Sunday, April 15, 2018


The pivotal scene in my manuscript is the rape of the main character. My last beta reader said she had nightmares for two days about the story and I should be upfront regarding the violent aspects of the plot. Should I be direct about this in the query letter? Does it matter to agents?

Dear Query Shark:

For college freshman Maggie Coinin, befriending shy Brian Chasseur didn’t seem significant, but now he’s following her around like a lost dog. She thinks he has a harmless crush. She couldn’t be more wrong.

This is a nice start. There's an immediate sense that something is about to happen.

Maggie isn’t aware that Brian lives in a medicated haze to quell his violent outbursts. Knowing his rage can’t get the better of him again, he’s hidden a gun and a single bullet in his dorm room.

I don't understand the purpose of this paragraph. You're repeating the sense of impending doom from the previous paragraph. That undercuts the power of the first paragraph. The second paragraph should move us forward, not repeat what we already know or elaborate on the elements of "more wrong." You can take this whole thing out and not lose any of the plot.

 You've also got both points of view: Maggie's in the first sentence and Brian's in the second sentence.  That's REALLY confusing.

After Maggie rejects Brian’s advances, he ditches his medication to let the real Brian come out. As far as he’s concerned, their fates are intertwined, and she must realize that they belong together. But when stalking her isn’t enough to satisfy his desire, Brian takes what he wants.

I'd stop reading right here, and pass as fast as I could.  Right now, this book seems to be about a violent man who stalks a woman, and frankly, I have zero interest in reading that. 

Maggie is a cipher right now, seen only as the object of Brian's attention. We don't know anything about her, what she wants, what's keeping her from getting it. We have no reason to care about her.

If there's one thing readers have stopped buying it's books where women are merely objects. 

Years in prison have given Brian time to think about Maggie’s sins. Not only has she stolen a part of his life, she murdered their child. Now that he’s free, he’s tracked Maggie to Chicago and is looking to settle the score.

Wait, what?? I thought they were in college?
And dear god, if "she murdered their child" means Maggie had an abortion after conceiving from a rape, I'm glad I stopped reading before this. 

Maggie is an object, and Brian is a violent rapist. Which character did you think your reader would be interested in? 

Sensing Brian’s return, Maggie has cloistered herself from the world. But when Jude O'Connell walks into her life, she rethinks her solitude. Their growing relationship helps Maggie rediscover her inner strength to confront her past. But as she lets down her guard for Jude, Brian closes in.

Maggie needs to buy a damn stun gun. 

Because we have no idea of what has happened to Maggie in these intervening years, we have no idea what she needs, or wants.  That means the reader fills in what they want her to do (ie the stun gun above), and when your reader starts rewriting your book at the query stage, it's a bad bad sign.

From what you write here Brian is the character driving the plot. He's forcing the changes in Maggie's life. Both a protagonist and an antagonist must have something a reader responds to in a positive way. Neither has to be likable, not at all, but both must be compelling. Right now Brian is not that. He's repellent. This is a problem of the novel, not the query.

My debut novel, THE SLEEP OF REASON, is a complete upmarket fiction manuscript at 88,000-words. The novel is told from Brian’s and Maggie’s points of view. The target audience is women ages twenty-five to forty-five, who enjoyed The Couple Next Door, The Weight of Lies, and Gone Girl.

Here's the description of The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena:
Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night, when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately lands on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they've kept for years.

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of  deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

We see Anne and Marco suddenly suspected of a crime. We instantly care about them because we think this suspicion is unfair.  

We know more about Anne and Marco in that first sentence than we do about Maggie in your entire query, and it sets up the reader to care about them. 

And there is NO hint of violence, or mental illness or stalking in this description.

Here's the description for The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter
Reformed party girl Meg Ashley leads a life of privilege, thanks to a bestselling horror novel her mother wrote decades ago. But Meg knows that the glow of their very public life hides a darker reality of lies, manipulation, and the heartbreak of her own solitary childhood. Desperate to break free of her mother, Meg accepts a proposal to write a scandalous, tell-all memoir.

Digging into the past—and her mother’s cult classic—draws Meg to Bonny Island, Georgia, and an unusual woman said to be the inspiration for the book. At first island life seems idyllic, but as Meg starts to ask tough questions, disturbing revelations come to light…including some about her mother.

