Content Ratings

(No statistics today. Sorry, Natalie.)

Books don't have content ratings the way movies do, but I often think of them in the same terms. The question today is what level of sex/violence/language do you typically write or prefer to read?

There's a lot of action in my stories, and I'm not afraid to write about people beating the crap out of each other. People get shot, crack their skulls on pavement, slit each other's throats, and even die in childbirth.*

That said, I think the violence in my writing remains mostly PG-13.** In movies, the difference between PG-13 and R is not necessarily what happens, but how much you show of it and how much blood there is. It's the same idea in books (or would be, if there were a rating system). If a major character gets a sword in their gut, and you spend a paragraph describing what comes out, or the excruciating pain they're going through, it's the equivalent of a rated R scene. But if a minor no-name gets "sliced" during a battle and "doesn't get up," it's PG-13 - even though the same thing happened.

So I'll write as violent the story calls for, but how much I show will depend on the tone of the story. Most of Air Pirates is pretty light, so I keep the violence light, but it has its dark spots too.

In movies and books, language doesn't bother me at all for some reason. Even so, I keep the language in my books at PG-13 level (e.g. no sh-words or f-bombs, but damn and hell are okay). A lot of that is due to my alpha reader who physically hates reading bad words. It's actually good because it forces me to think before I make a character swear, and when they do, it's far more effective.

Alternatively, I could make up a whole new slang, like I did for Air Pirates. That way my characters can swear all the time without offending the ear (at least the American ear - some of AP's swear words are borrowed/modified from the British). You have to be careful with this though. Made-up swearing is hard to do right. I have no doubt that some Air Pirates' slang just sounds stupid.

I don't like watching explicit sex, and I'd rather not read it in books. They just aren't images I want in my head. (Though having said that, sex scenes in books don't affect me as strongly as the visual images in a movie).

So I almost never write sex scenes either. When I do, it's strictly fade-to-black PG stuff. There's none in Travelers, and Air Pirates has only two scenes that come close. In one, a woman gets attacked - attempted rape is implied, but never said out loud and never shown. The other is essentially: "They kissed. They didn't come out for a long time."

No, I won't be writing erotica anytime soon.

I should add that I'll read anything (hello, Song of Ice and Fire). These are my preferences. Not surprisingly, I tend to write what I like to read. So what about you?

CategoryPrefer to ReadWrite
LanguageDon't carePG-13

* But no knees; I can't stand knees. None of my characters ever get shot in the knee or break their knees. If someday one of them does, it will mean I have grown as a writer and a person.

** I'm using the American rating system. It's the only one I'm familiar with.


fairyhedgehog said...

I can handle reading sex scenes, although I prefer them to be allusive rather than direct, but there's no way I can write them and I tend to close the bedroom door on them.

Swearing? Doesn't bother me one way or the other and I'll happily swear in my writing if called for. I wrote a villain once and he used very strong language. I'm not sure I can bring myself to make a character racist, though.

Violence is the big no-no for me. Sex is life-affirming (or can be) and strong language is just that - strong - but I can't stand to have people in physical pain. So I try to avoid it in reading and writing.

Sex: Read - anything. Write - PG
Language: Read - anything. Write - anything.
Violence: Read - U preferred. Write - PG

Adam Heine said...

That's really interesting, hedgehog. I hadn't thought about the racist aspect of language. I wonder if I could write a character like that, if necessary. I don't know.

Hilabeans said...

Interesting. You always come up with fun posts.

To answer your question:
Violence: I don't mind it. If it's too gratuitous, then I skip over it. Similarly, I love scary movies, but cover my eyes at the gory scenes.
Language: There's something about reading the words. I don't mind F-bombs in movies, but for some reason, reading them irks me.
Sex: Well-done sex scenes don't bother me. I generally like them, but there is a fine line. I don’t need detailed descriptions. Awkward.

Thanks for asking!

Adam Heine said...

Hilary wrote: "You always come up with fun posts."Thanks, Hilary! You just made my day!

Re: your comment on language, my wife feels the same way. She doesn't like swearing either way, but she feels almost violated if she's "forced" to read it.