A certain book series that shall not be named is annoying me to no end, the other night I heard it mentioned in more than one news broadcast in context with the subject being borrowed for an upcoming episode of “Law & Order SVU”. Rumor has the original story is poorly written. I refuse to read it so I can’t go much into a critique of it. It’s a topic that has come up before – using taboo and extremes to get ratings, attention from readers and viewers on television, the web. Without shock factor, how are readers going to notice your work?
I believe certain stories have a green light to use shocking material. If you are writing for example about drug cartels and their reign of terror or the overwhelming desperation of people during a famine. But gratuitous use of taboo and shock just to sensationalize a story doesn’t have my approval. I compare it to restaurants that instead of trying to make a dish flavorful using superior ingredients, cooking skills and imagination resort to throwing a bunch of fat, sugar and salt into the recipe – surefire way to make even a bland meal taste better. That’s a cop out.
These stories that use that quick and easy way to get attention for their work will be remembered more for how they successfully marketed themselves onto the shelves of Walmart than how meaningful or entertaining they were. Writing extremely shocking and kinky prose isn’t new either. Marquis de Sade himself used his shocking and disturbing works to put a spotlight on the political issues and the hypocrisies of the church of his time. At least he did that much.
Taboo and shock: be sure it’s part of the story and not THE story.