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Writing About Rape

January 3, 2012

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Jim C. Hines’ latest book is Codex Born, the second in his modern–day fantasy series about a magic–wielding librarian, a dryad, a secret society founded by Johannes Gutenberg, a flaming spider, and an enchanted convertible. He’s also the author of the Princess series of fairy tale retellings as well as the humorous Goblin Quest trilogy. His short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Turn the Other Chick, and Sword & Sorceress XXI. He’s also an active blogger, and won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. Jim lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. Online, you can find him at www.jimchines.com.

So you’ve decided to add a rape scene to your story. After all, you’re writing a horror story, and what’s more horrific than rape? It’s the perfect way to show how evil your villain or monster really is, and everyone always says you have to start a story with action and conflict, right? Best of all, your story will help to educate women about the dangers of walking alone at night! The editor is a chick, so she should appreciate that kind of thing.


Or not.

I admit this is a hot-button issue for me. I’ve worked as a rape counselor and spent several years speaking to various groups at my university about sexual assault issues. I’m also an author. So reading books and stories where the author added a rape to make things “edgier,” or to motivate the heroine, or simply because he or she didn’t know what else to do to that character--it gets old fast.

It’s not that writers can’t or shouldn’t write about rape. The problem is that it’s so often done badly. In unpublished manuscripts I’ve seen in workshops and elsewhere, as well as in published work, it often feels as if people are following the Official Writers’ Guide to Creating Clichéd and Offensive Rape Scenes …

Chapter One: The Rapist

In the world of fiction, rapists are evil, nasty, scruffy-looking dudes who lurk in the bushes or the shadows of the parking garage. They’ll usually have a knife, ’cause that’s a sexual symbol (I learned that from watching a cop show last week.) As for the victim, she’s not really important; your story is about the rapist!

In storyland, almost all rapists are strangers, easily identified by appearance and mannerism. In the real world, the majority of rapes are committed by friends and family members, but who wants to think about that? It’s more comforting to presume rapists are visibly deviant and easy to identify instead of normal-looking, often charming individuals.

But if you want a real challenge, try making your rapist sympathetic. Show how he didn’t really mean to hurt anyone. Maybe he was overwhelmed by the moment. Maybe he lost control. Maybe he feels really, really bad about what happened. Portray him as the good guy who just made a mistake, even if that means shifting the blame onto the victim.

Chapter Two: The Victim

Remember, you’re doing a public service for women here, teaching them about the dangers of rape. Sure, women are inundated with such messages every day of their lives, telling them to watch their drinks and always walk with a buddy and be careful what they wear and never lead a guy on and carry mace and a rape whistle and never let a guy get you alone, but rape continues to happen!. Women obviously aren’t getting the message.

So make sure the girl does everything wrong. Have her jogging on her own at night, or inviting a stranger from the bar back to her place. A lot of readers don’t like it when bad things happen to innocent people, so make sure they know she’s responsible for her own bad choices. It helps if you emphasize how slutty she is, because then she’s just getting what she deserves.

Most importantly, try not to show her as a person. The more you humanize the victim, the more the reader might feel bad about what happens.

Chapter Three: The Aftermath

If you, like so many would-be writers before you, are using rape as a shortcut to show how bad your bad guy is, then who cares what happens to the victim? But maybe that victim is actually going to be a character in the story. In that case, the rape should be her primary—her only—motivation throughout the story.

Make sure the rape defines your character and everything she does. For the purpose of your story, she didn’t exist before the rape. Every conversation, every choice, every action should revolve around the rape. That’s the incident that defines her.

Sure, you could do research into how sexual assault actually affects people, and the wide range of reactions people have, but who has the time for that? You’ve got stories to write!

Chapter Four: The Twist

Every good story needs a surprising twist. Why not shock your reader by turning the tables on the rapist? Make your “victim” a monster even worse than the rapist, a monster that will give the bastard the slow, painful, gruesome death he deserves. Don’t worry about story or plot or world building; this is about Message.

Rape is Wrong, so make sure you show how Wrong your rapist is, and go into great detail about how he gets what’s coming to him. Character development? Who needs it? Your great twist where the rapist becomes the victim is all you need, and once again you’re providing a valuable public service announcement.

Maybe your rapist will even end up getting raped himself! Because then it’s all about justice, kind of like those hilarious prison rape jokes your buddy shared the other night.

Chapter Five: Keep it Sexy

Sure, rape is a horrible, dehumanizing, brutal, and violent crime, but that’s no reason you can’t make it titillating, right? Show some skin, and emphasize the rapist’s arousal. Maybe the victim enjoys it on some level, too.

Once again, reality is not your friend. You’re writing fiction. In the real world, rape is a physically violent and terrifying act. Who wants to read about that? Your job is to make rape sexy and edgy, and appealing to the readers.

