Tuesday, February 9, 2010

How much is too much?

So let's talk writing.

My current project is a romantic suspense set in the exotic locale of the Republic of Congo in 2004. My heroine is a doctor in the Doctors without Borders program and living in a village in the rain forest. My hero is a mercenary hired to bring in her brother and the rough, uncut blue diamond he stole. Instead, he finds my heroine.

As a writer, I know that story is conflict. We are encouraged to put our characters through the wringer, and believe me, I do. I know I've got a great scene full of emotional angst when I'm crying right along with my character while I write it. But how far can a writer go before it's too much for the reader?

I'm contemplating adding some nastiness that the heroine, as a doctor, is privy to when it comes to how the villain in my story treats women. If she remembers this incident while being forced into the antagonist's control, is the reader going to stop reading if there is a graphic scene or is it needed to show the depths of this man's depravity? How much is too much?

I would love to hear your thoughts. As a writer, do you share my dilemma? As a reader, how would this type of scene affect your reading experience with this story?


Lynn Romaine said...

I'm a believer in putting in gruesome details - graphic scenes (my 4th, unsigned book, Night Noise, opens with the heroine finding the massacred bodies of her entire family). Now I'm not sure if a romance publisher will touch it - in fact, I doubt it and have not subbed it to any strict romance publishers. But I think graphic is fine - just enough to put the reader into the sense of horror - lynn romaine - Long Run Home published by The Wild Rose Press

MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott/Kate Davison said...

Personally, as a health care worker, I always err on the side of graphic. The more graphic to expose the gravity or potential mortality of a situation the better. I say show it. If an editor doesn't like it, they will tell you to tone it down. I've never had that happen to me, though, because I think like anything else if you balance the scene against something else it works.

GPS said...

"Graphic" is good. The only thing that makes me scan is "boring."

Barbara Edwards said...

I can read graphic details as long as it fits the plot ot show character.


Carly Carson said...

Personally, I don't read graphic stuff if it's violence. I just have no stomach for it. But, just to argue with myself, I think most readers want to be grabbed by the throat. I would say go ahead and be graphic (without being tedious about it, going on and on and on) and an editor can always drag you back if she feels it's necessary.

Danica Avet said...

I had this same problem with my latest manuscript. My heroine is an assassin, which right off would make her an unsympathetic character. I needed to show the readers that she had no choice but to become a cold blooded killer. The only way I saw to do that was to give the audience a peek into her tortured past. It isn't pretty, and I actually frightened myself with the darkness I wrote, but I think it helps the story along.

Sometimes you have to get dirty to make a point. Be graphic, it can only enhance your story.

Mary Ricksen said...

I think most readers get drawn into the story if the imagery is there. So you have to be somewhat graphic to make the scene thrilling. Go for it!

Rachel Lynne said...

Hi Riley, you know what I think! I will add that I see the scene as second hand pov not happening in real time. Show Jilian remembering the devasting emotional and physical pain (I'm thinking it was her native friend who warns her to flee in the first scene :) as she's packing to run. Heightens the tension and reveals extra strong motivation for her to take off into the rainforest alone. By not showing it in "real Time" you can focus on the emotional upheaval the woman faced and not have to show what is in the villain's head yet still reveal what a beast he is and show his motivations as well. Two, maybe even three birds with one scene!
Just my two cents :)

Riley Quinn said...

Wow! An overwhelming and unanimous response. Thank you all. I really wanted to write the scene but based on a previous conversation in another loop, I was a little leery. I appreciate all the support and the comments, ladies. Thanks for stopping by!

lainey bancroft said...

Go for the gut! What disturbs us often reels us in and keeps us reading (even if some might speed read past content they consider too graphic)

As others mentioned, if it is over the top an editor will rein you in.

Riley Quinn said...

Thanks for the input, Lainey. I'm going for it!

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