After lengthy discussions on Facebook last week fueled by a dog death at the beginning of an e-book, the folks at Spinetingler Magazine got in touch with me. They suggested I consider W.D. County's story Plastic Soldiers in their anthology, Speedloader. Do the same "rules" about killing animals in fiction also apply to killing children?
1) I've never read anything so intense in my entire life. I may never again. This is a story that reaches into your guts, twists them and doesn't stop until it's absolutely positive you'll never forget the pain. And I won't.
2) I'm more confused about killing children in fiction than ever before. I thought this was a black-and-white thing. I was wrong.
For many, there are no gray areas on this issue. That's completely understandable. If that's how you feel, I don't recommend reading more. It's about to get bad. Really bad.
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Plastic Soldiers is about the abduction, rape, murder and cremation of boys. The protagonist keeps plastic Army men in his pocket. They "talk" him through his emotional and physical pain - even as he listens to other abductees being raped in the other room.
If you only judge the story off that short description, it'd be easy to write this story off as obscene. But if you keep an open mind about the craft of writing - and can judge a story on the capabilities of the author - then you may find some appreciation for this piece. You might agree with me that despite the astronomical brutality, this is a brilliant piece of fiction.
County's protagonist thinks like a child. It's uncanny. From the things the toy soldiers "say" to him to the words he uses to describe his situation (the "bad man," for example), this is incredible writing. Factor in how breathless the story leaves you by its end, and I got the sense this is almost a perfect piece of fiction.
I say "almost" because of the atrocities commited throughout it. I'm very open-minded, but even I can't say "perfect" in the same sentence as "child rape." But you know what? I don't see how this story could've been written any other way.
The knee-jerk reaction to that may be, "Why did it have to be kids? Couldn't it be told with adults instead?" Rape is horrible no matter the age. As a society, we place extra attention to children's well-being - and with good reason. But tell an adult survivor of rape that he or she "didn't have it that bad" and see what reaction you receive.
The story wouldn't work with adults anyway. The innocence of a boy keeping plastic soldiers in his pocket is the humanizing juxtaposition to the entire dehumanizing situation. The piece loses its power without these polarizing elements going to either extreme.
I can't recommend Plastic Soldiers to everyone. It's only for those looking for a story to challenge their sensibilities without losing sight of literary quality.
If you're one of those people, Speedloader is available on Amazon here for $0.99, as well as other fine e-book retailers.
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BSP: Looking to lighten things up a bit? Check out 4 Funny Detective Stories - Starring Maynard Soloman. No controvery here, just razor-sharp satire with a heaping side of fun.
Whoa. I guess I never read any "rules" on this. I'd be interested in knowing what they are (or what somebody says they are, since I've noticed "rules" in writing have a way of getting broken with success).
If it's something like "don't kill any kids", I immediately think of the Star Wars prequel where little cutie-face slaughters a whole room full of rugrats.
I'd like to know what the situation is thought to be on this.
Well, you know, unwritten rules have always been a way to keep a club private. You can write whatever you want but if you want someone else to act as a sales agent (agent, publisher or even reviewer) it sure helps to be in the club and know the rules.
But boundaries get pushed, rules get changed.
For me, I think anything that actually happens in the world is what should go into literature. Literture can be more than escapist entertainment (not that there's anything wrong with that ;) and can help with understanding the world around us.
Absolutely agree, John.
I just saw a discussion on another forum, a guy asking about the commercial potential for a love/sex novel about a 10 year girl and a 50 year old married guy. (He was not widely applauded in the responses)
And I have a hard time seeing how it would turn out to be a beautiful, understanding work of literature. But it might, I guess.
This is one reason I react negatively to the whole "those people shouldn't have their work in print" attitude (also no widely applauded). Who knows? The degree of acceptance or relevance could be expressed in sales figures.
This is not to say I wouldn't kick the shit out of any given 50 year old hubby who's pronging a ten year old girl.
A phrase that hit me when I was reading Benjamin's post was, "the rag and bone shop". Not a good idea to rope it off, I'm thinking.
I had to think about this for a while. Since killing a child, especially on stage, is extremely emotional for a lot of readers, I would only do it if the story couldn't be told any other way.
Same rule as for pornography.
Excuse me. And I'm not trying to bait you here, but honestly asking. What rule? Never do it? Only do it in specialty press?
I really don't get what the "rules" are here. And would appreciate anybody who'd spell them out.
The rules are like jazz, if you have to ask you'll never know ;)
The rules say a really long book translated from Swedish and full of long, dull sections about banking and graphic scenes of rape will never be a bestseller around the world.
So what I'm getting is: if you have to kill kids and bunnies, do it pornographically?
Nailed it, John. Well done.
There are certain unspoken rules that exist in fiction, and they tend to follow social norms outside of writing. With any rule, there are many exceptions. These aren't written down anywhere. You just get the feeling the more you read and write.
The best parallel I can think of is with horror movies. There are certain "rules" the characters generally follow.
But, apparently, nobody wants to say what the are.
You asked if "rules" apply and won't explain what rules. I've asked three times. I'll let it drop.
Kind of weird though.
Usually writing sites are full of people who can't wait to tell you what rules are.
When they need killing, Benjamin.