Over at Kill Zone Blog, a very simple, short post. Here it is in its entirety:
Are there any subjects you avoid completely in your writing? For example, is there anything you avoid writing about because it might be too disturbing to readers?
Then the comments, which are of course the point of the post. Click through and read them if you feel so inclined. Naturally someone declears that “nothing should be off-limits” which is of course true but does not address the question. Just because topics aren’t off the table for the entire literary world doesn’t mean I’m going to write (or read) books that include certain topics and tropes.
So, my personal response:
There is nothing I avoid because it might be too disturbing to readers. There are plenty of things I avoid because they are too disturbing to me, or because they’re simply distasteful and not necessary to include. I could probably write a top ten list for those things. In fact, I’ll take a stab at doing so:
1. I am very, very unlikely to kill a dog, or any sort of pet. Dogs that are ghosts at the beginning of the book don’t count, and in fact if you decide to make the animal into a ghost during the course of the story and then keep it around as a character, that’s fine.
2. I am even more unlikely to kill an important child secondary character, not once the reader has been offered a chance to get emotionally attached.
Destroying a whole city is different from killing a specific animal or child character. I wouldn’t show the people of that city to the reader in detail and encourage emotional attachment before destroying it.
3. I don’t expect ever to kill a point-of-view protagonist.
4. I doubt I would ever write an evil point-of-view protagonist. I almost always hate any chapters in books that are from the villains’ points of view. I almost never think that is necessary and I am not interested in reading the pov of a villain. Yes, I’m thinking of Game of Thrones here, but there are lots of other examples and I hate them all, or all I can think of right this moment.
5. I detest almost all betrayal plotlines, unless they are part of a larger redemption arc and sometimes even if they are. I am very unlikely to insert that kind of plotline into one of my books.
6. I really dislike petty, selfish, unlikable, mean-spirited characters and generally don’t write them. I often skim over their scenes in other authors’ books.
7. Detailed descriptions of torture are not something I would generally consider writing, although I can tolerate them in books I read (usually). I cannot tolerate them in visual media, it turns out. For me, violence is fine but torture is out when it comes to tv and movies.
8. The sort of plot where the protagonist makes one terrible decision after another and slowly self-destructs is SO AWFUL. I would never write this and I can’t read it. SO. AWFUL.
9. In general, I see no need to discuss, describe, or even mention certain natural functions of the human body. Too much detail of that type turns me right off in other authors’ books too.
10. This is not a subject or topic; it’s an element of storytelling: If the bad guy actually wins at the end of the book, I am done with the author. I would never write that kind of ending in a million years. Never. I mean, I hate to spoil the suspense if you wondered whether the bad guy would win in one of my books, but: No.
Now I am thinking of In the Woods by Tana French here. A wonderfully written novel with (a) an important betrayal plotline; (b) an important character-destroys-his-own-life plotline; and (c) the bad guy wins at the end.
After that I am never touching another book by Tana French, ever, no matter who recommends it.
How about you? What element would you never, ever touch in a novel of your own? Does it also mean an automatic Never-Buy rejection of an author if you see that element in a book you read?