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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: Writing About Rape/Sexual Assault

Writing about a sensitive subject such as rape is hard and it should be. My current project will include a rape scene, it’s in the rough stages now and I’m not enjoying writing it.

So, why am I including it? 

Because the survivor’s story needs to be told.

And for that reason I decided I needed to write a post to help other writers if they decide to include rape or sexual assault in their story.

First, you really need to think about why you want to include a rape scene in your story. Normally I would list reasons why you should, but instead I’m going to list reasons why you shouldn’t.

  1. To give a protagonist something to avenge. I am not saying that other people aren’t affected by a loved ones rape, but it shouldn’t be used as a stepping stone for anyone who isn’t the survivor.
  2. For shock. (No explanation needed.)
  3. For characterization. I’ve seen rape used to showcase how evil a character is. I’ve also seen it used to show how an evil guy (Negan from the Walking Dead) has a moral compass (he doesn’t mind bashing a few heads in, but he refuses to allow his guys to touch a woman without her consent.)
  4. For entertainment. If the rape doesn’t affect the plot (the story will be fine and doesn’t fall apart without it) then don’t include it.
  5. Don’t write it from the rapists point of view if the story is the survivor’s.

If you still feel like the scene is still necessary here are some tips I have:

  1. (If in third person) don’t let the narrator linger on the survivor’s body. Don’t describe the survivors body in an erotic way. It’s rape, not sex.
  2. Focus on how the rape affects the survivor. You can still touch on how it affected those who love the survivor, but it’s not their story.
  3. Significant others can be upset and want to hurt the person who did it, but that shouldn’t be your only motivation for including the scene.
  4. Use the active voice.
  5. Nothing should insinuate that the survivor “asked for it.” The perp can assert that and if you’re going to have a bad cop, they can assert that but (if in third person) the third party shouldn’t. 
  6. You don’t have to go into detail. You can “fade to black.” It will still matter to the survivor.
  7. Enlist sensitivity readers. Their advice will be valuable.

I hope this helps anyone who might be diving into writing about such a tough topic.

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click here.


  1. You know, the reasons you cite for "not writing a rape scene," in some ways they all strike me as some form of "the scene is done in service to someone other than the character experiencing it," which itself is a form of "using that character."
    I think you're right, but it's also interesting to reflect on how it all boils down to "don't reduce the character to a tool for someone else's benefit," which strikes me as a good practice in general.

    I think I once read that a good technique for difficult scenes like rape is to heavily anchor it in the character's perspective, a mixture of physical sensations and mental/emotional thoughts/feelings.
    Similar to how a character in a fight doesn't always concretely knowing what's happening to them. They may feel an intense burning sensation when they've actually been punched, kicked, or stabbed.

    Often what really matters is less the action itself and more the mental/emotional fallout and slow process of "processing" the experience.

    Definitely a difficult topic. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Thank you for your response. There are so much short stories and books and movies which "use a character." That's why I wanted to touch on this subject. I, myself, am trying to make sure my writing doesn't end up "using the character."

      Thanks again,

    2. So many, not so much... man... writing while tired is a bad idea sometimes.

  2. Such a difficult subject. I've been wrestling with the "survivor" versus "victim" terminology lately in one of my stories. I've decided to, instead have the person choose, say that they don't love their choices, that both are problematic, which they are. Great post! Here's some interesting articles I've been finding useful, in case you're interested:

    1. Thank you so much for sharing the articles. Even though I'm writing fiction, I do believe that the first article will help a lot with writing it authentically.

      Thanks again.

  3. Thanks for sharing your tips. I've found a lot of stories use this for shock value or to insinuate that somehow it was the victim's fault. Fade to black and the survivor's story is a much better way to go.

    Ronel visiting on Author Toolbox day How to Set Up Instagram to Grow Your Author Business

    1. Thank you. I loved you post for this month! It was so insightful! Thanks again.

  4. I agree with this - it's such a hard topic to write about, and should never be presented in a titillating way. Kudos to you for putting out some basic guidelines for people who might feel lost or unsure.

  5. All good points. Thanks for writing a post on such a sensitive topic.

  6. I have trouble including sex in my novels so rape--definitely a couple of bridges too far. I did enjoy your post, though, because it helps me understand where it is necessary.

  7. What excellent advice. I've never included a rape scene in one of my books, but I've included attempts. I'll keep all you've said in mind.

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  9. Thank you for these guidelines, it gives me some things to think about.

  10. I'm a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, who have a free online writing course each month. This month's course has been on writing the tough subjects, so this has come up.

    The advice echoes yours: don't be more detailed than necessary, and focus on the feelings rather than the actions. That will actually make the writing more powerful ... although not necessarily easy to write.

    Thank you for tackling a difficult subject with sensitivity and grace.

    1. I am glad that my advice echos that of the course. I was nervous sharing this advice, but I really felt that people could use it!