Soon Meg’s search leads her to question the facts of a decades-old murder. She’s warned to leave it alone, but as the lies pile up, Meg knows she’s getting close to finding a murderer. When her own life is threatened, Meg realizes the darkness found in her mother’s book is nothing compared to the chilling truth that lurks off the page.
Again, we know a lot more about Meg in that first sentence than we do about your Maggie. And there doesn't seem to be some sort of violent rapist on the first page here. 

Gone Girl isn't a good comp for anyone any more. It was a runaway success which we all hope for, but is damn hard to replicate. And unless you've got some sort of twist ending here, the only similarity I see is the alternating point of view.

One thing you did well was choosing the first two comps-they're current (both pubbed in 2017.) Comps need to be as current as possible, and generally no more than two or three years old.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

The problem here are your characters.
I don't care about Maggie other than in a very abstract way, which is death in a query. I'm repelled by Brian's action, and he seems to be in the grip of mental illness, thus not evil by choice.

An antagonist who does evil because he is mentally ill isn't interesting. He's not in control; he's not choosing to do bad things.

To answer your question: the rating system for movies that says "graphic content" or "some nudity" is intended to help parents screen movies for their children. Your book isn't intended for children. Thus you don't need a warning sign on it.

However.  Graphic rape scenes are a HUGE turn  off for me as a reader. Graphic violence of any kind, really.  It's one thing to know something bad happened, even something really bad. It's another thing to read every last detail as it's happening.

Remember too, graphic does not always equal frightening. The scariest movies are the ones where you don't know what's out there, not those with  some monster tearing someone limb from limb. Those blood-fests often become ludicrous, not scary.  The master of suspense (Hitchcock!) let you scare yourself. 

And frankly, if you just tell me there are graphic rape scenes in the query, I'm much MUCH more likely to pass. You're telling me about something I don't want to read about, and without any context, and absent the framework of a story where I care what happens to the characters.  It's as if you told me you're going to poke me with a sharp object.  My instant reaction is "no you are not, and get out of here" as I reach for my stun gun.  But, if you ask to poke me with a needle to inoculate me against the flu, I not only say yes, I give you $20 to do so.  Context.

I think your query has revealed some fundamental problems with your novel. However, if you just chose the wrong way to describe the characters here, revise and resend.


KariV said...

Ouch. This is a rough query for me. At the moment, Brian reads as the MC, even though I get that you have both characters as POV characters. My suggestion would be to make the whole query about Maggie. Lead with her. She befriends Brian, is raped, tries to move on, hears he's out if jail, experiences conflict, etc...

Then, in your housekeeping paragraph, mention that the story is told from both the viewpoints of Maggie and Brian. Readers aren't opposed to being in the antagonist's head, but the book (and query) should center around Maggie.

Also, not necessarily a comp, but the villain in Warren Harding's Gun Machine is a viewpoint character and he does evil because he's mentally ill. Maybe give it a read to see how it's done.

Sam Mills said...

My first thought: I hope the book is very specific about what mental illness he has and is well-researched in that regard. You don't have to be mentally ill to be a rapist--to me anyway, the horror of rape is that perfectly ordinary guys go about it and it can't be fixed with medication.

I would start the query with Maggie in the present day, learning to love again but oh no, her boogeyman just got out of prison. Spending the query on the backstory makes me worry that half the book is her in college being stalked, but if all the backstory is front-loaded on the page, what is being saved for tragic reveal later?

Lennon Faris said...

This is tricky. It's hard for me to imagine such a violent scene in the middle of a story - it seems either back story (setting up the premise), or a sort of ending battle where the resolution is coming fast afterward.

I like Sam's suggestion, starting the story with the contemporary. It cuts out the icky parts and could totally keep the suspense. I agree 100% with the unknown (not the graphic) being the scariest. It's not the dinosaur tossing the human around that gets your heart pounding. It's the shaking cup of water, the hot breath under the door.

Frankie said...

I agree with Janet, I wouldn’t read a book where there is a rape scene.
But for what concerns your query, I think you’ve to decide one MC, and tells the story according to his/her POV.

