Content Warning: This post will be talking about hard topics such as suicide, mental illness, and sexual assault. Please read at your discretion.
I write about taboo topics that not a lot of folks like to touch on. They are hard topics to write, it effects you mentally and emotionally, even though you personally aren’t going through anything your characters are experiencing. I tend to only write one or two of these kinds of stories every year, because of the emotional drain it has on me. I wrote one script for my senior thesis and am writing another story as a novella. I also am in the planning process to write a novel/novella starting November for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
My senior thesis script “A Thorn” was about a young girl sexually assaulted by her beloved piano teacher and how she tries to live her life afterwards. When I first proposed this story to my thesis committee everyone was very put off by the idea of showing my character raped and attempt suicide. They tried to convince me there were other ways to share this story, but I felt strongly enough that this story needed to be written in its entirety. After a few words from my advisor and compromises made, I was able to start my project!
Before I had proposed the idea of my story to the committee, I already wrote a first draft. I started writing the script in my Freshman Year of college. Can you believe that? I had this idea stirring in my brain for four years. I wanted this story to be told, and by golly it WOULD. “A Thorn” was written and well received during my thesis reading. I had the entire script read by a cast. It was hard to sit and listen to my words, but the emotion I felt from hearing someone else say the lines I wrote was mind blowing. Unfortunately, they always say that the first script you ever write will never be shot. I wish I had waited to write that story, but I’m still proud of it. It placed finalist in a couple competitions and even received an honorable mention! I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
I hope that one day I can find someone to produce it, but if I can’t, I won’t be too sad about it. I’m proud of overcoming that first feature script hurdle. This was also my first really dark script I’ve written and it made a lasting impact on my husband. To this day, he always tells people we meet that I write really dark and edgy stuff… that was really the only dark and edgy script I wrote. But I am working on writing more impactful stories like that one.
For the past year, I’ve been writing my novella about a character dealing with mental illness and thoughts of suicide. Without going into much detail, this story is centered on the idea of mental illness and how it affects friends and family. For me, this is a new topic to write about. I don’t know a lot about mental illness, except for what I’ve read. I am lucky to have someone I know that is able to give me some insight on how it feels to be trapped in that mind and what it’s like to be medicated.
It helps to have experience or a second hand experience knowledge on the topics you’re writing about. You can read all you want about something in psychology books, or non-fiction memoirs, but until you’ve heard someone talk about their experiences or experienced a trauma yourself, you’ll never understand how it affects your mind, body, and environment. There are some things that I’ve experienced that might not even make it in a story. But, the knowledge of what it did to me psychologically and how it affected my relationship with people, is really helpful for me to channel that emotion.
I’m not saying that you will never be able to write about a “taboo” topic because you have not experienced it (and I’m also not suggesting you to go out and try to get these experiences). I’m saying your story will feel less authentic**, unless you do thorough research.
** That goes for any kind of story, really, if you’re looking for that true life factor. Hence the phrase “write what you know“.
The sad truth is, everyone is going through something. It could be your partner, your best friend, your mom and dad, everyone is going through some challenge in their lives. It’s up to you to see that, but don’t take their personal experience and exploit it.
Take that knowledge and apply it to your characters:
How can they cope with this trauma?
Who can be there to help?
Where can they go to get better?
What happens if they don’t find a coping mechanism?
If you know someone who’s experienced trauma and they want to help you find your answers, let them. But don’t just take what they did and place it on your character. That’s exploiting their trauma for your profit. The whole part of writing is to create something new… so create someone new.
Sometimes it takes a lot of planning and information gathering. I usually gather my information from reading online psychology journals, blogs, and talking with people I know.
I have an empathetic personality, meaning I feel the energies from other people. It can be exhausting if you’re around someone who is feeling extremely down and negative, but understanding why or how they feel the way they feel helps me cope. It is why writing stories like “A Thorn” and my novella are so hard for me. I find myself stuck in this mindset of depression or a deep sense of sadness. I have to work harder to pull myself out from my character’s mind. I’m fortunate that I have someone by my side who’s energy levels are always balanced and when I need to stabilize I just spend a day with him. It’s the right amount balance I need to continue writing and not lose myself.
Even though writing taboo stories cause me a lot of grief, I find a sense of enjoyment. I don’t find enjoyment in torturing myself, I just find it a great challenge to discover those emotions and fill them into my characters. I have to force myself to think and feel how my characters feel. It’s almost like I’m an actor stepping into the role of a misunderstood seventeen year old boy suffering from mental illness.
A lot of times I get asked why or how I can write about such topics and I don’t really have an answer. I like writing stories that make you think about how you would handle a situation if it were to happen to you. It’s hard to imagine a situation like an assault. One would hope they’d fight back… but in most cases it’s not that easy. Seeing, feeling, and knowing what the characters are going through… those are the experience I am looking to share with my readers and viewers.
I hope those experiences will be shared, soon.
Thanks for reading!