Today, A Drift of Quills is focusing its attention on content ratings. Not on the ratings of our works by readers, but of our works for readers. These ratings, adopted from the motion picture industry, differ by country, but we’ll be referencing the current—as of 2113—U.S. system.
What are our positions, or what difficulties might we have writing things rated beyond a PG-13? Do we write such things? Why or why not?
Author of The Rift Series (beginning with Sing the Midnight Stars)C.M.J.'s Website
Although I include sex in my books, it’s only implied unless it’s not consensual and that choice isn’t something I had to ponder: I’ve simply never considered writing any other way. However, when I do use the device I’m not shy about it. For example, I wrote a situation in which a husband and wife are raped in turn, and it’s brutal and graphic, yet I cringe at the thought of writing a steamy love scene. Strange but true. I think part of the difference is that, to me, something such as rape is not so much sexual as it is pure violence, and that’s easy for me to write (don’t make any horrible inferences here!).
I’m not a fan of the romance genre, which hinges on hanky-panky these days, it seems, so I’ve never found that explicit sex scenes are essential to any story I’ve read (and I’m not at all convinced that they’re essential even in romances). They tend to make me roll my eyes and skim until I hit the next nonlascivious part that’s actually related to the plot. And that’s another reason I don’t use that contrivance: what does sex in most books really have to do with the story line? In almost every instance I’ve seen, it’s gratuitous and detracts from the narrative. In fact, I recently stopped reading a book after being subjected to yet another of the author’s superfluous descriptions, and this one crossed the line into the profanely indecent.
Some may believe that graphic (or not-so-graphic) sex in their writing will help sell books, but one word refutes that opinion: Rowling. One could argue that it’s the lack of such content in the latter books of her Harry Potter series that helped it retain its enormous popularity.
Author of OathtakerPatricia's Website
My work falls into the PG-13 category in part because I want to be able to promote it to the YA crowd. As a way of putting my thoughts into focus, I will set forth my position only on the following areas: sex, drugs, and violence.
I believe that some things are private and are meant to be so. This is not necessarily because they are bad things but, rather, because they are so personal that they are, dare I say, “sacred.” Sacred is defined as “regarded with reverence.” A synonym for the word is “inviolate,” defined as: “free from violation, injury, undisturbed; not infringed.” For this writer, to open the door on things that take place in private would be a betrayal of my characters—a violation of them—an injury to them.
I respect my characters and so, allow them their privacy. I also respect my readers—and in particular YA readers. My youngest daughter brought a book to me one day (marketed as YA), outraged by the story line. It seems the protagonist was trying to determine how best—and quickest—to rid herself of her innocence. The work quickly made its way to the trash bin. I believe the author of that work held an enormous responsibility to her readers—and in my estimation, she failed in it. Whereas she could have helped to insure her readers’ physical and mental health for the long haul, she instead titillated her readers, encouraged them even, suggesting that there were no limitations and no consequences. So, while I fully defend one’s choice to write outside the PG-13 category, I do not do so because I believe such works should not be promoted to the highly impressionable YA crowd.
As to drugs/alcohol, my position is that a work designated as YA appropriate should never promote the use of drugs or the irresponsible use of alcohol nor should they include YA characters thoughtlessly imbibing. If for no other reason than to help to insure the safety of young women (in particular) who all too often are victimized—especially when their defenses are down as a result of the use of drugs/alcohol—such conduct should not be encouraged. Our readers are taking cues from us. . . .
The real world includes open violence and it often is violence that differentiates the good from the evil. Moreover, with evil, violence and sex may meet. My works do include references to such behavior; evil frequently manifests itself in this way. However, I have found that few details are necessary. I need not insult my reader by elaborating on the obvious. These things can be exceedingly offensive and painful. I find no entertainment value in them. Moreover, when one writes, a phenomenon occurs. In order to relate a tale to her readers, an author must look at the details. I have found that I reach a point where I must close my eyes, where I cannot allow myself to see or to hear more—even though I know it exists. Beyond that place, I will not go. Beyond that place I will allow my reader to use her own imagination—should she be so inclined.
