A taboo is holy and forbids association with a particular place, thing or person. Taboo exist in all cultures and societies. It is a fascinating subject, but people are not able to tolerate. A casual conversation around taboos can quickly morph into an ugly argument and fatal especially for a writer.
Do Taboos Still Exist?
Yes, they do. As long as there are powerful men and women in government and religious organisations, they will continue to dictate what you ought and not ought to write.
Naturally, an artist is inborn rebels, continually attracted to the forbidden- “Do not eat the fruit of the only tree you were warned to stay away. Do not kill your father and marry your mother.”
Writing taboo subjects as in values, characters, political standing, opinions, and values encounters critics from publishers. One hears of worthy books failing to find a publisher for being too this, too that, too political, too dark, too strange, too cerebral.
Starved for Subject Matters
The Pen American Centre and the Committee to Protect Journalist document predicaments of the journalist who flirted with the forbidden. Example the Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega who was sentenced to eighteen years in prison for spreading “false rumours.” Alternatively, Nguyen Xuan Nghia imprisoned in Vietnam for criticising the government through his poems and stories.” Alternatively, even Roger Shuler, the rogue blogger who did time in Alabama after posting a story alleging that a former Republican governor’s son had an affair with a lobbyist.”
Profanity is prevalent in real life and is seen as a colourful way to convey your thoughts. Use of profanity, however, makes the author sound less erudite, less educated and the script reads like an Eddie Murphy routine. Swearing in a story is more like the use of “umm, ah, well…” and I can assure you it reads differently than how it should sound. How then do you handle curses in writing? Start by writing your script as it comes with the swear words then edit them out.
Rape and Child Abuse
“Writing about trauma is more than simply documenting experience – it’s all about illuminating life on earth. It’s about transforming tragedy into art.” Rape and child abuse are real things that ought not to be treated lightly. It is a severe trauma for the victim not to be a minor character or a way of showing a person’s wickedness. It is a tough subject and its best to avoid it.
Incest, Bestiality, Masturbation
I am sure you have watched Game of Thrones, or have read the book. It is not surprising to hear talks about the taboo. Personally, it is unappealing. The characters indulging in any of the activities appear cheap and most often hate the character. Centring your story on such practices will lose your readers. It is against most religious beliefs and cultures as well.
“Sure, it happens, but that doesn’t mean I have to write about it. I find it extremely distasteful,”- Jesse Frankel.
Drinking is fine especially if the audience consists of teenagers. The age group of the audience determines if both characters will be alcoholic or one opposed to the idea. It seldom works out well.
There is nothing wrong with sex. We all do it; kids are having sex as early as fourteen years, supposedly. It’s a personal subject, and most readers will judge you according to your words. Remember your audience. Never paint a graphic picture of the characters and only use it if it fits the storyline.
“I recently read Tampa by Alissa Nutting, and her protagonist must have masturbated a dozen times in the first twenty pages, so, that’s another example of how you can utilise this taboo subject—although Celeste is out of control, in so many ways, so it’s not a healthy example.”
As much as death is part of life, there is no need to add too much drama. When including death in the plot, do not discriminate. Death does not distinguish the rich or poor, Sinner or Saints. Including death thus need to serve a well-defined purpose.
In conclusion, the biggest taboo when writing is the inability to build the story. A story that lacks a theme or end is tasteless and BORING. It is the worst thing you can as an author.
Entanglement between principles of what is right and wrong and fiction is almost unavoidable. Be thoughtful and careful when telling a story with a message. Entertain, shock or titillate the readers.
Write thinking of the ideal audience: their beliefs of what is right and unimportant. However, remember if it crosses the taboo lines, it won’t be exciting for certain people. In our quest to amuse, entertain, engage, educate and uplift our audience remember it’s all about guiding your readers, infusing the story and making it relatable to all.