The Great Fantasy ‘Shag’ Debate


There is currently a fair amount of argy-bargy going on in fantasy circles about the inclusion of sex and rape scenes in narratives.

For my own ten cents, I don’t really understand the point, or where this discussion is being driven from. If I had to try and break it down, it might look something like this:

– Readers feel uncomfortable with the scenes and are pushing back on the authors/publishers. Perhaps these scenes reflect the realities of life too harshly for their tastes.

– Fellow authors feel they have the perfect ratio of intimacy and action sewn up and therefore everyone else is ‘doing it wrong’. They are fed up with ‘lazy authors’ just bonking/ravaging their way to a book deal.

If this is the case, then I’m sorry. I spend hours, days, months, pouring over my characters and their lives as I tap them into a Word document. I draw story boards and write character arc notes until my hands ache for days. I fuss over setting, dialogue and action to get the moments just right, working tirelessly to perfect pacing so characters aren’t pushed at a rate too fast for readers to believe. There is not one point where I have looked at my manuscript and declared; “I know what will make this better! A rape scene!”

As an author who feels a strong element of realism should exist in my work, I find it odd that people think both sex and rape don’t have a part in fantasy narrative. And that is as serious as this is getting.

Posts I’ve read today cover the full gamit, from ‘Don’t include these scenes to motivate your characters’ through to ‘Don’t include them unless they motivate your characters’.

Unfortunately, we are telling stories about PEOPLE. Men, women, children, the elderly, talking cats, walking rocks. If you want to tell stories about life, and you have any interest at all in reflecting the brutal as well as wonderful realities of said life, then sex, rape, abuse, love, rain, war, hate, insest, bad fashion and blood are all essential elements to that telling. You can’t chose to ignore one over another, or hack away at authors who feel compelled to write narratives that do include these topics if you don’t.

‘A woman shouldn’t become strong just because she was raped.’ I agree. There are a thousand reasons why a woman might become a stronger person and one of them is extreme trauma. It is also a reason why a woman might crumple into a vague shadow of her former self. Both are equally ‘realistic’ in my opinion.

Is it ‘lazy’ to write a character who experiences sexual trauma and overcomes it through self belief and inner strength? NO! I want girls to read characters who face this and overcome so they know, if it ever happens to you or a friend, you are not dead in the water. You have value and purpose and you matter.

We need to write male characters who overcome physical and mental trauma as well as mental illness for the same reason. We need our boys to read characters who can claw themselves out from under the weight of violence or hate and become heroes in their own right.

We also need to have male and female characters who are strong, self assured individuals, not because they have been crushed under the boot of some coward, but because they have great mentors and self esteem. Unfortunately, we don’t always get the chance to write characters who are built like brick walls and impervious to the flack the world throws at them. Unfortunately, nine times from ten, we get characters who are damaged and flawed and need to overcome immense obstacles to become better, stronger people.

These are characters I want to read, so I’m working really hard to write those types of characters in my own work. Characters who have authentic, life changing experiences and work through them to achieve thier goals. Sometimes, those experiences involve love, death, sex, pain, rape, hope and victory. Sometimes they will involve gods on high, magic, dragons and an epic sword battle where the enemy is whittled down to strips of stirfry by the heroine’s blade. That’s why I love writing fantasy, and reading it. As much as your characters will face the realities of our univerese, they also face the oddities of thier own. No reader or author has the right to dictate which of those are authentic and which are not. After all, it’s FANTASY baby!


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