No Subject Is Off Limits, But Handle With Care

Chrissy Mitchell

Chrissy Mitchell

Copywriter

Freelance Copywriter

22

Oct, 2018

As writers, we’re often very mindful of our readers. Sometimes so mindful that it can hinder our creativity and sincerity. This is a timidness that often comes when writing on unconventional subjects that your reader may not be comfortable with, or even consider taboo subjects.
We worry that by writing on subjects such as rape, masturbation, sexual fantasies, incest, or many others, it will force the reader to not only see us through the lens of the subject matter but form speculations on our character and moral compasses.
As an example, writing about incest. Perhaps you fear that your readers will be offended, question your fascination on the subject, or even assume you have a personal experience. However, most readers don’t think this way. In fact, weaving these topics into your writing can often time be more rewarding than detrimental.

Why You Should Take The Plunge

No matter how much of a taboo subject it is, it exists and is a reality for many people. As a writer, it is your obligation to address these subjects if you feel inclined to do so. Your words have the potential to help readers evolve as individuals. A reader may learn something new or even reconsider prior opinions on the matter.
Take the compelling tale of forbidden sibling lovers in Forbidden by Tabatha Suzuma as an example. While incest is illegal in many parts of the word and hugely frowned upon, the author tells the story of how a brother and sister find themselves in love with one another once they are forced to take on the role of parents to their younger siblings. Suzuma tells the story with poise and empathy, all the while remaining very realistic about the consequences of the characters’ actions.
Of course, it is inevitable that you may offend someone or rub them the wrong way if you write on a taboo subject. However, this shouldn’t be a deciding factor in what you write. This is bound to happen, even if you are not controversial.
Taboo subjects can cross boundaries of time, space, and genre.

Writing About Taboo Subjects

Instead, approach the subject carefully and intelligently so your intentions do not get lost in translation. Depending on the subject, you may even be able to find a way to write about these topics in a positive light. They are taboo but this doesn’t mean that they have to follow the norm and be written about negatively. This is especially true when dealing with social taboos.
Take the classic novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov as an example. While the story itself is not a happy one, the relationship between the two main characters, Lolita and Humbert, has a lot of meaning behind it. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Lolita is a 12-year-old girl who Humbert falls in love with. He knows it’s wrong, taboo and illegal, but he cannot help his feelings. She does develop feelings for him, as well.
Of course, the story of Humbert and Lolita was not a happy one. She leaves him under the guise of a kidnapping and finds herself pregnant at 17. The end of the story sees both characters die. Lolita dies due to complications with childbirth and Humbert of heartbreak.
Despite Humbert’s psychotic tendencies, the relationship the two of them shared was written in a way that showed both the positive and negative side to a subject that is generally considered extremely taboo.
Other examples are littered throughout books, movies, plays, even our own history. These social taboos are shown as positive, or at least normal, but done in a where it does not overshadow the main story or lesson.
“Instead, approach the subject carefully and intelligently so your intentions do not get lost in translation.”

Handle With Care

Of course, many of these subjects are taboo for a reason and there is no way to show them in a positive light. However, this doesn’t mean you should avoid them. In fact, this is the reason you should write about them!
While no subject is off limits, do be mindful of how your words can impact people from different backgrounds. If you are writing about a subject that you do not have first-hand experience with and you are finding it difficult to write you must think about how those who have been through the experience would feel. In other words, it may be just as difficult, or even more so, for some to swallow, especially if they have a traumatic experience associated with it.
This is not to suggest to “write what the reader wants” but to rather be respectful of the subject. There are ways to be extraordinary, purposeful, and poised, but there is a fine line that you must be wary of when dealing with taboo subjects. We never said this would be easy.
One way to be respectful without compromising content is to consider at what length you discuss the subject. Be mindful of the details and who your potential audience is. Don’t shy away from using the proper terms, but you don’t need to describe every movement or thought in detail. If your piece contains subject matter pertaining to incest or sexual fantasies, the story does not need to lead to erotica, especially if you want it to be memorable or teach a meaningful lesson.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Fret Not The Taboo Subjects

Don’t be afraid of how your readers will view you when you write about taboo subjects. The writer and the writing are two very different things and most readers understand this. There are plenty of notable writers who have covered scandalous topics and maintained their reputation. Games of Thrones has almost every type of taboo imaginable, but by no means has that affected the show’s popularity or the real-life values of the author.
If you are respectful and articulate yourself well, then we’d hope you would at least be able to sleep at night. Take solace in the fact that most readers will already have a predisposition about the subject you choose to cover. While many might be set in their ways, you have the opportunity to educate some. Always have pride in your work and be bold. You’re a writer because you have something different to say, stories to tell that have never been told before.
And that alone is extraordinary.

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