Without going into the specific traits of your novel, what your query lacks in my opinion is a clear sense of purpose. You’ve talked about Brian and his behavior, his unhealthy desire of being with Maggie (who, as Janet pointed out is an object, she is the most plane representation of damsel in distress possible). But apart from that there’s nothing I, as a reader, care about.

You need to take a step back from your novel, and go back to the basics.
Try to decide who your main character is, and give your readers something to root for.

Karen McCoy said...

I'm torn, like Lennon. I don't like to watch violent rape either (especially in TV or movies) but I'm also of the opinion that fiction shouldn't shield away from what really happens to people. As long as it's not glorified in any way.

That said, I agree with Sam that it's only important to include what is necessary to the story, and even though the existing parts might have been necessary for early drafts, it might help to figure out what is actually needed now that you, as the writer, know the background of the story. And you can certainly show the aftermath of a rape without showing the act itself.

Best of luck!

Mister Furkles said...

Faulkner wrote a novel about horrific rape: Sanctuary. You're not Faulkner nor writing in the 1930s but take a hint from him. The more horrific things are alluded to. There is no truly graphic rape scene. No readers want to read the details of rape, torture, or animal abuse. But they do happen and we are willing to read about the affect such horrific events have on the victims.

What readers refuse to read, publishers refuse to consider.

Maybe start in the now after Maggie finished college and Brian is released from prison. Then cover how the past affects her present and include some flashbacks to college days. But no graphic details.

nightsmusic said...

I seem to always be harsh here and I don't mean to be, but this:

Sensing Brian’s return, Maggie has cloistered herself from the world. makes me want to slap the snot out of Maggie. I've been in your character's shoes. But I didn't hide myself away and wallow in what happened. I made a wonderful life in spite of what happened. Because you've focused your query on Brian, you've made Maggie come across as weak and detestable (to ME!) and there is no way I'd read that.

Start your story where Brian is being released. Work the backstory in as you go but make Maggie a survivor and fighter, not the weak woman she is here. I think you'll find a much larger audience.

There are many of us who have been through rape. Make Maggie a hero we can cheer. Not one we have disdain for.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

I agree with Francesca that there needs to be something the reader can root for.

Also, I totally agree that there should be no details of the actual rape.

And, I agree, again, that a mental illnesses involved (and seemingly being the cause of Brian's behavior), must be researched very well. I'm not an expert, but I can't think of one that is commonly known to cause 'wanting to rape a woman'. There may be some I am unfamiliar with, but I still feel this is a dangerous element of the novel.

Many, many people have mental illnesses (or have had!), and we are currently in an era to fight stigma. You may have readers who could be offended by Brian's mental illness causing what he does, because most mentally ill people don't wish to be deemed dangerous to others.
Just saying.

My feeling is that this novel might need to be completely re-written, you got some good suggestions here :), but I'd also like to say I kinda feel for you, OP, since you didn't get much positive feedback here. I hope you will be able to fix your work and not be too down due to our assessments. In the end, nobody here means to be harsh :).

Good luck to you, OP!

OP said...

I read through your comments and the comments on Twitter, which I truly appreciate. I'll revise the letter to focus on Maggie's journey (which is the heart of the story), as suggested here. My concern is that my readers have enjoyed getting into Brian's head during his descent. I've been told that in a crowded genre, this makes the story unique. However, it may be something better left for the synopsis and the sample pages.

As many of you have pointed out, I realize that sexual assault is a difficult issue. However, I respectfully disagree with the idea that rape should be hinted at rather than have a light shone on it. I understand the stance that it could be the monster lurking around the corner--but this is a real issue that too many women (and men) have to face in our society. I realize this is a risk that I'm taking, but I've had the scene read numerous times, and readers have said that the scene (which is short) is intense, without inappropriate glorification. In fact, some readers have felt the scene is the so impactful it's one of the best parts of the book. But I appreciate the sensitivities that exist out there.

Which is why I brought up the original question--I understand that not every agent/reader is going to love this story, but I want to be sensitive to the fact that if I receive requests, the agent sitting on the other side may struggle with the subjects of stalking and rape. The end reader will have the back cover to read before buying--but not the unsuspecting agent. I know agents are tough, but I want to be fair and professional. And don't worry---Maggie's going to kick some butt--but even her actions have consequences.

