Monday, March 29, 2010 | By: Taffy

Writers As Therapists?


Here are a few excerpts from my email about writing and writers. Are writers expected to be therapists? What are your expectations as a reader vs. writer?

"It is astonishing to me that if "Living Dead Girl" were a film, it would be illegal for even an adult to possess it as I gather from the descriptions that it would meet the definition of child pornography. Are "word pictures" any less harmful than photographic or cinematic images? Why thrust verbal child pornography onto an entire generation of kids by writing this kind of thing? How could it empower or heal or speak truth to any of the kids that read it?


By contrast, in Elizabeth Smart, we have an excellent real life example of a child who really was placed in this sort of position. Enough has been said that it's clear what happened to her and we really don't need the specific details. What IS healthy and hopeful about her story is the person she has become - a beautiful, talented, PRIVATE young woman who provides a powerful example of hope for victimized kids.



There's a way to tell powerful stories in a powerful way. I think you lose that power when you "fall back" on brutal details, even if they are true. It doesn't add. In fact, I think it diminishes actual victims more than anything. By not keeping certain things "in reserve" so to speak, we expose the private horror of true victims and in fact victimize them again. We trivialize them and their experience. And a fictional recover could do more harm than good -- reality is a lot harsher than the thin air we pull stuff out of and I can't help but think some readers struggling with those issues may read and wonder what's wrong with them, that they haven't gotten past it so easily as our fictional creation did.



Maybe some YA books do help readers heal. But I think we writers have to be careful and not delude ourselves that we are some sort of therapists - that something we write can accomplish what takes months or years of therapy with a trained professional. Not that some good can't be done - and there are some excellent YA books that maybe HAVE done some of that kind of good ("Speak" comes to mind. I don't recall it as being graphic but I do recall it as being eloquent.) Books like that don't "heal" by portraying prurient details but by exploring character and inspiring courage or even just creating hope (things in very short supply in much literature these days.) And let's face it - ever since there has been National Geographic and even Sears Catalogs, we could pretty much predict what the dog-eared pages would be. Sex sells. It even sells kids books. Violence attracts. It's a lot harder to make money writing/publishing quiet brilliant enduring "literary" books than it is to make money writing/publishing books that are just plain dirty or violent - even if there is supposedly some lofty goal attached to it.



Unfortunately we're in a market where publishing as an industry is fighting for its very survival. Since sex sells, we're going to see more, not less. And in spite of any lofty ideals the industry or author claims, much of it will be put out there just for the sake of selling books, not healing or helping or improving a generation.


I don't believe in censorship, but I have become disappointed in a lot of authors I used to admire."

6 comments:

Heidi Ashworth said...

I agree with so much of what you have said, here. I do feel, however, that books can be therapy for people. I have experienced this most often in works of fiction, actually. I have also experienced this in movies that really make you think. Often the circumstances touch on a situation in your own life and b/c you are unguarded and prepared to listen and suspend your disbelief, things can happen or be said that pierce your heart. I don't agree with graphic stuff and feel sad that writers do resort to sex b/c it DOES sell. I think it is interesting that the film makers of The Lovely Bones decided not to film the graphic scene b/c it was just so so horrible--worse than reading it since our imagination can only take us so far if we haven't seen or experienced something. There are some things we just don't need to hear or see--those images will never leave our heads.

Taffy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Taffy said...

Thanks Heidi! I read and go to movies for entertainment but always find tidbits of wisdom.
I don't believe we have to let sex sell. There are tons of excellent writers who do not use sex, violence or swearing to sell their books.
Why do so many readers turn to YA? Because it's 'cleaner'.
I hated 'Lovely Bones' so haven't wanted to see the movie, but the trailer looked pretty good.

Caledonia Lass said...

I agree as well. I try to keep my writing very clean. I've tried to minimize what I call the "squishy" stuff. I get my point across without having to go into details.
Personally I hate the fact that society surrounds themselves with sex. I'm no prude, don't get me wrong, but you can only deal with so much. Sex sells everything from fast cars to floor cleaner.
People need to use their imaginations more and not be so blatant about things.
Great post.

Laurie LC Lewis said...

Taffy, thanks for stopping by my neck of the woods and for sharing your recipe and your thoughts about the merits of writing. I wish you all the best, and when you get published, let me review your book.

Daron D. Fraley said...

I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I just returned to an indie bookstore where I had purchased a book recommended by the salesperson there, and traded it in on something I knew would be clean.

Graphic depictions of sensuality and/or vulgar language in a book immediately turns me off. I think I got 30 pages into the book and could go no further.

THANK HEAVENS for those authors who write "clean reads".