Home / Meta / Learn Something / How can I write about these sensative topics respectfully?
So you've decided to write a story for the Net. And you want to put in some elements that are a bit risque or perhaps just very traumatic - after all, hurt/comfort is a popular genre. But how do you do this realistically and respectfully?
Well this all depends on what your goal is. For a moment, let's just talk BDSM:
If you're talking about BDSM concepts for the purpose of writing a story that is (you hope) erotic, you don't need to worry quite as much about the realism. After all, consider most porno - how sexy would it be if all they showed was people accidentally leaning on one another's hair and their hands or, worse, partners falling asleep? Ditto BDSM. If your goal is to use bondage elements to make the story extra kinky you don't need to panic quite as much about listing all the "safe, sane and consensual" guidelines that apply in real life.
Now on the other hand if your goal is to use your story for educational purposes (ie having someone experienced in BDSM teaching a newbie) you might want to put in some of those elements because you are now setting yourself up as an expert via your character. Therefore just as someone who writes about a history teacher would be expected to be able to have said character accurately know the date of the Lousiana Purchase, likewise someone who's writing a narrative primer to BDSM should be able to know what they're talking about.
Don't panic if you need to do this. All of the information you need in order to get started is available on the Net (the best links of which can be found in my Dungeon for starters) and education does not equal a lack of eroticism in your story. You can put a lot of erotic layers into a story about someone with experience slowly seducing a BDSM newbie into putting their trust in them.
As for respect in a BDSM story - this one's easy. Just treat the topic with the same respect you'd like shown for your own sexual preferences. No more, no less.
What about hurt/comfort, then? Ah, here's where it gets tricky.
For some reason (and theories about why are another topic of conversation entirely) it is very popular to take a lead character and have then raped/beaten/otherwise abused and then brought through the recovery process. Sometimes this is done by giving the character an abused past (usually when they were children) or having them hurt as a part of the story. The challenge to the writer, then, is to write a story with all of the powerful emotions they have just set up and yet have a realistic and respectful payoff.
This one, as I said, is trickier. The reason being that while no one expects graphic realism in an erotic story people do want it in a story about recovery from trauma. And that's because while many of us rarely get a chance to watch incredibly perfect and erotic sex in our day to day lives, most of us do know people who have actually gone through rape/abuse/trauma and the recovery process. To read a story which doesn't treat such a familiar topic with respect then insults and hurts the reader.
So what do you do? For starters, educate yourself. There are many books out now about trauma recovery. Search it out on the Internet. The things you want to look for are sites about child abuse, rape recovery and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Read up. Find out common symptoms and things that are to be expected.
By no means does this mean that you now need to go out and get a degree in psychology in order to properly write hurt/comfort. It just means that you need to educate yourself enough to understand what you're talking about. Really get a feel for what people go through when they go through traumas like this so you will not, as (for example) Anne Rice is so wont to do, write stories about how kids getting raped at a young age does nothing for them except give them a few unhappy twinges as an afterthought.
Also show respect to those who have been through trauma by letting them know if this is what you're going to write about. People who have PTSD can be "triggered" by reading about it. To be "triggered" means that something just pushed one of your buttons and is now, at best, making you feel very upset and, at worst, making you go through a full-on flashback. Since there are more people out there than you know who can be triggered by potentially upsetting text it's worthwhile to put in a warning before going into a graphic description of the rape of a 3 year old.
Finally, don't be scared to ask questions. It's OK not to know. Go find people who do know more about the topics at hand and ask if they'll help you understand things that are troubling you. Far better to ask and learn than guess and get it wrong somehow.