15.48: Deliberate Discomfort, Part Two

Your Hosts: Dan, Mahtab, Howard, and Brandon

We’ve talked about deliberately making our readers uncomfortable. In this episode we discuss writing things that make us uncomfortable. Maybe it’s writing strong language, or sex scenes. Perhaps it’s a personal narrative that is painful to relive. Whatever it might be, as writers we need to prepare ourselves to embrace that pain, soak up that discomfort, and put the words on the page.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes:
No, I’m Fine.” by Howard Tayler
Video Link for this episode, and two other episodes


Write every swear word you know, and then delete the file, or burn the sheet of paper.

Tales from the Loop (the role-playing game)

8 thoughts on “15.48: Deliberate Discomfort, Part Two”

  1. Good topic. Every author has to choose how to address things like swearing, etc. Obviously, a hardened criminal isn’t going to speak like a Sunday School matron, and you want the character to ring true. By the same token, there are things we can do to assimilate the rough-edged nature of a character without incorporating every swear word ever heard. But it comes with knowing your characters and stories and navigating that fine line between honoring your own beliefs and writing realistic characters.

  2. As an Australian I do not understand this fear of swearing. For us it’s like fucking punctuation.

    As matter of fact I’m much more comfortable writing ‘shit’ than using an exclamation mark. Why did no one talk about the totally rational fear of exclamation marks?

  3. Dan, Howard, Mahtab, and Brandon talked about things that make the author uncomfortable to write. Sex, cursing, your own situation? And how do you decide you need such a scene, and how do you do it? As Howard points out, you only get better by doing things that make you struggle, so… read the transcript available now in the archives, and make yourself uncomfortable.

  4. Great episode. I’ve often found my best writing is when I’m writing something that makes me a little uncomfortable (what will my mother/church/friends think?) and the words just seem to flow a little faster, a little smoother.

  5. Very very interesting.

    I’ve never asked myself what my lines would be. There are lots of things my characters can do and say that I never would.

    What Brandon said about not using certain derogatory terms because he doesn’t like what they’re doing to our society means he choses politics over realistic depictions that are true to the characters and their culture. With high fantasy you can decide that’s just how that culture is, but the readers are in the real world and have sensibilities accordingly (although it’s a range, obviously). It seems like a line you have to walk, and figure out through some trial and error.

  6. Good stuff. I did, however, find Brandon’s discussion of the spanking scene to be almost actively fighting against the principle this episode intends to establish — that sometimes you have to write things that are uncomfortable, because your characters, your plot, etc. demand it. Assuming the discussed scene is TGS chapter 17…I just don’t see how you accomplish the aim of that other than as was done, given the characters involved. And had Brandon actually pushed back on writing it, I think he would have done the necessary plot advancement performed by the spanking a disservice.

    We can argue about whether the effect of other spankings in WoT could have been served some other way. In the context of a world that doesn’t shy from corporal punishment, they were not unusual, but perhaps many could have been avoided. But that particular one — the only one I clearly remember as having been under the dual Jordan/Sanderson watch — I don’t see how that person could have been effectively disciplined in any other way. (At least not without being drastically more demeaning, a la Cersei Lannister’s walk of atonement, and also drastically out of character for the series in general.)

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