Often I hear people on the internet say, “Roleplay should reflect real life. It should be realistic and genuine.” and that “You should only write what you know.” While both of these have merit they are mutually exclusive in many cases of the taboo. So how can you write about the taboo if you have never experienced it? And if you fail to write the taboo are you then neglecting the gritty realism of your RP setting?
First of all, what do I consider the “taboo”?
Hate crime and lynching
Explicit violence of all kinds
We all have personal boundaries when it comes to discussing these things and they evoke strong emotional reactions. Personally I will not write an explicit rape scene and I am not comfortable RPing paedophilia or any abuse of children. Though I have not tried all of the rest I have writing about two thirds of them. So, I have not experienced most of these (I won’t say which I have experienced, contact me if you want to discuss this) but I feel comfortable writing them all, regardless of experience.
Research, research, research – you can never do enough of this! Ok, so if you spend all your time researching and none writing then you do not experience the benefit of the research, haha! This goes for all aspects of writing, but for the taboo, you simply cannot avoid it. It is essential. With other writing topic you can maybe stick to what you know and its fine, but for the most part most people don’t know what the taboo is like first hand, therefore… research it. Wiki is not my preferred choice but it can be a good place to start to narrow down your search. Read real life stories, articles and scientific papers, all to get a background. The purpose of research is not so you include everything you discover, its to give you a knowledge-base and firm foundation upon which you write from the characters perspective. An informed writer is a great writer and one who can use their style and evocative language to convey the desired emotion and describe a scene, but use your common sense and experience as a writer to handle the subject with care, responsibility and emotion.
Socially sensitive topics should always be handled respectfully – this should go without saying, but I feel the need to reiterate it. I am very aware of how evocative these topics are and I never write them just for shits and giggles, nor do I write them in a disrespectful manner. What I see as disrespectful is being both unrealistic and glorifying the crime and abuse. Writing a rape in full and desensitizing the reader by making it a sexy, slutty, sensuous and lustful scene from all involved is just plain wrong. Rape is non consensual, this should be obvious and the IC reactions should be accurate and justified. The same goes for incest. It’s not a beautiful, healthy relationship. Even if the characters believe it is so the society they live in the characters they encounter probably won’t think so and if you do not show the truth of it then you are being disrespectful to the truth of this matter. Incest is a popular taboo in RP and it makes me cringe to see it written poorly. Research it. Discover the truth of it. It is not how it is generally portrayed. This is often true of the portrayal of drug addiction, mental illness, explicit sex and fetishes too. Don’t write it because it’s popular or “daring”. Write it because its relevant and because its necessary for your plot or character. Do not use these things as a dramatic past for the sake of it. Have consequences and BE REAL. This is why people say write what you know – you are likely to be more honest and accurate, however you can be both honest and accurate in writing the unknown if you are mature and sensitive about these taboos.
Don’t be afraid to write the story. The story is what is important. It is how your characters grow and develop within the setting. The story is the path you lay out for your characters, if they choose to go down another path then so be it, pave the way for them. If this leads to taboo subjects, then do your research, do your characters justice and be brave.
Do not listen to the bigots and trolls. Constructive criticism is key to developing as a writer, but often you will find that taboo writing makes you a target for the closed minded and trouble makers. Be brave. Do not listen to negative and unhelpful comments. If in doubt, send the writing/post to a trusted friend or your RP partner and get their feedback first. The opinions of those you trust and those people who are open minded and fair are the only opinions that should shape you as a writer. Even then you know what to do with such concrit, if you are mature enough to write the taboo you are mature enough to self edit and assess your own writing.
Overkill is your worst enemy. So, try not to combine taboo subjects. Don’t have a girl raped by her father, fall in love with her brother and have his baby, become a drug addict and then develop a freaky fetish for feet and cheese only to then abuse her own daughter and be arrested for sex with a minor. That is not only overkill, its ridiculous and disrespectful and rubbish. It MIGHT have happened but what is the point of writing something like that? How can you do all of those things justice? How can you genuinely explore all those issues in the way they deserve? Someone’s real life =/= the RP character you are playing, as much as some people strive for this (IC and OOC merging is not good at all… that is another blog for another day though!) this is not being gritty or realistic. That circumstance is rare. Will you also write how they take a shit every day and fart during sex? I thought not…
Finally, learn to be better. Making mistakes is fine, but learn from them and always write what is true to your characters and plot. Do not put a round peg in a square hole just because you want to “try it out”. I want to “try out” a lot of things, but unless it happens organically or the right RP partner and character come along, it is not going to happen.
Be brave, fellow RPers and be respectful. Research your subject and explore the darker themes of this world we live in.
Do it right. Do it well. Do it sensitively.