Posted by: steveonfilm | November 18, 2008

That Scene You Don’t Want To Write

Every writer has a scene they don’t want to write. It might be a sex scene. It might be a corny action scene. Maybe it’s a heart to heart converstation. It’s always something that has to be in the script, but not something the writer actually wants to write.

I’ve been working on such a scene for two days now.

It’s a rape scene.

Not exactly the type of scene you can gloss over. This is serious subject matter. Take it too lightly and you insult women everywhere. Take it too seriously, and it comes across as unauthentic.

Its really freaking hard. Do you show the actual act? Do you show the aftermath? Do you show what leads up to it?

Rape is a serious matter. It’s the lowest of the low. The ultimate form of domination. It’s not about sex. It’s about imposing your will on someone in the most primitive form possible.

It’s also a reality of a subject matter that Marianas deals with. Forced prostitution.

But it’s uncomfortable to write. And I think, rightly so. This isn’t a date rape. This isn’t a girl who had too much to drink and did something she otherwise wouldn’t have. This isn’t a guy who gets caught up in the heat of the moment and goes too far. This isn’t the drunk husband who comes home late and has his way with his wife, whether she wants to or not.

No, these are two women who are forced to live a life where they don’t have a choice. Rape isn’t something they can protect themselves from. It’s the reality of their every day lives. It’s disturbing. And it needs to be shown in proper context, without glossing over the graphic nature of how it can, and does, occur.

I think part of what’s so tough for me is just having to visualize the act itself. Having to delve into the mindset of a man who would do this to a women. To try and figure out what makes him tick. What he gets out of it.

Early on I decided that the scene would be based around hyper aggressive men who want to dominate the women they are about to rape. It’s hinted at that they specifically requested two small women, likely who would put up a fight, and that they can beat up a bit.

I decided to frame it into three parts. The introduction. The defiance. And the moment before.

“The introduction” is when the men are first introduced to the women. Xia is one of them, as she is a main character in Marianas, and Chailai (a secondary character), is the other. Xia knows something is wrong. And you can see that Chailai does too.

“The defiance” is after the men have taken them back to their room. The women struggle. Which is just what the men want.

“The moment before” is the brief glance at what happens an instant before the actual forced rape. Where there is no doubt left what is about to occur. All sense of escape has evaporated.

The three sections are broken up with other events that are occurring to two other major characters. I think, in part, because one long protracted rape scene might be too much for the reader. And it allows for me to use suggestions more than actual graphic description of events. What’s not shown is often more disturbing than what is.

Which is why I don’t show the actual rape. Two earlier drafts had it. But it didn’t do what I needed it to. And I tried to fancy foot around it. I didn’t do the scene justice.

Does my new version accomplish that? I don’t know. I might never know.

One thing is clear though, it’s not easy to write, and I don’t think I want to cover subject matter that deals with it again.




  1. Cheers on your writing the tough scene. Out of the handful of scenes you noted above as hard to write, the testimonial to a passion or a love is always the hardest. But a rape scene seems like an incredibly daunting one to tackle as well. But I think you chose the proper way to write it. It’s always better to leave things up to imagination rather than spell it all out. Someone wrote a great screenwriting article saying how some movies get their “R” rating based solely on how the filmmaker depicted things rather than what the audience saw. Always lead your audience down whatever road you choose to the point that they get a small taste of it, then take away from it, or make small CUT TO’s or time spans – a man grabs her, she slaps him, claws him, he smiles, jumps in for more, a small action line of her getting slammed into a wall, she hits the floor. He rips off her shirt…cut away. It’s so much more effective. Take them out into the desert, let them sip on the water, then leave them thirsty. Hope it turned out well for you. I enjoyed reading your blog and will check back in.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Dusty.

    Your line about “take them into the desert, let them sip on water, then leave them thirsty” is spot on.

    That’s a good summary of the approach I’ve taken to framing the scenes.

  3. Hmm, I think the debate of to show or not to show is a difficult one and I don’t always agree with the philosophy that “what you don’t see is more powerful”.
    I’ve had this notion hammered in to me so much in film theory that I find I’m starting to rebel against it.

    I think often cutting away and not showing something can be a slightly lazy substitute for just confronting the issue head on. Most powerful rape scene I’ve seen? Irreversible – long, no cut aways, brutal, horrific stuff. But I won’t watch it ever again because it was so brutal. But then rape is BRUTAL, as you said it’s “the lowest of the low” – how do you do the victims justice in a potrayal that just cuts away? How do you give it serious gravitas without showing the act itself? It’s a difficult one – and striking that balance is a very tricky thing to pull off.

    I think the most effective example of a powerful rape scene that is entirely off camera is in Seven. The Lust kill (a kind of crazy two-way rape), where the detectives interview the surivor. What gives the scene its power is Leland Orser’s hyperventilating performance, where he is forced to describe what happened in detail and seems almost right on the edge of sanity as a result of doing so.

  4. Well I think your doing a quite a brave thing, when I was doing my first successful story, I considered sex scene. Which really made me think, I knew it wasn’t something I was comfortable with, so decided to just delve in. And I discovered it wasn’t the intro or conclusion to the initial scene it was the body, I spent a long time thinking about it and I think I managed to get it, (if just barely), I had the same trouble with my fight scenes as well.

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