Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Raping the Puppy - The Big Issues

In the novel I'm working on right now, with the working title Rat and Starling, after the two main characters, there is a scene where Rat, in an effort to save Starling's life, seduces him, using magic to ensure that she will become pregnant with his child. Then, three months into the pregnancy, when the baby is beginning to react to its environment, she enacts a ritual that transfers Starling's sickness to the fetus, killing it by stabbing herself in the belly with an enchanted bone knife. This is the moment that Starling, disgusted by this perversion of nature (in his view, parents die for their offspring, not the other way around), finally gives up on Rat. Rat has abandoned Starling after years of friendship, allied with a man who tried to kill him, and delved into necromancy, but he had never stopped believing that there was good in her. Not until then, when she used that black magic to save his life against his will in a way he found abhorrent.

This scene is problematic in two ways.

First of all, I am afraid that it is bordering on what the Television Tropes and Idioms Wiki (a cool web page that tries to, wiki-style, identify and mock the annoying patters TV shows tend to fall into) used to call a Rape the Dog moment, but now call the Moral Event Horizon (probably in an effort to throw the word 'rape' around less, which I can respect). The Moral Event Horizon is the moment that a character does something so horrible (or no more horrible than the other things the character has done, but somehow harder hitting) that the character ceases to be cool and becomes terrible, a total villain, someone the audience only wants to see suffer and die. A Magnificent Bastard ceases to be magnificent, a Noble Demon ceases to be noble, and a hero becomes a villain when he or she crosses the Moral Event Horizon. The trouble is, I don't want Rat to loose the audience's sympathy. In fact, she and Starling end up together in the end (awww).

The second problem is that this particular scene touches on Issues with a capital I. My opinion on abortion isn't really the point in this scene (I happen to be pro-choice, which makes it problematic when Starling, the character who has been Rat's moral compass for most of the novel, condemns her). This scene is about the moment that Rat violates Starling's person with magic he dislikes in a way he finds problematic, to save his life, more because she doesn't want to live without him than for his own sake. This scene is about selfishness and power. It's the beginning of a serious slide into darkness for a character who has been victimized and humiliated to the point that she has a hard time empathizing with other people. I am afraid that my audience will read this scene and think I am making a point about abortion, and that would make me sad, especially since the point they are liable to think I'm making is not one that I'd agree with.

I'm not sure exactly how I plan to handle this, honestly. I'd love to hear what your experiences have been with this sort of thing - character morality and Big Issues - as writers and readers.

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Let me be clear here: I like input. I want your input. Your input is delicious. Give it to me. I want this blog to be a place where people read my posts and then tell me what they think of them. I want people to read each other's comments and comment on them.

I think I'm going to start making some kind of division at the end of my posts (like the three centered stars above, an old favorite of mine) and then writing a few bulleted questions, the ideas in the post I'd most like input on. This doesn't mean I don't want input on other things, mind you.

Also, I am always looking for input on how to make my posts more exciting to you. This blog is in its infancy, and I am eager to learn how to become a better blogger. Last night, for example, I received the verbal commentary that yesterday's post was a little dry. I hope today's post was a little juicier. You can also expect some actual fiction of mine the next time I post from my home computer.
  • When have you encountered a scene that touched Big Issues as a reader? What did you think of it?
  • When have you faced a moment when a character you were reading did something unforgivable or nearly so? What did you feel?
  • When have you encountered the above situations as a writer? How did you deal with it?

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