Valt writes me:
I saw you did a "Torture Panel" at WorldCon. What I would have given to have been present for that. I looked up Elaine Isaak since I am not familiar with her work and though I squirmed a little with the idea of a castrated main character, I cannot imagine anyone rivaling you for Most Torturous Authoress. There have been times where I've had to set your books down (for long periods) just because they hurt too much, yet I am always inexplicably drawn back into them. Masochism might be an explanation, but it's always so expertly handled. When do you decide that anything more would just desensitize your readers and no longer be as powerful?
Good question. I DO think torture and mayhem can overwhelm a story. And I never want to use it gratuitously.
First, why do I do it at all? Because my characters invariably are involved in terrible and world changing events. One of the things an author of heroic adventure has to do is present her characters with challenges, with opportunities to alter course, with the need to do things that are repugnant or life-changing in order to accomplish the deeds that solve the story’s problem. People don’t change themselves in fundamental ways as a result of small things. The stronger the character, the tougher the challenge must be.
How do I try to ensure I don't go too far?
- I make sure the violence is necessary for the story’s believability.
- I try to keep the worst parts “off screen” or at least at a distance. Readers may see only the results.
- I try never to sexualize it.
- I try to keep the events in proportion to the result I’m trying to accomplish.
REVELATION spoiler behind the Read More tag...
Some people have asked me why Seyonne’s terrible captivity lasted so long in Revelation. This is probably the longest and most difficult of all my “torture” scenarios. But here was a man whose entire life, entire being, entire training had been devoted to removing the rai-kirah from the souls of human beings or to getting himself back in the position where he could do so. And on the scant evidence of a few mosaics, his own instinct for truth, and his determination to set his child free, I wanted him to take one of those rai-kirah into his own soul. The meant I had to strip him down to his essence--his compassion and yearning for justice--in order to get him to do it. Otherwise I could not believe he would do it.