6

I've heard this term thrown around sometimes in a derisive way (obviously), and usually not just to refer to Saw movies. I don't remember who it was, but I remember someone saying how the movie "Logan" is "dark and depressing, but never truly descends into torture porn", and it made me think about my own stories. I put my characters through a lot of misery, and I kinda fear now that I'm headed into that "territory".

So... how much misery can you put your characters through before it becomes "just" torture porn? Is there a kind of misery you should avoid in story telling to avoid being labelled as such?

  • For the "I know it when I see it" files: That thing when you read something, and the author seems really disgusted by it, and critical of it, but they still linger on it, and then it happens again... and again... in the same narrative, and it's oddly specific, and... – Chris Sunami Jun 7 at 16:14
12

Porn in general shows something for the excitement of it in and of itself.

In a story, authors stray into porn when what we are showing does not advance the story, build character, or have any ramifications or consequences to what happens later in the story. Generally, showing sex (or torture) itself is not that necessary, the specifics of what went where or what got amputated don't make a difference unless that has an effect on that character or another character in a later scene. So a torture scene might be important if it motivates a non-victim (to good or evil), but just showing some guy being tortured to death, if it is only done for the villain's self-gratification and the details of that torture have no consequences for him or anybody else later in the story, then that is torture porn.

I have not had reason to engage in fictional torture, but I may write several pages of a sex scene because the details of the sex cause a major change in the characters; e.g. a casual sexual encounter becomes unexpectedly intense and this becomes love. Or what began consensually becomes a forcible rape, and that has consequences. It isn't enough to "tell" what happened in either of those stories. It must be shown, for my hero, why that sexual encounter was different than any previous sexual encounter in her life, because I (the author) intend to hang some story on it.

The difference is that "porn" of any kind can be cut from the story and "told" without changing the plot.

That said, a little porn can sell; many romance novels contain thinly disguised porn scenes that could be cut without changing the plot. Porn makes $billions, and constitutes nearly HALF of all internet traffic. From a puritan writing standpoint, what is unnecessary to the plot may be the reason some people buy your work! So I wouldn't say prohibit it; but don't overdo it. Don't do it so often that the audience loses track of the plot and characters; I'm thinking perhaps three times in a story. It would be hard for ME to justify more "transformative" sex scenes than that for a MC.

8

Let me point you to the relevant TV Tropes page: Torture Porn

In brief, torture porn is when a work gives a lot of attention to the torture, describes it in great detail, apparently not so much to show that torture is wrong, but to simultaneously disgust the audience and give them a visceral thrill.

If it appears that a work is full of torture for the sake of torture, torture for the sake of being chilling and disgusting with nothing deeper than that, it's torture porn.

If you're putting your character through a lot of misery, but it doesn't appear that it's all torture for the sake of torture, you might want to look at a different trope instead: Trauma Conga Line. That's when bad things keep happening to your character, one after the other, like the world just can't give him a break.

1

Torture Porn has a certain revelling tone to it, it enjoys the specifics for no other reason than, as Amadeus put it, its own sake. Instead of using torture as a device to show, say, that someone is going above and beyond to acquire some information, or vice versa, enduring above and beyond to keep some information contained, they instead just go 'cyoar, look at this guy getting his nuts crushed, that's nasty, amirite?'

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