Regarding the mental health issue, I know this is another sensitive topic and, again, one not taken lightly. I am aware of the stigmas that exist around mental illness and it is not my intention to "pile on". Upon review, I think the original letter did a poor job of describing this plot point. In the manuscript, the character's mental health issues are actually a source of empathy--some readers have noted that because of this they are rooting for Brian, even at the end. Again, I respectfully disagree that all people with mental health issues are completely out of control of their own actions. Mental health is too wide-ranging and complex to say that all people battling these illnesses are unable to make decisions (good or bad)--Brian exemplifies this in that part of his story is his internal struggle to take more control over his life and make better decisions than he has in the past. I have researched the issue and I have had people who struggle with mental illness read the manuscript, along with a mental health professional. Could more be done? Always, and it is something that I continue to research and I am always open to feedback from anyone with expertise or insight who has read the manuscript.

I can appreciate that everyone here is only getting an impression off of a 250-word letter (which is immensely helpful feedback and what I came here for--and kind of the point), but slow down on the jump to rewriting a 350-page book that's been getting great beta reviews. Geez, you guys are tough critics. That being said, I think it is amazing that a few paragraphs have clearly gotten people thinking (and fired up) about very important issues and started a dialogue--which is what I hope the book will do.

AC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AC said...

When does most of the story happen? The first half made me assume it was a story about them in college and what goes on between them, but the second half suggests all of that is basically backstory, and the real story is after the MC is already in Chicago, as this other man shows up in her life to fix her (which is likely a problem of its own, by the way, but there wasn't enough of it in the query to know how it's handled in the story). As much as I love seeing multi-POV queries that work, I'd prefer to see this one focused on Maggie and the situation in Chicago, of course with mentions of what happened between her and Brian. Especially since you list women specifically as your target audience; show us how she's a strong character, not just an object.

As far as rape on-page goes, I wouldn't want it in the query, but it wouldn't necessarily make me stop reading the book itself. It'd just depend a lot on how it's done, and whether the scene itself adds to the story so much it's necessary (more often than not, it doesn't). What I really care about isn't the act, it's the consequences—which need to be handled with care and attention. I suggest hiring some sensitivity readers specifically for that too.

If I were an agent, though, I would've stopped reading at "he ditches his medication". Up until then I was with you, but that just completely ruined it. Mental illnesses get enough stigma as-is, without tropes like those piling on (yes, it is very much piling on, whether that was your intention or not). One can be a terrible person and do terrible things without being mentally ill—and if a mental illness is the only way the author can think of to make the reader invested/care about such a character, it signals a lack of characterisation somewhere, and/or a desire to force the reader to see the character as redeemable. All of which has been done before and keeps being done. It's just not how it works. You say you want to stand out in a crowded genre—falling on harmful cliches isn't what I'd call the best path to that, regardless of a fun/unique POV gimmick.

As an alternative to all that... since Brian's story seems to be the one you really want to tell, make it truly his story. Make it a story about a man battling his demons, but do it right: it's not the MI itself forcing him to rape people, it's a whole bunch of stuff, and his struggle is the highlight of the whole thing. Give up on trying to force the reader see him as redeemable; build him as a character whose story readers can get invested in without necessarily feeling sorry for him or liking him (especially based on "poor him, it's a diagnosis and not a choice"). It will change your story, your audience, your message, everything. But if that's the story you're the most interesting in telling (which the combination of the query and the comments here led me to assume, but I might be wrong), IMO you're not doing yourself any favours by pitching it from Maggie's POV the way it stands right now.

nightsmusic said...


I'm going out on a limb here and am guessing your beta readers are your friends. Don't do that. You need readers you don't know, who have no vested interest in you, to read this and then tell you the truth. Also, there is a huge difference between beta readers and an experienced critique partner, one who is also willing to tell you the truth.

I read your response to the comments here. I'm a bit curious, since you're so dead set on not changing anything, why you submitted it in the first place. You have a reason or excuse for everything. I dealt with a paranoid schizophrenic in our family. Like many, many mentally ill people, the minute they start feeling better, they stop taking their meds, not because they want more control but because they feel they don't need the control of the meds, they're all better now. But of course, they aren't and deep down, they usually know they aren't eventually. It's a vicious cycle for them.

