If You're Writing About Assault ...

Content warning: this post will discuss sexual violence

By popular request, I’ve decided to write a post (or rather, rewrite something I posted years ago on an anonymous Tumblr) about a major trend in Young Adult books right now: sexual assault.

As a sexual assault survivor who longed to see myself in literature beyond Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, I’m excited to see authors tackling sexual violence in YA literature. However, with this trend obviously comes the issue of how sexual assault is written about. Some YA books about sexual assault are written by authors with limited personal experience , so I thought I’d put together a post (like this one I did about queer stereotypes in YA) on tips for writing about sexual assault.

  1. Sexual assault is not a plot device. I can’t say this enough. It’s not for shock value, waking up drifting readers, or just making a book “edgy” or “modern” (given #MeToo). So if you’re just putting sexual assault in your book casually for shock value, please don’t. It’s serious and if you’re going to put it in your book, you need to do it with tremendous thought and care.

  2. Graphic details aren’t necessary. Most of the YA books I’ve read that I find do justice to sexual assault don’t have tons of graphic details. Sure, they have some, but the details are limited. For example, All the Rage by Courtney Summers just mentions a hand on the survivor’s mouth. A small detail, but not too graphic. Some books mention some physical pain in the aftermath. If you’re adding a bunch of graphic details beyond that, ask yourself why. They aren’t needed to show the reality of how sexual assault impacts survivors, and honestly, graphic details can often come across as being mostly for shock value. It’s YA, not porn (to be blunt).

  3. Survivors react differently. One of my friends moved on pretty normally; one didn’t know it was sexual assault until months later; one had a nervous breakdown; I tried to act normal but inside I totally lost it, though people tell me I seemed normal on the outside. Some days are normal, others are a mess, often for no specific reason. Not everyone melts down, and not everyone can ignore it; vary up your character’s reactions!

  4. Survivors and perpetrators can be anyone. Survivors can identify as any gender and be assaulted by people of any gender. Not all survivors are able-bodied. Not all survivors are white (and people of color are actually more likely to be assaulted). While most perpetrators are white cisgender men, some aren’t.

  5. Assaults can fit different molds. I usually only see two types of assaults in YA literature: an assault at a party where the survivor is drunk, or childhood sexual abuse where the survivor totally hates the abuser, and that’s about it. Oh, and everything happens at night. Assaults can totally fit that mold, but assaults can be totally different. They can be within intimate relationships that already exist, in households, at school, etc. Statistically most assaults happen during the day. And maybe the survivor doesn’t hate the perpetrator completely.

  6. Listen to survivors. Don’t use Law & Order: SVU as your guide. Look at what actual survivors say about their experiences for guidance online, and when they talk about things that bother them in depictions of violence or come to you directly about a problem with something you’ve written, don’t ignore them. (P.S. Feel free to contact me if you have a concern about something you wrote.)

In summary, be intentional, empathetic, and careful. Sexual assault is so important in the lives of young adults, and if you write about it well, you can change someone’s life.

Do you have suggestions for what to add to this list? Comment below or Tweet at me (it can be a DM) and I’ll add it!

Here are things suggested through comments and DMs thus far (edited for grammar and clarity):

  • Not every assault is rape, and rape isn’t necessarily more severe than other forms of assault.

  • Putting your rapist in jail isn’t always the goal and isn’t always necessary to healing.

  • Telling people about a sexual assault isn’t always this moment where everything changes for the better. Sometimes it sucks.

9 Queer Stereotypes I'm Sick of Reading in YA Lit

I'm abundantly happy that YA literature is becoming more diverse. Back when my organization started, it seemed like there were only a handful of LGBTQ-related YA books to choose from, and now there are many published every year. But still, there are some stereotypes/tropes I see a bunch in LGBTQ-related YA lit that irritate me. Here are 9 queer stereotypes I would like to see less of in YA literature.

I get annoyed when:

