“He threw his manly arms around her, carried her to the bed and …”
That was how scenes involving people, you know, DOING IT, used to end. Dot dot dot. Leaving school girls giggling and fantasising about what the dots actually implied.
Then baldly honest liberation intervened, the dots disappeared and we readers were dragged under the covers with the lovers, in all possible glutinous detail. Personally, to be honest, I prefer the dot dot dot. It’s not that I’m prudish (although I probably am). It’s just that I don’t want everything, down to the minutest detail, thrust in my face, so to speak.
I had a review, a good review for which I am very grateful, but I was brought up short by the suggestion that my book contained a graphic description of a rape. It’s true that there is a rape scene in the book, but I have always thought my style of writing was implicit rather than explicit. Implicit about everything, not just the naughty bits, or the violence. I don’t even describe a character’s appearance in any great detail, unless it’s necessary to the plot. I expect the reader to fit in a face of his or her choosing, because I see a book as a collaboration between writer and reader. Both should have an input, with readers applying their imagination to the words. Of course I give general suggestions, but I want my readers to be painting their own pictures as they read.
I never took a creative writing course, but I was brought up with a copy of Michael Frayn’s The Tin Men. Comedy is by far the best way to learn how not to do something and I learned a great deal about how not to write. In The Tin Men, Hugh Rowe is a would-be writer, attempting his first novel. Much of the book is taken up with him getting over the initial hurdle of composing reviews of his own work and a biography to accompany his photo (with pipe and skilful backlighting). When he finally embarks on the book itself, he worries about just how much detail to include in his description of a character.
“…Her ears were small but firm. Her elbows, coming at the mid-point of her arms, looked almost like a young boy’s…
Again, Rowe stopped. Navel, knees, calves, toes, thumbs, shoulder-blades – still all undescribed! Not a word yet of her height or of any identifying marks! If he didn’t get it all down, wouldn’t every reader in the land immediately leap to the conclusion that she had knobbly knees or three thumbs or a deformed navel?”
My preference is to leave the reader with those intriguing possibilities, and trust them to play fair.
My rape scene. Yes I think I do describe quite graphically what my character is feeling, her fear and fury and the thoughts of defiance going through her mind, but I would say I am not at all explicit about what is happening physically.
Question. Is graphic the same as explicit?
My aim is to paint a picture graphic enough for the reader to enter into the scene and participate in the emotion by letting the imagination loose. Explicit writing, on the other hand, stoppers the imagination by spoon-feeding the readers with such precise detail that no brain work is required at all. It defines and dictates and deadens. I would compare it to the difference between television, presenting you with the scene, burned onto your eyeballs, and radio, making you picture it for yourself.
Imagining what is going on through the half-open door is more exciting that kicking it wide open and having the whole scene floodlit. The creature in Alien is most terrifying when it has not yet been seen. There is so much to be said for imagining. Much better to imagine, for yourself, precisely what he did when he put his…