By following these instructions, you—like so many writers before you—can create offensive, shallow, uninformed, and flat-out bad stories, too. You can collect rejection letters from editors who will cringe in anticipation the next time they see your name on a submission.

But what if you actually care about your story? What if you’re writing about rape and sexual violence not as an emotional shortcut or a cheap attempt at motivation or characterization, but because it’s important to your story? How do you write about rape and sexual violence and do it well?

There’s no right answer to that question, of course. I’m not about to sit here and dictate the Right Way to write about rape. But here are some of the things I’ve thought about over the years as both an author and a reader.


I remember reading a book by a fairly popular author, one who had obviously done a tremendous amount of research into the science behind his SF story … And then it felt as if everything had changed, as if the author had exceeded his research quota, and so when it came time to write about rape, he produced an utterly cliché-ridden scene that crammed every conceivable rape myth into a two-page scene that made me give up on the whole damn series.

It was badly written and lazy. I don’t believe in “Write what you know,” but I’m a big believer in “Know what you write.” If you’re going to write about sexual violence, read about it first. Read about the dynamics of rape and power. Read about rape myths, and read about the statistics and research that bust those myths. Read books written by survivors of sexual violence.


A friend of mine reviewed an episode of a new TV show that dealt with sexual slavery, an episode in which the victims were nothing but set pieces. They were scenery, present only to be caged and abused, with absolutely no voice or agency in the story. They didn’t even have names. Their job was to show how evil the villain was, and to be rescued by the hero.

Cardboard characters make boring stories. Defining a character simply as “The Rape Survivor” is just bad writing. Every character should have multiple motivations and desires and fears. They should try to take an active role in their own story, even if they fail. This should be the case for after the rape, too. There is no right way for survivors to react after rape. How would your character cope with that trauma?

Don’t forget about your villain, either. Why does your rapist choose to rape? If the only answer you have is “Because he’s evil,” then you’re on the wrong track. Head back to the research step to find out why rapists rape in the real world, and figure out what motivates your villain to commit this particular crime.

Rape =/= Sex

Another book I read this year introduced a strong, capable, confident heroine … and then immediately had a vampire overpower and rape her. It was a vicious, brutal attack, and the vampire would have murdered her if he hadn’t been interrupted. The victim ends up becoming a vampire herself as a result of the rape. A few chapters later, this character thinks back on her “initiation,” referring to it as rough sex.

Now, it’s not unusual for survivors of rape to avoid the word “rape” when thinking about what they endured. It’s a way to try to minimize what someone did to them, to try to manage and control it by making it less than it was. If you’re trying to write about a character who’s struggling to cope and doing so by telling herself what happened wasn’t rape, that’s one thing.

But in this case, it felt as if the author were the one minimizing. Not only did the victim start thinking about it as sex, but also nobody else in the book ever seemed to acknowledge it as rape. The author presented a violent rape, then brushed it off as no worse than a bad date.

Don’t do that.

Ask yourself why?

Why do you want to include rape in your story? Is it just to show how bad your villain is? Is it because you’re writing horror, and sexual violence is such an overused trope of the genre that you added it to your story without thinking? Or does this scene really add to the story you’re trying to tell?

Ninety percent of the rape scenes I read in fiction, published and unpublished, are predictable. I see where the author’s going from a mile away. I sigh and keep reading, thinking maybe this time there will be something different or interesting or original here. But most of the time, it’s obvious how little real thought went into this part of the story.

I have to ask myself the same thing: what does this scene add to the story? As a former rape counselor, I occasionally find myself more worried about Message, but that risks turning the story into a lecture. It’s one thing to share strong opinions in an essay or a blog post, but when you can hear the author preaching at you in fiction—even if you agree with the author—that makes for a poor story.


If you ever run into an editor, ask them how many badly-written, vicious, misogynistic, angry, and just plain awful stories they receive about rape and sexual violence. (Especially if they edit dark fantasy or horror.) Most of the editors I know have seen enough of these stories that they’d auto-reject the story as soon as you describe your heroine jogging down the darkened path in the park, because they know exactly where you’re going.

Story after story in which rape is a quick, thoughtless way to motivate a woman to set off in search of revenge (“Red Sonja Syndrome”), or else it’s lazy shorthand to show how evil someone is, like having them kick a puppy. Or worse, it’s written in such a way that the writer seems to be reveling in the act him- or herself, glorifying and celebrating every graphic detail.

If you’re going to write, write thoughtfully. Write with knowledge and understanding.

Write well.

© Jim C. Hines


  1. Chaeya

    Very well said, Jason. I’ve yet to write a rape scene, but that isn’t to say I won’t in the future. You offered some great points to keep in mind.

    • jasonb57

      Actually, Jim C. Hines wrote the piece. Still, I’m glad you enjoyed his words of wisdom.