  1. Lesbian relationships always have one masculine woman and one feminine woman.
  2. Gender identity always conforms to a binary. There are plenty of people who identify as gender non-conforming or genderqueer, people who don't identify as any gender, people who identify as multiple genders, etc.
  3. I can't find gender-neutral pronouns anywhere. Like seriously, where are they?
  4. Bisexual people are just confused. Bisexual characters can really be bisexual.
  5. Pansexual people don't exist. Or pansexuality and bisexuality are conflated. Here are two definitions taken from Trans Student Educational Resources:
    1. Bisexual: "An umbrella term for people who experience sexual and/or emotional attraction to more than one gender (pansexual, fluid, omnisexual, queer, etc)."
    2. Pansexual: "Capable of being attracted to many/any gender(s). Sometimes the term omnisexual is used in the same manner. 'Pansexual' is being used more and more frequently as more people acknowledge that gender is not binary. Sometimes, the identity fails to recognize that one cannot know individuals with every existing gender identity."
  6. Asexual people don't exist. Did you know some studies have found ~1% of people are asexual? And no, having a character not in a relationship isn't the same thing as having an asexual character. And asexual people can be romantically attracted to others!
  7. Every queer kid is bullied. Yes, 85% of LGBTQ teens experience anti-LGBTQ name-calling, but not everyone fits into that narrative, and when every book makes queer kids seem miserable, many queer kids can't enjoy the book.
  8. Every queer character is white. (Does this need an explanation?)
  9. The goal of every transgender character is to transition. Many trans people have no interest in transitioning or altering their gender expressions. Gender expression doesn't equal gender identity! Here are two definitions taken from Trans Student Educational Resources:
    1. Gender identity: "One’s internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both, or other gender(s). Everyone has a gender identity, including you. For transgender people, their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity are not necessarily the same."
    2. Gender expression: "The physical manifestation of one’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. (typically referred to as masculine or feminine). Many transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender identity (who they are), rather than their sex assigned at birth. Someone with a gender nonconforming gender expression may or may not be transgender."

Additional annoying stereotypes (submitted by readers) include when:

  1. The Queer character's story centers around their coming out and having to deal with familial drama/centers around their Queerness as opposed to a real story line like heterosexual characters have.
  2. Queer people can't be religious/ that spirituality and queerness are mutually exclusive.

Have any additional queer stereotypes in YA you can't stand? Comment below or Tweet it to @ARoskinFrazee and I'll add it to the list!

..... Writer's Block? (February 20, 2015)

"The Passion of Creation" by Leonid Pasternak

"The Passion of Creation" by Leonid Pasternak

Someone asked me earlier today how I deal with writer's block. I think it's only fitting that I address that question in writing at midnight, because I write best the later it gets in the evening.

Writer's block is something I had a lot of problems with back in sixth grade. I would start the same story seven different times and never get past the first page. I'd get frustrated and decide the beginning was too boring, my character wasn't likable, and the plot was stupid. Then I'd switch the font a dozen times because watching something change on the Word document made me feel productive.

Everything changed when I did NaNoWriMo in seventh grade. In one month, I went from being the person who hadn't finished a story in a year to writing 50,000 words. It was the worst thing I've ever written, but hey, I wrote it! And that's what matters.

Even though I still get writer's block sometimes (example: procrastinating by doing this blog post), doing NaNoWriMo helped me come up with many strategies. See if any work for you.

  1. If you're stuck, try letting characters/plots come to you. You don't need to force it. As you're walking down the street and pass someone, do you think about where they're going? Do you give them a name, hopes, histories, destinations? There, you have a character! Trust me, once you stop forcing yourself to think of characters and plots, characters and plots will come to you. You have to be patient and willing to listen.
  2. Screw the opening. Who cares how the story starts in a first draft? Heck, start with a quote you like if that helps you get going as long as you get rid of it later. My novels all at one point started with the same sentence from The God of Small Things. Whatever you put on the page first in a first draft won't be there later anyway, so why stress about it?
  3. If you're like me and you obsess over evil squiggly lines that yell at you for spelling things wrong, turn them off. It's miserable editing everything later once you enable the feature again, but worth it because you don't compulsively go back to fix typos when you're writing.
  4. Allow yourself to procrastinate. If you need a day off, take a day off. If Netflix is calling to you, watch Netflix. Don't stress about never taking breaks so you can finish extra early. Take the time you're given by a teacher, editor, agent, etc. and use it! And yes, relaxing as well so the writing feels less forced counts as using it.  
  5. Write at night. You'll be less inhibited. (As much as I'd like to discourage doing this on a school night, there's actually a fun sneaky feeling that comes with writing at 1am the night before a math test that lends itself well to mystery/suspense writing.)
  6. Finally, and most importantly: write FOR YOU. Write because there's a story that needs to be told, a character who needs to be heard, because you won't sleep until you've gotten all the thoughts in your brain onto a page. If you realize you're only writing because you need money (hint: pick a different job) or have a deadline, you're not writing for the right reasons. Do it because you hate to love it and love to hate it, because you desperately want to press the same letter on your keyboard thirty times in frustration at 3:06am because the words you just typed don't sound right together, because you miss the buzz of drinking three cups of hot chocolate, because you crave the feeling of your hand going numb from a carpal tunnel syndrome flair up from typing too much. Don't write because you think you should be an author; write because you're a writer.