I checked out NBC’s new show Game of Silence and, after moaning about the stupid name, realized how overwritten it is. And the reason for that is sad; they’re afraid of their own story. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick rundown: very bad things happen to four boys in juvie and years later, it still haunts them. Think Sleepers.
You might ask what are the bad things and I’d tell you sexual abuse… or so it seems. See, while the writers are all good with showing the violence, like being forced to fight other boys, they only hint at the rape they deem determined not to name. Maybe it didn’t go that way; maybe those innuendos that pepper the dialogue are just meant to intrigue but I doubt that.
I think the writers are scared of their own story.
Sexual abuse is uncomfortable to discuss, much less watch. And with the restrictions in place for not only broadcast television, it’s somewhat understandable why certain acts are not explicitly shown. But no one – even the narrator – even says the word. It’s rape. Four letters. For someone who has actually been assaulted, it can be painful as hell to utter but when your story is (seemingly) based around it, you shouldn’t shy away from it. Confront it. Own it. Make it your bitch. That’s what it means to write. You are in control so you must tell the story, no matter how dark and scary it might be.
Don’t gloss over the icky parts. If you do, you end up like the writers and their new four-letter word and your audience is left with an overwritten letdown that tries way too hard to pump out the mystery and drama. Your audience needs to know certain things to fully grasp your characters’ situation and by leaving out the big things you lousily hint at, you ruin the viewing (or reading) experience.
In Innocence Lost, the book I just finished and hope will be in the hands of a publisher before year’ end, my main character, Rylan, is a sexual assault victim. And that plays a huge role in why he acts the way he does in certain situations. And I did not shy away from the horror of that moment in his life; it’s told in graphic detail in chapter two. Now, I could’ve told that part of the story in a less colorful way but the book is torture porn so I went for it. And it was worth it. Beta readers were affected by it in exactly the ways I wanted. If I’d hidden it in mysterious flashbacks, it would’ve been far less effective.
I wasn’t about to waste mine, or readers, time. And that’s what Game of Silence is guilty of. Don’t make me wonder what happened; tell me so I can properly emphasize with the characters’ plight. If, while telling your story, you find parts too difficult to say or are afraid of what people will think, stop. If you aren’t prepared to show (or tell) the darkest parts, you have no business continuing. If penning those terrible scenes makes you feel sick, good… they should.
Sexual assault in fiction isn’t meant to be titillating; the goal isn’t to make the viewer or reader all hot and bothered, it’s meant to make them angry and cringey and squirmy. If you’re including this kind of invasive violence make your audience uncomfortable or don’t bother at all. If you’re just going to hint at it, don’t waste the effort it takes to write around it. It’s a part of your back story; while there are times it might be shrouded in history, in the case of Game of Silence, it’s a huge part of why those characters are who they are. You don’t need to show it but someone should’ve said the dang word at least once. If you need to keep mum on the particulars in order to keep your audience interested, you’ve failed.
I’m not giving up on the show yet; I’ll give it a few more episodes for the writers’ apparent fears to dissipate and they show the courage of their conviction. If they at least admit to us, the audience, what happened to those men when they were boys, Game of Silence could become one of the most powerful shows on television.
But only if they go balls through the walls.