.

By itself, the room doesn't have any sinister qualities, but in context, says a lot. Bachelor furnishings...high bedstead of stainless steel You can read some symbolism into that if you want: No one else will be there to save her in this cold space.

Either way, we get a good sense that this guy probably doesn't get any female visitors other than the ones he forces there through coercion. This helps heighten the possibility that bad things are going to happen. By this time, we're wondering...would he?

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THE DIALOGUE

Larson uses dialogue to bring us into Salander's frame of mind. We know she doesn't want to do what he's expecting. They go back and forth a little as she simply asks him for money she knows he won't give her until he gets what he wants. Knowing that he has so much control over her financial welfare puts her in a position of weakness.

Through dialogue, we get a sense of his perverted power trip.

"Tell me what you need the money for this time. More computer accessories?" "Food" she said...

..."Have you thought about what I said last time?" "About what?"

"Lisbeth, don't act any more stupid than you are. I want us to be good friends and to help each other out." She said nothing. ...Did you like our grown-up game last time?"
"No." He raised his eyebrows.
"Lisbeth, don't be foolish."

If you're not creeped out by this guy by now, you've got issues. Through dialogue alone, Larson paints out Bjurman's to be a vile and disgusting human being. You hate him, even before he carries out the deed. She's stalling, finding every way possible to not go through with his demand, but she knows he's got her over a barrel.

Consider stressing the vulnerability and hopelessness of your characters in this moment.

..."I want my money. What do you want me to do?" she says. "You know what I want." He grabbed her shoulder and pulled her towards the bed.

"Wait," Salander said hastily. She gave him a resigned look and then nodded curtly. She took off her rucksack and leather jacket and rivet and looked around...

"Wait", she said once more, in a tone as if to say that she was trying to talk sense into him. "I don't want to have to suck your d*** every time I need money."

Again, tension is heightened and we know Salander has reached her end. She's not having it. From here, Larson takes us through the actual assault.

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THE ACTION

This is where you want to tread carefully. There's a fine line between writing a graphic scene and being graphic. You don't want to focus on the actual rape (as in penetration, ect). Everything up to that point can be in great detail.

The experession on Bjurman's face suddenly changed. He slapped her hard. Salander opened her eyes wide, but before she could react, he grabbed her by the shoulder and threw her on the bed. The violence caught her by surprise. When she tried to turn over, he pressed her down on the bed and straddled her.

"Like the time before, she was no match for him in terms of physical strength. Her only chance for fighting back was if she could hurt him by scratching his eyes or using some sort of weapon. But her planned scenario had already gone to hell...
Shit, she thought when he ripped off her T-shirt. She realised with terrifying clarity that she was out of her depth. She heard him open the dresser next to the bed..."

He proceeds to tear off her clothes and stuff her mouth so she doesn't scream.

The actual assault is summed up into one sentence:

"Then she felt an excruciating pain..."

By the time he writes this, we don't need to know anymore details other than the fact that he followed through with his assault.

The scene ends there until he picks up again which brings us to our final example:

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THE EMOTIONS

Again, since most of the drama was placed on what happened before the assault, Larson had to spend little time with describing anything having to deal with the act. He was able to skim over it and let our imaginations do the rest.

What he does after the scene is something you can also incorporate to really bring home the gravity of the assault, by describing the mood- her/their emotions after the act.

"Salander was allowed to put on her clothes. It was 4:00 on Saturday morning. She picked up her leather jacket and rucksack and hobbed to the front door, where he was waiting for her, showered and neatly dressed. He gave a checque for 2,500 kronor....

She crossed the threshold, out of the apartment, and turned to face him. Her body looked fragile and her face was swollen from crying, and he almost recoiled when he met her eyes. Never in his life had he seen such naked, smouldering hatred."

EXERCISE

Think about how your characters might feel when it's done. They could go through a number of emotions beyond anger that you can get creative with: numbness, shock, pain, fear. What kind of emotions or actions will you give your characters to really help us feel as strongly as they do? You can really spend some time here and the reader will appreciate it. No one gets over an assault without a long period of dread.

So, I've taken a long way to say, you can write about rape as long as you place the focus on the right places, mood, setting, dialogue, actions leading up to the act and finally focusing on emotions.

I'm going to stop typing now.

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    This is a very good analysis of that scene, and why the vast majority of writers fail when writing about rape. – Richard Cosgrove Apr 19 '18 at 20:18
  • Actually, the author's name is Stieg Larsson, not Steig Larson. – a CVn Jun 18 '18 at 14:15
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Personally I don't find what you have described more difficult or problematic than any other kind of cruelty or violence in fiction.

I do not think that different acts of violence – rape, torture, assault, childhood neglect, etc. – can be ordered according to how "bad" they are for the victim or how "evil" the perpetrator has been. There are persons who shake off rape, and there are persons who are broken by a slap to the face – it all depens on the personality of the victim, their resilience, the circumstances of the violence, the person of the perpetrator, and so on. No rape is like any other, and rape isn't worse than any other kind of violence.

What I do see is that we (in the West) live in a culture, where sexual violence against women has been stylized into this ultimate evil, and there is an unspoken – but vehemently enforced – rule that only rape victims can and may speak of it.

For that reason – and for that reason alone – I would advise you to avoid that topic if you don't want to compromise your reputation and your career as a writer.


From a neutral standpoint, there is nothing wrong with what you attempt to write, except maybe the suggestion that one of the rape victims enjoyed the rape. That happens, but usually on a physical level alone. Some rape victims cannot help but being physically aroused, while at the same time they abhor what is happening (and how their body reacts to it).

Women who truly enjoy being raped are exceedingly rare, and I would definitely avoid such an insinuation.

  • I would really love to learn why my answer was downvoted. – user29032 May 9 '18 at 15:08
  • While telling someone else not to make the insinuation you sort of make it yourself. – Tim B Apr 5 at 16:01

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