  2. Francis Garcia (@fugori)

    Hey, quite a lot to think about here. I was wondering if you’ve seen “Irreversible”. There’s a fairly graphic rape scene in the film. I’m fairly forgiving, thick-skinned, etc. when it comes to violence – even sexual violence – in film, but this one in particular seemed to last forever, and I couldn’t go on watching. I had to leave the room and wait for my wife to let me know when it was over. I was thinking about this – I hated the film, it has a lot of problems in addition to this rape scene, such as some really disgusting homophobia that I’m still trying to figure out the purpose of – and realized that this was perhaps the most affecting portrayal of rape I’ve seen, but was it because it was done well or because it was done so reprehensibly? Was my reaction what the director intended or was it above and beyond, a side effect of the very principles discussed above applied in overdrive?

    One of my favorite science fiction novels is The Stars My Destination, but another problematic rape scene (I actually think it was implied, off-screen sort of) always threatens to ruin it for me. I’m sure there’s purpose here, I mean the story has some complex things to say about human nature and Gully Foyle undergoes quite the transformation through the novel, but it’s uncomfortable. Should it always be uncomfortable? You don’t want rape to be entertaining, obviously.

    Anyway, thanks for this.

    • Serdar Yegulalp

      I actually touched on “Irreversible” in my essay (see above link). I think the whole point of that scene was that it was not meant to be palatable, and in that respect the film achieved precisely what it was aiming for. I’m not sure I want to see the movie again anytime soon, though.

      • Francis Garcia (@fugori)

        I’ll definitely give it a read! One thing that seemed really problematic about the scene, for me, was the casting of Monica Belluci as the victim. So, involving an international sex symbol, I wonder how many men were secretly aroused rather than repulsed? Maybe that was a deliberate choice as well? I don’t know how many passes I am willing to give that movie. The original Last House on the Left is another good example of being good about one thing: making rape repulsive, but terrible about so many others: the villains are slobbering caricatures and the victim is marginalized and then everything becomes a revenge fantasy.

  3. ilorien

    Excellent piece. Thanks for writing it.

    One additional thought (especially for those writing about war/warfare): rape is, and always has been, a major component of war. It would appear that (maybe?) there is adequate discipline imposed on some modern armies to prevent rape from being employed universally in all modern conflicts, but I find depictions of war and conquest that fail to address the topic (either by documenting its occurrence or by explaining its absence) to ring hollow.

    • Thoraiya

      You’re right, Ilorien. I was just thinking about how Nnedi Okorafor tackled it (so well) in “Who Fears Death.”

      Important article, thank you Jim.

    • Marie Brennan

      Actually, rape is still an appallingly widespread problem in war. Not only have there been a huge number of assaults on female U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq (often by their own fellow soldiers), but the frequency of male-on-male rape in various African conflicts is disturbingly high. (Elsewhere too, I’m sure; it’s just that the article I read was focusing on that particular geographical subset.)

      It’s the one instance where I can imagine myself choosing to include a rape in my story: because then not including it would probably be false.

  4. Sewicked

    I had a post partially written and in the end I decided it just showed my ignorance. I find rape a very uncomfortable topic and I certainly hope that if I ever decide to include it in a story, I take Mr. Hines’ advice to heart.

  5. Karin Rita Gastreich


    Once again, I am thoroughly impressed by your ability to summarize a complex topic into a few compelling arguments.

    The issue of portraying rape in works of fiction has been on my mind a lot since last weekend, when we went to see ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. This seems to be a popular story right now; both the movie and the novel have been recommended to me through different channels. I went with the understanding that it was violent, but I was unprepared for the graphic rape scenes, which I found wholly unacceptable.

    Ever since, I’ve been wondering if I had good reason to feel offended, or if I’m just too closed minded. But your essay helped me understand the reason for my repulsion: In the first rape scene of ‘Dragon Tattoo’, the focus is the rapist’s arousal and the pleasure he derives from strapping that very sexy young woman to his bed and having his way with her. In the second rape scene, the raped woman exacts her vengeance by violently sodomizing the man and turning him into her victim. Justice, right?

    In both cases, the suggestion is that rape can be condoned as long as we look at it from a particular perspective. I find this abhorrent. Rape is wrong, no matter who does it or what sick pleasure or sense of satisfaction they might derive from it.

    I should point out that I have not read the novel, so cannot speak to how rape was handled by Stieg Larrsson in the original writing. But the scenes in the movie, I think, are good examples of the cliched and the offensive, just as you discuss them here.

    Thank you for a great post.

    • Nan

      Hi Karin,

      I’ve seen the American movie, all three Swedish films, and read all three books. On one level, you’re absolutely right about that first book/film. Lisbeth is an odd character, and she’s not very well developed before she becomes a victim. When she strikes back, the narrative voice of both the book and film would have readers/viewers applaud. The concept of rape victim=avenging vigilante is definitely there.