You've focused almost all of your page time in your query on Brian. I'm guessing most of the book is also from Brian's POV. You've also commented that, to paraphrase, you're happy with what you've written. You're going to have a very hard sell. As you can see by the comments here, no one is really interested in reading this from his POV, at least not as it's written now. AC has the right idea to that.

I can appreciate that everyone here is only getting an impression off of a 250-word letter (which is immensely helpful feedback and what I came here for--and kind of the point), but slow down on the jump to rewriting a 350-page book that's been getting great beta reviews.

You've got one shot, One shot, with any agent you send your query to! That sentence right there is so telling in so many ways because that's exactly what the agent is going to see, that 250 word 'letter' that the rest of us have tried to tell you absolutely doesn't work. It's another excuse on your part. And if that letter doesn't work, it's a natural progression for any agent who reads it to think your story won't either.

Good luck.

Julie Weathers said...

Diana Gabaldon has rape scenes in her Outlander books. I've followed her commentary for a couple of decades now on the AOL Lit Forum, which morphed into the Compuserve Books and Writers Lit Forum and is now just TheLitForum.

These conversations come up about rape fairly frequently in her section of the forum and in other social media. There's an entire blog dedicated to people who think Diana needs psychiatric help because of the scenes she writes. On the flip side, it's remarkable to read the many people who comment they were victims of rape and appreciate her telling the whole story of what it does. For them, it's cathartic as if someone is telling their story and it helps them. It also shows you don't have to be a victim. I wouldn't have thought about a book having this much impact, but it's gratifying that it does.

So, I think it depends on how the scene is handled. To flat out say, "I won't read a book with a rape scene" is a personal choice, but I think a person might be missing out on a lot of good stories. Lonesome Dove comes to mind, though that isn't everyone's cup of tea. McMurtry is still a masterful story teller.

My problem with the query is it fails the rules of querydom.

Who is the MC? What do they want? What's keeping them from getting it? What happens if they don't achieve their goal?

We think Maggie may be the MC, but the author gives us nothing to make us care about her. Being a victim isn't enough.

OP I hope you can sort these things out and try again.

AC, "Mental illnesses get enough stigma as-is, without tropes like those piling on (yes, it is very much piling on, whether that was your intention or not)."

When my son, an Iraq war veteran, decided to go to college, he walked into one class and got an unpleasant surprise. The teacher introduced himself and said, "If you are in the military or are a veteran, I want you to leave my class right now. I'm not putting my life and the lives of my students in danger by having you here."

Apparently every military person is an unhinged homicidal maniac. Who knew?

OP said...

Thank you for your reply. To be clear, I have had friends read the book—they tend to be my harshest critics (maybe I need new friends). However, my beta readers are completely unknown to me—I have used various services and I also used a critique group and critique partners to hone the book. In the last year alone, I’ve had about 15 unknown readers review the work, along with working with editors who are former industry insiders.

It’s not that I am not willing to change the query letter—as I stated in the first paragraph, I will (and have). I don’t know about other writers, but it has been immensely challenging to boil down 88,000 words into 250. You are absolutely right that you only have one chance with an agent and that’s why I came here—for some great feedback on the letter.

TKahler said...

I also thought some of the comments were quite presumptive and harsh. However, I also agree the query would read better from Maggie's perspective in Chicago and if her character was more fleshed out. If it is done in the right way, I am not opposed to reading this type of book, even though I really dislike rape and torture scenes.
Good Luck! Querying is hard.

Steve Stubbs said...

Many thanks for this. The query is not interesting, but your comments are super. This is like a seminar on good query writing. It is the nest review you have done so far.

I was especially interested in why it is OK to write about grisly, horrifying, sickening murders but if a character gets caught jaywalking on an abandoned street, that is too much violence. I have been confused about that for a long time. I will have to study this post. It has a lot to take in.

Sam Mills said...
I hope the book is very specific about what mental illness he has

Try Intermittent Explosie Disorder. Except that some think IED is an excuse to sell pills and not a mental illness.