Author of As the Crow Flies and two short storiesRobin's Website
I am going to say right out that I am not a fan of a rating beyond PG-13 in either books or movies. A great number of recent offerings are being touted as “gritty” and “dark,” when what they really seem to mean is “violent, vulgar, and explicit.” I firmly believe that stories can be gripping, thrilling, thoughtful, controversial, breathtaking or entertaining without resorting to extremes. It’s a shame, really. I understand the desire to write for a so-called “adult” audience, but why does an adult audience need lower standards than a less-adult one? (And are we talking age or maturity here?)
It is interesting—and somewhat telling—how the lower ratings are falling out of favor. There is an unvoiced opinion that somehow they mean the tales are for children. Material is often added in, appropriate or not, to give edgier ratings. As a society we are actively, purposefully working to desensitize ourselves.
“What? But I can’t accurately depict my characters if they don’t swear a blue streak, graphically hurt their enemies, or have detailed sexual relationships!”
Seriously? What that really means is that the author isn’t creative or resourceful enough to figure out an alternate way of delivering the scene. Yes, bad language, violence, drugs, and superficial whoopee happen every day in “real life,” and some of those situations are part of truly intense stories. But they do not have to be spelled out in gory detail and they do not have to be advocated. The lack of harsh characteristics does not equate poor reading material. We do our readers a grave injustice when we don’t trust that their imaginations will carry them through, that they will pick up on individually pertinent details and fill in the blanks to create a scenario that is meaningful to them.
Moreover, why would an author or producer want to deliberately limit her audience? I do not write specifically for the Young Adult market, but I am thrilled when someone from that audience not only can read my book, but enjoys it (and hello! BUYS it!). And is there an ample market for PG-13 and gentler books? Why, yes, there is. I am encouraged by the response to author Leeland Artra’s fledgling Facebook group, (https://www.facebook.com/FSFNet) “Fantasy Sci-Fi Network News,” which is “a collection of authors, bloggers, and reviewers who are passionate about finding and creating quality fantasy/sci-fi books which are also teen safe (G, PG, or PG-13 rated). The FSF Network believes it is possible to create fantastic works of fantasy and science fiction without resorting to graphic violence, explicitly harsh language, or sex.” Two weeks, 200 followers. From my point of view, that’s a good sign.
I'll wrap up this week with my thoughts. I am a firm believer in writing what I know. Sometimes, the things I know are not so nice. The world we live in is not always a nice place and that is why we, as adults, are the barriers between our children and the written word that may make too strong an impact at the wrong time. This is why I believe in parental interaction with teachers throughout the school years. I know my child best. Teachers and parents must partner in education. In this vein, When my children were in grade school, I read everything they were required to read so that I knew if it was appropriate for them. If I felt it was not, I would request another reading assignment. That is a parent's job.
As a writer, I don't write fiction for children or young adults. My stories are written for adults with adult consequences for adult actions. Even so, I consider the PG-13 guidelines (which you may read by clicking on the link at the end of my entry) to be a very good line in the sand. They are a point at which I pause and say to myself, "Do I need harsh language? Do I need this scene, this level of graphic depiction?" Usually, the answer is, "No." Inclusive of everyday life, I'd very much like it if, when in the public eye, people confined themselves to actions and speech we'd consider G. But the world isn't G rated or even PG. It is a scary place. For my writing to attract the audience I want, fiction I can share with everyone, fiction of which I can be proud, I recognize that there may be times when gentle words aren't enough.
There are times when even the guidelines for PG-13 go beyond what I would write and times, I confess, where they may not go far enough. In my writing, I lean toward strong violence: war, death, illness, occasional drug use. I probably skirt that line between PG-13 and R. I don't dive fully into the R rating. I don't need it. I also don't want to be told I can't write it if I think it will add to the tale I'm telling. At this time of my life, with adult children, I do ask myself, "Would I let my daughter read this? My pastor?" I'm happy to say that the answer is, "Yes." It's "yes" because I believe in the intelligence and understanding of my target audience. Would I want my grandchildren to read it, if I had any? No. Not because I am ashamed, but because it isn't written for them. Should I then not put my stories out there because of who might read them? Again, no. Every person must take responsibility for what they produce and must educate themselves about what they may face within the context of certain genres.
See more at Wiki’s Motion Picture Rating system http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_picture_rating_system and the Motion Picture Association of America (What Each Rating Means) http://www.mpaa.org/ratings/what-each-rating-means
Join us next month for a new topic!