      However, without spoiling the later stories too much, there’s a reason for what happened in that first book. Larsson’s books are about people in power that don’t respect that others–immigrants, the poor, women–have any rights. The rapist is tangentially connected to a larger conspiracy. The original title of the book, roughly translated from Swedish (which I cannot read, I’m relying on the work of others here), is “Men Who Hate Women.” All of the villains in this first book are united in the fact that they hate women. (The movie obscures some of that, but Larsson drives it home in the book.) Larsson connects these men that hate women to these other hate groups and to the old Cold Warriors. Lisbeth’s reaction as “avenging vigilante” is rooted in her own history as a disempowered person. It’s handled somewhat poorly in the books, but it does also make sense, too.

      As disturbing as this movie is–and all of the rape scenes are horrible–it makes more sense as a part of the larger narrative.

  6. Francis Turner

    Excellent points. And I note that you don’t mention homosexual rape which is rarer and a whole different kettle of fish because the rapist is queer and thus has to be at least partially sympathetic lest the author get accused of homophobia…

    Of course sometimes one sees the opposite where parts of a story get improbably cleaned up so that there is no mention of rape etc. even though, history suggests rapes will occur. I’m thinking of all those myriad fantasy cities/castles that get stormed after sieges by the good guys. In history it has been clear that pretty much every army, no matter how pure its cause, has embarked on an orgy of mass rape once a toughly defended castle/town is overrun.

    Most of the editors I know have seen enough of these stories that they’d auto-reject the story as soon as you describe your heroine jogging down the darkened path in the park, because they know exactly where you’re going.

    I can’t help wondering whether said editors would get to the point where the heroine pulls out her glock and shoots the attacker. But, somewhat cynically, I wonder whether that glorification of the 2nd amendment would get the story rejected even faster by some editors

    • Ananda

      Same-sex rape, like heterosexual rape, is not about sex but about power. One only needs to reference prison rape—and its use as an adjunct of the justice system—to prove that. The idea that one has to make the rapist sympathetic is highly problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that no one gets a pass on rape. If an author writing a queer character who is also a rapist is accused of homophobia, it is likely for reasons other than that character being a rapist (though the ‘evil gay’ is a trope I’d like to see gone from fiction).

      As for your second amendment rights issue you bring up—if a writer plays on a common trope like that without hinting that this time is different, well, they’re taking their chances. If they want the editor to get to the part with the gun, they better give the editor good reason. Most editors would welcome a tough female protagonist with open arms—that kind of thing sells big to all sexes and genders.

      • Ever

        Well said – and it’s worth noting that men who rape other men are NOT always homosexuals. Most of the guys who rape men in prison (or, for that matter, have consensual gay sex in prison) are heterosexuals. Even outside a male-only environment, some heterosexual men may target other men for sexual violence.

  7. katfireblade

    “Sure, you could do research into how sexual assault actually affects people, and the wide range of reactions people have, but who has the time for that? You’ve got stories to write!”

    Another facet I wish he’d have written on–rape as backstory. Done, once again, by people who have no clue and want none. These are “empowered” female characters who have suffered a rape in their past, and yet suffer not a single ill effect. It seems to be important to know these women are “tough” and “can take it,” but really, instead of portraying that, these authors portray women who don’t even feel it.

    I recall one, she was date raped, fled the car to get away, wound up being torn to shreds by a werewolf pack, and when she became one herself she was continually forced into sex by the pack leader, even though she had zero desire to sleep with him. You know, more rape.

    Her first thought on seeing a cute, eligible man after breaking away from all this? (With no time to mentally or emotionally recover, mind.) “Ooh la la!”

    No trust issues. No mental scarring. No socially awkward moments where she flinches unnecessarily, pulls away, gets nervous, gets unreasonably angry, nothing. Nightmares? Zero. PTSD? Nonexistent. It’s like she didn’t even exist in her own body before she left the abusive wolf pack–that was another girl entirely.

    And this is the most egregious sin I have recently seen, done by author after author, and passed without comment by editor after editor. Because, you know, rape doesn’t REALLY affect women, after all, it’s just sex. Or something.

    I’ve literally stopped reading books with this scenario in them because I spend the entire time mad at the (often otherwise extremely excellent) characters and authors.

    • Tara

      This is, among many reasons, why I am writing a book about a character with a rape back story. It’s actually being written to look more at her healing than rape itself. So many times I read a book where “closure” is cited as the thing that magically appears to fix a victim of rape. Having been raped myself and know that a court case or realising what you experienced was rape may provide a sense of closure; it certainly doesn’t end all of the other complex issues that come from being violated so heinously.

      There are so many different ways people use to deal/heal from rape; some less understandable than others. People should know the responsibility they take on when they choose to write rape into a story. Yes, their characters may not see their rape as rape, or they may choose to become overtly sexual..it is therefore the author’s responsibility to show why the character’s behave this way. To show that victims are not broken forever or instantly healed. Writing about rape is not some form of fashionable way to “sex” up a story.

