Expansion Pack: Writing from the side

Hi Gang, Craig with you again. This is another expansion pack, because it’s not something you’ll need in every story. It’s a trick that I consider worthy of sharing with you.

This one is based upon personal experience. A recent chapter I wrote brought it back to mind. I have shortcomings as an author, and if you’re honest you probably do too. As a personal example, I had a story that required a sex scene many years ago. I’d never written one, and it remains the most godawful example of writing I’ve ever produced. (You know you have some, too.)

There is at least one Story Empire member who writes erotica on occasion. It’s just not within my skill set. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

I just finished writing another problematic scene, but this one came out much better. It involves a gang rape. I’ve always avoided any kind of rape in my stories because I find the situation overused. This time it seemed to fit.

Sometimes you come up with a plot that requires one of these sensitive topics. I wrote my newest one from the side.

I’ve never heard a term to describe this, so I came up with the one in the title. Readers don’t need to feel every broken rib or disgusting act during an assault. They don’t need to see sex organs or feel like they got raped during the chapter.

This time, I focused on the flares of light from the beating, the scraps of torn clothing, and a toy whistle that belonged to her son. In many ways, I think it kept deep point of view but didn’t focus on the parts nobody wants to read anyway. I’d already set the deep meaning that toy had to my main character in earlier chapters. Might be a cop-out, but I also added a concussion pretty damned quick.

There are whole genres like cozy mysteries that never get too brutal. I’ve read many stories where a couple goes into a room together, the door closes, we all know what happened. While these aren’t my genres, there’s a lot to be learned here.

You can focus your readers on the tow truck that’s pulling the wreck from the canal, without detailing the bloated bodies inside. You can examine a brutal murder scene by focusing on the neat row of Funko Pops in her room. Maybe let your detective get emotional because this was a real person with quirks, hobbies, and friends. It might suck readers in more than a description of blood and brutality.

This is a work in process for me, but you can do this, too. Most of you are pretty quick to adapt this stuff. I even look for weird points of view. A few years back I wrote about a little brown bat going on his nightly adventures. He wound up discovering a dump sight for a serial killer. Might not be exactly the same, but it’s still writing from the side.

I know my story will require a revisit, probably in the form of dialog, but realistic dialog won’t go into those graphic details. It’s a way to deliver some explanation to my readers without forcing them to go through the event as it happens.

If you have a sensitive scene to write, consider what might be on the periphery of the event. Ask yourself if it might be helpful to write it a bit out of focus, and still deliver what readers need. You might even create something with more emotion than any blow by blow action could reveal.

Let me hear from you in the comments. Have you ever tried this one? Would you ever try this one?

55 thoughts on “Expansion Pack: Writing from the side

  1. Pingback: This Week at Story Empire – Joan Hall

  2. I can relate to everything you are saying, Craig. I’ve shared before how I feel about intimate and graphic scenes. It’s not who I am as a writer. It’s something I think I would mentally struggle with. But I really like your thoughts on writing from the side. That’s such a great idea. It keeps the story going, allows for explanation and even scenery, but without going past those harsh lines. It’s perfect for someone like me, so thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like this approach, Craig, and your terminology for it. I don’t write sex scenes (I have done the closed door thing) and readers are smart enough to know what happened.

    I don’t like books with graphic violence, and I won’t read them. Mae has used the term trigger points that identify books she won’t read – graphic violence is one of them for me. At the same time, I’m not naive to know things like that don’t happen in real life. I agree with Alex. I think a lot of writers these days are doing their best to shock readers. Doesn’t work for me. Your approach allows the story to be told without the unneccessary details.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, Craig. This can save a book from being put down by a reader. I loved how you showed how to retain a deep pov and/or emotions of a situation without having to get graphic. There’s a place for graphic sex and violence in certain genres, but most readers, I think, are fine without it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like the term writing from the side. I’ve written rape scenes but they have never made into the story. Romantic scenes I also tend to give a distant of what happened. I prefer less gore in any writing so I appreciate the emotion or feeling to the act and approach you mention in this post. I enjoyed this post, Craig.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Like Alex, I’ve stopped reading authors who feel the need to shock me more with each book. It’s what they’re known for, but it bothers me. I like your approach better. Once in a while, graphic serves a purpose, but not as a way to keep me turning pages.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Everyone thinks of breathing techniques when you mention lamaze classes, but my instructor told me music that soothed me and a focal point (in my case, a tiny Pooh figurine for my son-to-be’s nursery) was equally important in pain management. If you focus on the pain, you’ll feel it more. But a great way to endure something agonizing is to focus on something else entirely. And that’s before you consider psychologically disengaging so you don’t suffer a complete break. Whether you know what to call it or not, writing from the side gives your characters believable coping mechanisms that are completely realistic. Excellent post today, Craig.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think this is a great way to approach some tricky scenes, Craig. I recall your advice on my WIP of interjecting the opening of a parachute for the atomic bomb situation. Unfortunately, I used the wrong POV so it didn’t make the final cut. I still remember the lesson though and will keep this post and that suggestion in mind for the next. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post and approach. I believe sometimes the full-on approach is called for, while at other times this side-on view would be perfect. Often it depends upon genre and character POV. I love your name for it! I’ve used a flow of water as a POV, which uncovers an atrocity, in the past and had great fun with that viewpoint 😁. Thanks for sharing, Craig. This is one for me to save and revisit 💕🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. My newest novel has a rape scene. I chose to focus on her thoughts instead of the actual act. Like you, I didn’t feel that the details needed to be spelled out. Plus, since my story was first person POV, I believe it created a stronger scene to be in her head because the reader was able to stay with her emotionally. Great post, Craig! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  11. This is a refreshing take on something that’s beginning to bother me. Some of the most successful crime writers describe what happens to the victims in such a detailed, horrific way to create an impact. With each new book, the gloating details have to be ever more horrific and extreme and I worry that this is deliberate to appeal to an audience that likes to be shocked in this way. I’ve decided, like others here, to back away from this and seek out authors who do as you suggest – write from the side and give the victim a life that matters beyond the brutal assault. If the scene is well-written, the horror of what’s happening is far greater if we’re not looking at it through the forensic detail of each slash, etc. You’ve really given me food for thought with this one, Craig.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Hi, Craig. This approach seems helpful to me. I don’t believe that the reader necessarily wants to read the precise, blood curdling details of a murder scene, or a rape, or even the intimate details of a sex scene. Sometimes it almost seems a mode by which the writer is getting off. It almost forgets one of the great arts of the writer: stimulating the imagination of the reader. The art of the writer can be seen in the ability to be suggestive to the reader so the story is built by building the emotional relationship with the reader.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Hi Craig, great advice, as always. I have two rape scenes in A Ghost and His Gold. I didn’t find them that difficult to write, but most women have been in some sort of sexually aggressive situation at least once in their lives and we carry the memory and the emotion. It is incredible if you follow the “me too” posts how many women have had bad experiences, often not as bad as rape, but still bad. This is good advice as we all have our nemeses’ with writing. I cannot write a romantic scene because I am far to practical about relationships. I can’t get past my own mental attitudes. I will definitely consider this approach for those moments.

    Liked by 4 people

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