Sam wrote: "You don't have to be mentally ill to be a rapist"

Probably not, but I would guess Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is considered a character disorder, not an organic brain disorder like Broca's Aphasia. There is evidence of genetic predisposition, though. A famous murderer recently turned out to be the product of an antisocial mother and the latest antisocial in a long line on her side. There are some interesting things you can do with this, but it is impossible to describe them all in a blog comment.

AC said...
If I were an agent, though, I would've stopped reading at "he ditches his medication".

That is reality. People do that all the time and excuse their subsequent bad behavior with it.

Lenora Rose said...

As someone who has had to think about how much sexual violence to put on the page - in a manuscript currently trunked for other reasons - it's definitely a hard thing to deal with. It needs to be not-gratuitous, not titillating, not overly graphic, and we need to be in sympathy with the victim, not the perp. And all those strike me as musts. But not graphic doesn't mean the same thing as not on the page, not intense, not violent (In fact, the best advice I got was to write it the way you would write a scene where a mobster's goons are roughing up a person).

The problem here really isn't whether the rape is on the page in the book. It's how much does one put in the query. And I think the answer is, as little as is necessary to make the plot coherent (Which is not the same as not mentioning it; "as little as necessary" might require explaining it.) But I think before it's clear how much is needed in the query, the other problems in the query need to be fixed. What else is Maggie? What does she want to do and be? What was she planning to study? In part two, has she become those things? What is going on in her life besides having once been stalked and assaulted? What does she want, and does anything besides Brian's presence keep it away from her? Do we have any reason to care about Jude?

Unknown said...

I share some concerns with others about the POV shift to the Brian character. I had written something longer before but there was an error when I tried to post it, so here is a more summarized version.

Brian seems to be written as a pretty extreme monster, but one who is made that way due to uncontrollable urges. Thus, he becomes somewhat of a contrived character (perhaps) as the monster that the audience is allowed to identify with without feeling totally dirty. This kind of story is very hard to write without offending a lot of people. It's a narrow lane, and a fine line between the reader watching a person's downfall and wanting them to be punished, VS it becoming a sort of illicit entertainment as they get into the person's headspace.

Since your letter introduces Brian as a violent stalker and rapist and your MC comes across as a bit thin in the letter (such that her life decisions seem dictated by Brian and this White Knight dude who comes into her life), a lot of people could be legitimately concerned about this turning more to the illicit entertainment direction even though that's not your intention. I know that may sound tough but when people are having such a visceral negative reaction to Brian, it's because your letter has set him up so prominently as compared to your MC. The number of people who are going to be totally into that without having fuller context of having read your full book will be very small, so it could easily turn off any agent you query (notwithstanding positive reviews from your critique partners.)

Since I haven't read your book, I don't know how well the Brian character is handled throughout. But if you want an example of how a monstrous POV character can be written masterfully and the story be critically acclaimed, I would watch the Death Note anime. It's probably the best example I can think of with an evil POV character, because the story is written carefully throughout to reinforce that the audience should (and does) look forward to his day of reckoning.

Unknown said...

Why do writers do this? Why do we tell ourselves we're doing something new, or unique, or bold, when we're actually doing something that's been done over and over and over again, in books and moves and TV? Yes, I'm talking about the rape scene. And to be clear, no one's saying you *can't* do this. You can do whatever you want. But please, don't tell yourself you're shedding light on something in a way that others haven't done before, because on-the-page rape scenes have been done many, many, many, many times. And every time, the author claims they are doing this to show the true horror of rape, when it often comes across like they're either fetishizing rape or using the rape as a plot device to *make* the woman stronger (ughhh don't do this). It's also insulting to your reader, because it assumes we can't possibly understand that rape is horrible unless you show it to us.

Again, I'm not saying "never write an on-screen rape scene." Rather, I'm saying, people shouldn't ALWAYS show rape on-screen and tell themselves they're doing something new and courageous. Because it's been done. A ton. And when the people here try to tell you it's as effective (or MORE effective) to approach the topic in a different way, it's worth listening to before you discard their advice.

Now, let's talk about this:

"In the manuscript, the character's mental health issues are actually a source of empathy--some readers have noted that because of this they are rooting for Brian, even at the end."