      The girl with a dragon tattoo is particularly difficult to stomach.

  8. Nichole

    This was a very thoughtful essay. I would imagine that writing rape well would be technically difficult for an author. I think sometimes sexual violence is necessary for a novel. What would Mary Renault’s “The Persian Boy” be without the reality that her narrator Bagoas was castrated and raped as a child? Certainly rape is a component of human interaction (sadly). It’s tragically too common to ignore. So I don’t think authors should shy away from it. But the devil is in the nuance of the characterization. I think the message here is be thoughtful and deliberate.

  9. donnagalanti

    I had 2 rape scenes, and some incestuous scenes, in my paranormal suspense and my publisher said I needed to take them out to sell to a wider audience. The rapist is a killer too and after some thought I realized it was enough that he was a killer, that defined his enough as a monster and his incestuous feelings for his sister took away from her redeeming him. These were minor changes that did not affect the strength of the story, or the horror. Just my experience!

  10. B. Smith

    There is one aspect that you didn’t touch on – the issue of cultural variations in the reaction of the victim. Granted that we are all human, but there are many ways to be human. For example, at least until recently (I don’t know if it still goes on) some tribes such as the Yanamamo routinely obtained wives through raiding. Once the woman/women are taken, they were usually raped on the way back to the raider’s home village. This was simply part of their standard cultural traditions. I am not condoning it, but pointing out that a person from that culture might not react the same way to rape as a college educated North American. For those of us who write speculative fiction, this is an aspect that it might pay to consider.

    • Madame Hardy

      I think you’re overlooking the Yanomamo women’s point of view. (Note, by the way, that YANOMAMO: THE FIERCE PEOPLE should not be your only source on the Yanomamo people; other anthropologists, both contemporary and later, quarrel with some of his characterizations.) “Part of their standard cultural traditions” doesn’t mean that the people who are being hurt by those traditions don’t feel hurt, aren’t unhappy and angry about it. It was for many years an English law tradition that a man couldn’t rape his wife. The women still, in many cases, objected and felt betrayed.

  11. baba264

    Thanks for the article; it’s an interesting subject even though I admit I disliked the very chiding tones of the first part.

    My first thought was that rape, as a plot element, was probably more an issue in the urban fantasy genre and in detective stories than in most other fantasy (or SF) settings were I don’t think it is such an oft recurring theme. As for the treatment of rape, I’d like to add to points to all the valid ones that have already been made.

    First one should not forget that a phantasmagoric version of rape is a very common sexual fantasy. These fantasies have about as much things in common with actual rape as a GI Joe Movie has with real war but they do exist. I believe many of the stories that make rape “sexy and edgy” have no desire to show anything close to actual rape and just want to play on that sexual fantasy. I hope (and to a certain extent believe) that most readers and writers in that category are aware that what is being described has only a vague resemblance with actual real world rape.

    My second point is that the perception of rape (and therefore the description of it) can vary significantly as soon as we step out of the modern world and start dealing with fantasy settings, especially if they include non humans.
    For instance, rape was a fact of war throughout all the middle ages in Europe and Asia, most veteran soldiers could be expected to have been witness and/or party to at least one rape scene. It stands to reason that the perception of rape that characters in such a setting will exhibit will be significantly different from what one could expect in our modern world. Of course this is even more of an issue when dealing with non humans.

  12. Andrew

    Very interesting. Have you read Stephen R Donaldson’s Gap books or Thomas Covenant? What about Steven Erikson’s Malazan series? Rape is found in each of these and I would just like to hear your perspective on the characters and whether you feel they are portrayed in a fair light.



    • JM

      I just wanted to say that Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books used rape as a major motivator for the main character — both as Yet Another Thing he could use to self-flagellate and as something to come out of the woodwork to beat him up again, and in that way, the whole thing was pretty much “but look! he is sympathetic and his rush got the better of him and don’t you feel sorry for him!” It was a dreadful handling of rape, made worse by the fact that the survivor goes crazy and becomes simple — a ridiculously oversimplified and misogynistic portrayal.

  13. HLC

    “So make sure the girl does everything wrong. Have her jogging on her own at night, or inviting a stranger from the bar back to her place. A lot of readers don’t like it when bad things happen to innocent people, so make sure they know she’s responsible for her own bad choices. It helps if you emphasize how slutty she is, because then she’s just getting what she deserves.”

    Whoever the total and utter idiot was who said that needs a MAJOR newsflash! Saying that all because a girl makes a naive choice, she deserves to be raped, and that “she’s simply getting what she deserves” is f*cking RIDICULOUS! I am someone who’s sensitive when it comes to this topic, so I don’t put up with anything cruel, sexist, etc. regarding this it.

    • Bob

      I understand that it makes you upset. I am sensitive to this topic as well. But did you read the whole article? Because if you did, you would know that those chapters were fake advice.

