Last week, Rav left this comment on an old entry of mine about The Last House on the Left remake:
I read somewhere that the director of the last house on the left wanted the viewer to feel as violated as Mari and that is why the scene seemed to take FOREVER. (some things cannot be unwatched)
My question is not about the movie per se but a general writing question... in your opinion how far is too far when a writer describes a rape scene?
In my story the main character is explaining her past and a rape that happened to her when she was a teenager. Are there actual laws against writing about minors(shes 14 in the backstory)? I am not doing it for shock value, or for entertainment (because it is far from entertaining) but to explain things the main character does in present day.
I am a big fan of Poppy Z Brite and want to push the "taboo" envelope but I do not want to lose my audience or break any laws.. I want them to feel as violated mentally as my character did physically. if that makes sense. What is your opinion on this?
This is going to be a hot button topic, and I think what you'll have to accept at first is that you WILL offend some people who read the script. Rape is a loaded subject, and I'm sure there are rape scenes that have been both defended as artful by some, and labeled exploitative trash by others.
To my knowledge there isn't any law about writing about minors being raped. The fact that many, many episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit have featured teenage rape victims would seem to back that assumption up. However, I would suggest discretion when writing a scene like that with an underage character. Characters in their late teens will probably be played by someone in their twenties, but if your lead was nine when she was raped, you're really playing with fire. A rape scene with a VERY young character is just begging for walk-outs. Beyond that, do you really want to be responsible for putting a pre-teen actress through the ordeal of performing such a scene?
I'd suggest renting A Time to Kill and taking note of how powerful the rape scene (and the subsequent description of it in closing arguments) is without being graphic at all. We see it in quick flashes from the point of view of the victim. Thus, we get what's going on, without having to be subjected to seeing a little girl actually manhandled by an adult male.
I'm glad you're not doing it for shock value. That's the fastest way to alienate an audience. If it's integral to the character and the story (as in Last House, or The Accused, to cite another example) it's a lot easier to endure that brutality as an audience member.)
Then, in writing the scene don't you DARE attempt to make the scene itself titillating. I've read too many rape scenes where you can practically feel the writer leering as he has his avatar ripping the clothes off of the nubile female lead. Nothing makes me hate a writer faster than the sense that he was typing his rape scene with one hand, if you follow me.
You admit that you want to push the envelope and make the audience feel violated mentally. That seems like a recipe for some negative blowback on that scene. The violence and the violation are bound to make some viewers uncomfortable, and often they'll process that reaction as "I hate this." Is it necessary to go that far? What are you getting out of this that you aren't getting by being suggestive rather than explicit?
If you're doing it JUST to push the envelope, then I have a hard time seeing the distinction between that and doing it for shock value. What's the purpose in violating the audience? Is the rest of the film constructed in a way that makes use of that? In Last House, the ugliness of that scene seems to be there to cement in the audience the desire to see Krug and his crew meet some nasty ends. It's to put us in the shoes of the parents in the film - to make us want vengeance as bad as they do.
When I've had to write a scene like this in my own specs, I've always made myself justify the very existence of that story beat. In every instance, if I determine the act is absolutely integral I've also found that the less graphic the scene is, the better it works for what I'm trying to do. I err on the side of caution - usually making it clear what's about to happen, then drawing out the tension as long as possible before the act. Then I either cut away just before the act, or find some way to pull the audience's focus off of the actual characters. The sounds of the act might be on screen, but the visual is kept just out of camera range. That not only prevents the reader from thinking I found this titilating - but it prevents the more perverted members of the audience from getting any such thrill from it either.
(And believe me, there are sick minds out there. When I posted that Last House entry over a year ago, there was quite a while where I saw Google searches of "Sara Paxton rape scene" were leading people to my blog.)