So now you're writing a redemptive arc for a rapist. Or trying to write a rapist in a sympathetic way. Ok..... So all of your claims about the rape needing to be on screen are COMPLETELY NEGATED by the idea that the rapist deserves our sympathy. And again, I will tell you: this has been done. Over and over again. A man rapes a woman on the page (or on screen), "because it's the only way for the reader to truly understand that rape is bad," and then he's redeemed because it was the mental illness's fault all along (or his father was abusive, or the world was too mean, or he drank too much, or....)

Please don't do this. Please. To your book. To humanity. To women. To people with mental illness. PLEASE listen to the people here who are trying to help you, study the way these topics have been written about in the past, and do something that doesn't support a society where rape victims are feitshized and rapists are redeemed.

Cara M. said...

The thing I'm missing here is any sense of the story. What makes this book interesting and different? I hate to say it, but rape and stalking are so common that I want to use my empathy for the actual victims, people I know and care about, not fictional characters, which means I need to know and care about your characters before I'm willing to suffer with them. Who is Maggie, what does she want, what specifically is at stake for her? Who is Brian? People aren't their mental illness, the fact that that's the only thing we know about him makes every other bit of him generic.

Since we don't have a sense of the story, I don't even have a clue whether it's going to be 'woman struggles cleverly to defeat her returned stalker' or 'woman succumbs into paranoid miserable spiral' or 'rapist attempts to make amends but realizes he is only bringing more misery on the people he hurt' or 'mentally ill dude is a horrible person and continues to be a horrible person.'

To figure this out I need to know what these people want and what they'll do to get or protect that. I'm not going to judge your book from the query, but if I were an agent it wouldn't be the rape or the mental illness that turned me off. It would be the flatness of the characters and no sense of the story.

Make it pop!

MackAttack said...

I completely agree with nightsmusic. Everything about that sentence makes Maggie annoyingly passive, and I'd say it starts with the incorrect verb, "sensing." Maggie wouldn't simply "sense" her attacker was getting out of prison... I would hope that she followed news of his parole hearings, and made sure her restraining order was all set, at the very least.

I do think that starting your story when Brian gets out of prison is the right move, but not really for the purpose of censoring the rape (although as others have said, it can't hurt to exercise subtlety with that). Your story starts here because that's where the actual action and stakes come in. Their shared history of his crime etc is what has created the dynamic between them, but it's not actually the meat of the story. The real conflict here is Brian wanting his revenge, and Maggie needing to defend herself against her old boogeyman for a second time (except this time with Prince Charming, apparently?).

Actually, are you sure this isn't a crime/romance? I mean, it would be a cheesy one, but when you throw in the love interest, it just smacks of a dime-a-dozen Nora Roberts "suspense." (The paragraph where you intro the love interest can be reduced down to: Maggie was broken due to her traumatic rape. But then a man showed up for her to fall in love with and that fixes her right up. For me, as a survivor myself, I hate this plot line. It took years of mismanaging many relationships with varying degrees of seriousness before I got a handle on a lot of my baggage, and now I'm 3 years married and still have issues now and then (your villain being named Brian happens to be a horrible coincidence). What I'm saying is, love can be transformative, but Maggie also needs to show that she can handle her issues through her own strength of character and not just because Jude McSexypants showed up.

MackAttack said...

Many things I had to say were already covered (and I added a few more in another comment). Final thought is this: from this query, I can make some assumptions about the gender of the author that make me less interested in reading his story about woman vs. rapist. There's a lot here, especially from a survivor's POV, that feels like a male author mansplaining rape to a female audience from a perspective that is lacking knowledge. Maybe I'm totally off and this isn't the case... maybe OP is also a survivor and is not male... but aside from the issues with Maggie's agency not coming through at all and White Knight McSaveachick, I feel like Brian is the same rapist character with the same mental illness/quiet type/secret possessive misogyny that we always see in these kinds of stories... he gets the most play on this query, but he feels like a caricature of a rapist to me.

Is any of this to say that a male author can't write a female rape survivor for an audience of women? (I did find it interesting that you single out women as your audience for this grizzly tale... why, again, do we need to be awakened to the brutality of rape via graphic rape scene? 1 in 4 of us have lived it) Of course nog, we all have many different characters and stories to tell no matter who specifically the writer is... but do be careful when writing outside of your own experience in such a volatile, sensitive topic.