      In fact, after the chapters came this gem: “By following these instructions, you–like so many writers before you–can create offensive, shallow, uninformed, and flat-out bad stories, too. You can collect rejection letters from editors who will cringe in anticipation the next time they see your name on a submission.”

      So the first part was really more of a satire.

      But I do have to admit the satire is long, and bites hard.

  14. Shana Sidfrids

    I really like your post. I have been trying to write a story for myself because I’m a little embarrassed about the subject of rape. I have read many survivor stories and have tried to draw on them for a reality check. I am glad that someone else feels that there should be motivation behind rape scenes other than plot twists. I think the message of ‘rape is wrong’ should shine through. I have also been trying to get as much legal information correct for my story too. I hope one day to have a good story for others to read that gives the right message about rape.

    • Limbo

      It’s a really hard one to get right. As a person who has been raped, and dealt with a lot of people who have been raped, I have to tell you that everyone grieves differently. And it is a grieving process. As a person who has experienced a lot of tragedy in their life, it’s hard to tell whether it’s the rape that’s effecting me, or something else.

      The other thing I need to say: You do get over it. Perhaps not completely, and it’ll be there for the rest of your life, just like any bad experience. But you’re not a rotten egg forever.

      I may not be fully over my experience yet, but I can talk about it like an adult, and have put a lot of time and effort into personally making sure I don’t have any phobias regarding men, the place the rape took place, and the way it was done.

      The other thing that needs to be remembered is that if I make a bad decision, that decision is my decision, not the rape’s decision. I don’t just get to be let off the hook just because I was raped.

      Rape is not a sympathy card. My experience may be horrible and special, but it’s not unique. There are thousands of people in the same boat as I.

      Thank you for your time.

  15. Philip Natho

    In “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” released in 2009, the world was in danger because of a substance called nanomite that could be put on the head of nuclear warheads, allowing them to melt metal and cause more destruction. The plan to launch a set of nuclear warheads was thwarted, but apparently, not for good. In 2012’s “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” the nanomite-laced warheads are back. Only this time, the nefarious shadow group called Cobra plans to use a new program to induce global domination with the nukes. They don’t care how many lives they have to take, and they blow up the entire city of London to prove that they mean business. .’

    Warm regards

  16. Traci

    You are a disgusting piece of trash. I can’t believe any of this was allowed to be published. I don’t understand why this article is getting so many positive comments. A large majority, if not all, of this absolutely horrible, vomit-inducing eyesore is just not ok on any level. Fictional or not, you need to really reevaluate your views on this subject. I don’t want to hear crap about it not being real, or it just being someone’s ‘fantasy’ or anything along those lines. Rape is a very serious issue for BOTH men and women, and even in writing you should take the time to actually do some proper goddamn research. You, sir, are sickening, and I will be sure to avoid any works or articles created by you in the future.

    • Char

      Did you read the entire article? Or just the first half?

      The first half was satire.

    • paigevest

      I’m sorry but no, Jim Hines is NOT a piece of trash. He’s actually an amazing guy who gives advice on doing research in *this*very*article*. Perhaps read the whole thing before you judge. Just in case you’re too narrow-minded, here you go:

      “I don’t believe in “Write what you know,” but I’m a big believer in “Know what you write.” If you’re going to write about sexual violence, read about it first. Read about the dynamics of rape and power. Read about rape myths, and read about the statistics and research that bust those myths. Read books written by survivors of sexual violence.”

    • MB

      The reading comprehension is non-existent with this one.

  17. Traci

    Also, who do you think you are?

    “Best of all, your story will help to educate women about the dangers of walking alone at night! The editor is a chick, so she should appreciate that kind of thing.”

    Do you know what an asshole this makes you sound like? Do you realize that, sir? How about instead of trying to send women ‘messages’ about how to act, dress, etc. you start helping with teaching not only men, but everyone, how to not be gross, misogynist pigs who think that a girl (or guy) ‘walking alone at night’ or ‘wearing a certain article of clothing’ is just asking for it. I mean you look back in history and women were wearing Farthingales, petticoats, and even heavily layered clothing that did indeed keep their bodies covered and that never stopped seemed to stop anyone from still committing the act. How about we stop bossing the ladies around and just straight up tell guys that rape is not ok? That they need to not view women as eye-appeasing objects for sexual desires and the like, but instead teach them a things like respect, common sense, boundaries, and manners.

    • jasonb57

      Hi Traci,

      Not to dismiss your commentary, but I feel compelled to ask if you read the entire piece. Jim is making the point that writers should avoid exactly all the gross, misogynist attitudes you quoted.

      Jim is a former rape counselor and an well-known online advocate of women issues. His good work online and his astute analysis in this article is the reason for all the positive comments.

      Thank you,

      Jason Sizemore

  18. Evan Price

    This was an absolutely wonderful read. I knew where he was going with the steps above quickly after reading about making the rapist sympathetic as if making an excuse for rape.
    I’m adding a rape scene to my own story and I found this while doing research because before I even read this I needed to do research. This isn’t something just to motivate her, this scene happens over 250 pages into the book. She’s developed and already made to be probably the most likable character. That being part of the point. Anyhow, thanks to this I have a new perspective on it and considerations of how to make it happen while still trying to remain respectful and keep readers from feeling uncomfortable or bored.
    I have a friend writing a ‘book’ where the main girl gets raped while walking home from school and the story was that guys asked her out and she always said No… seriously? And it ends up being her being scared of men her whole life and not getting over it until she falls in love. Cheap, and it’s dark fantasy.

    • Jo

      As a survivor of sexual violence, thanks for this article. Price, respect is incredibly important. I think that it’s far more important to be respectful about a subject than inoffensive. There are a lot worse things than offending some– one of them, naturally, would be reinforcing ideas central to, well, rape culture. This piece does a great job of deconstructing a pervasive ignorance and the failures in creativity and integrity that follow.

  19. Lausanne

    Just want to say how thankful I am to have found this article and for everyone’s insightful comments. I am writing a novel (historical) in which my secondary character is a 13 year old girl who is taken and sold into slavery in the context of chaos and war. At that time and place rape would have been inevitable and sexual slavery her future. I’ve been struggling with seriously not wanting to go there. I don’t want this unavoidable reality to define the book or the girl. Tricky. But this discussion has given me a way forward. Thanks again.

  20. P.N. Elrod

    Thank you. I DO see that in the slush pile, not just in horror but other genres. I was horrified that it was all through the submissions like an infection. When I began doing critiques to pay the vet bill down I put rape on the “do not send” list along with child molesting, bullying, death of an animal, and cannibalism. I can’t unread those. Wish I could.

    Yes, this editor DOES reject them. Every time. I can’t think of a single sub that was so well written that it became the exception sent along to the next editor upstream. I’d remember.

  21. *

    People write what they know. If 99% write rape scenes as such and you insist that they’re wrong, maybe it is YOU who know nothing about how it really goes? I’m getting tired of 1% white knights who always know it better than other lowly peasants. Do such a simple thought reach the heights of your high horse?

    • case in point

      “People write what they know.”

      Says who? People write on subjects about which they are appallingly ignorant every day.

    • Char

      There are people who have never experienced rape— but they write it anyways. When they do, it’s important to do research so at least thy have a better idea of what actually happens.

      The reason so many people write rape in such a poor way is because they ARE writing what they know. And what they know is what media portrays in news and other stories where it isn’t handled well.

      They are regurgitating poor writing by others. It takes work to prevent the same sht from appearing in your own writing, because it is so easy to barf out the crap you’ve accidentally internalized.

  22. tambo

    While promoting my first novel, I was on a WorldCon panel with several well known authors and an audience member asked one of the big named folks about a brutal rape scene that their character shrugged off with the next chapter as if nothing had happened. The young gal asking the question was visibly upset, and became more so, as the comments moved across the panel. I watched as every other panelist talk about how rape was a quick and standard plot device, something to shake up the protagonist, to show her vulnerability, etc, but that’s all it was, a plot point to check off before getting on with the rest of the story. No big deal at all.

    The poor gal was just about in tears when the question got all the way down to me and I looked her in the eye and apologized for my fellow panelists not taking her question seriously, because as far as I was concerned in books rape should matter because it matters in real life, it’s not just a ‘plot point’ or ‘spot of action in a saggy middle’ and I promised her if or when I wrote one it WOULD matter and impact the rest of that character’s life, not just be shrugged off and forgotten at the turn of a page. She bawled and thanked me and I got a hug after the panel.

    Needless, gratuitous rape scenes are lazy writing imho, and if the only way you can ‘shake up’ your heroine is to rape her, maybe you need to improve your writing skills.

  23. Kicky

    I’d also like to point out that more and more women who are attacked are escaping, either by violently fighting off their attacker or by screaming until people came to their aid. I have read a number of instances of this in the news but it often isn’t reflected in novels.

  24. Beth Hudson Wheeler

    Excellent points, and very appreciated.

    Some thoughts on my own situation writing about rape:

    I have written a rape scene twice — once in a short story I got published a number of years ago, and once in a book I have upcoming this year. And I like to think that I’ve challenged myself seriously in both cases.

    The short story involved a rape scene from the perspective of the rapist. As a woman and a survivor of sexual abuse, this was tricky for me, because I _don’t_ have a lot of sympathy for a rapist. The story involved a friend-rape, and the rapist didn’t get it. Even when it was explained to him in tiny little terms. What I did make sure, however, was that the _reader_ got it — just because the woman in question was interested, and the means of rape (magic) wasn’t “violent”, didn’t make it any less rape. It was a very tough story for me, but I was rather proud of it.

    The more recent rape scene involves a series of multiple events that transform a character. I wrote it as a very violent, very demeaning thing, and in no way titillating. It does not provide a sole motive for my character’s actions, and given the situation in context, my character does not feel at all sorry for herself, but it _is_ a watershed event (though not the only one in the book). I hope that it is clearly not about sex, but about power and control. Again, I felt very challenged by writing this scene (which is, in my opinion critical to the story) because I was not writing about sex. And it was hard being down in the viewpoint of the character in such a way that I had to make it feel very real.

    It was also a stretch because I _was_ trying to write something that didn’t read like a “standard” rape scene — which meant I was far less interested in the mechanics than in the feelings.

    I think that’s one of the problems, come to think of it — that the writers of rape scenes often get caught up in the mechanics, rather than realizing that the unique feelings of a character are what make it immediate and real. The mechanics don’t tell you anything you don’t already know. The feelings might.

  25. Vanessa

    Thoughtful piece. It’s refreshing to hear this from a male writer. Keep up the good work!

  26. Forkdude

    I appreciated a lot of it said here, but a lot of it does not really apply to my story.
    Here, it is the main character that rapes (at least he’s the most prominent of 5) and he does this because he’s been hired to do so. It’s his job to do crime on behalf of others; and here it’s a rape of an ex-boyfriend.
    This will be the introduction to this character, named Barrett, and will certainly show how sadistic he is and how he likes to be dominant. However, here’s the problem, as this will certainly just make people hate his guts. Can I really make him sympathetic at all after raping someone?

  27. Mark Lemohr

    Thank you for the article and the many great responses to it. To leave out the element of rape in the historical fiction story that I am writing, would make it ring false. You have all helped me to gain a perspective that I will hopefully be able to use to portray this most heinous of crimes committed against a mind, body and soul in the most realistic manner possible.

  28. Cat

    This article was very well written (one of my favorites)and I appreciate the insight that you have given on people, especially developing writers, about how poorly rape is often portrayed in fiction. Before reading your article, I was doing research on how rape scenes were typically warnings of low-quality writing; after thoroughly reading every single letter of your work and enjoying it, I am left with a few questions: Are all stories that involve or at least mention a rape that has occurred in the past of a character make the author’s writing appalling? If not, what are the standards to having a story that alludes to a character having to be a victim of rape (without a rape scene actually taking place)in order to prevent the literary piece from transforming into a lazy composition?

  29. ZHarafi

    I’m attempting to write a novel which takes place between the turn of the 20th century to around 1970. There’s a scene during the Vietnam war where we’re inteoduced to an asian-american soldier “Tom” who experiences some harrassment while in country. The protagonist–a fellow soldier in the same squad, has been so affected by the war that he doesn’t intervene when he sees members of his own squad grab him and drag him into a tent to sexually assault him. Soldiers raping fellow male soldiers wasn’t uncommon. Tom has some backstory and a rather sad conclusion when he returns to the States–he turns to drugs and ends up HIV positive in a time when AIDS was seen as the “gay disease.” Just on the surface, do you see any red flags? I wanted to portray an ugly reality but without making it a plot device, but rather showing how war destroys people’s lives in different ways. Any feedback would be appreciated.

  30. Kirigwi

    I followed this structure and my story is really intrusive. The Rapist, Victim and the twist. Thank you for the plot. 🙂

  31. Kayla

    Dr Julian Abel Constantine Gojer Toronto Convicted of Drugging and raping two woman and killing a third one with the drugs he used to render his victims unconscious before raping them. Date fall of 2000. Psychiatrist gets off with a slap on the wrist and works as a psychiatrist regardless of criminal negligence against him

  32. Scotie

    Do you have any advice for when the victim isn’t the protagonist?

  33. Judy

    Anyone interested in writing a book? It is a true story about rape incest abuse and triumph. For sisters two brothers and a mother and father that were both at fault and never convicted

  34. Natalie

    Am writing an article where the rapist is not to be blamed for the scene, but I am stocked.

  35. Eeda

    I have a scene coming up in my story that I find very troublesome to write in a “respectful” matter. I know why the rapist does it, I have all motives and why he chode his male victim (who’s a young teenager), and I struggle to write the words.. I think I habe rewritten the scene leading up to it a houndred times and ut just sits wrong with how the rapist would behave, Because his character is so complex, plus at the time his intentions are clear but there is also hidden character pulling the strings that readers aren’t supposed to know about yet which sets the tone of the entire scene later on… in honest I am also struggling with the victim dealing with the aftermath.. and looking for any kind of research either gets me stories from girls or women, and worse yet.. porn… thank you for writing this, even though my victim is a Boy, and my rapist is a young man. This site provided some good pointers for context. There is nothing respectful about rape, but I atleast want to try and respect the victims of it… I don’t want to write erotica or pornfic… blergh!

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