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Adult stories, warnings and ratings

Posted on Thursday, September 3, 2015 in Writing

I’ve been thinking a bit about my stories being ‘adult’. When I first starting reading and writing fan fiction several years ago, I naively thought that adult = sex story. My stories indirectly mentioned sex, or dealt with sex non-explicitly and so I thought, my stories aren’t adult. Then I began to realize that in English, almost everything is adult. So I found that stories I’d written that had no romance and/or sex were still required to have a high, sometimes very high rating, simply because there might be any of the following: strong language (ie swear words), violence and – most puzzling of all – general ‘serious’ topics.

In Swedish we haven’t had this in the past and even now, it’s not that common. I’m guessing, though I can’t be sure, though to some extent I’ve followed the discussions in the media, in blogs etc, that we feel that images are one thing, but text is another. For instance, my parents never stopped me from reading any kind of book, and I learned to read when I was 3-4 years old. Because if I did get my hands on something an English-speaker might label ‘adult’ (very little sex, but a bit more violence), I always thought ‘uh, what a boring book’ and put it back on the shelf. By the time I would have been interested in reading sex stories I was a lot older and anyway, I had to find them myself. Movies, on the other hand, were different. I knew that some of them weren’t ‘suitable for children’ and took that enormously seriously. This is an example: I was passing by the living room where the tv was and caught sight of a very boring scene in which people were standing in line, I think at the post office. Nothing more happened, but I was terrified I’d come to some sort of harm for accidentally watching an ‘adult’ scene. Yes, that’s how naive I was as a child. 🙂

I don’t think my dad had a problem with sex in stories, though he wasn’t particularly interested. He wanted action, preferably set in space or anyway speculative fiction with lots of action. My mom on the other hand, has a problem with fiction in general and sex in particular, and also violence, even extremely mild violence. I know she used to read mysteries until she met and married my dad, but from then on she’s developed a prejudice against fiction, especially popular fiction. ‘Serious’ fiction, she respects, but wouldn’t read. She praises non-fiction above anything else, but doesn’t read much of even that anymore. But this wasn’t going to be about my mom…

Me, I love non-fiction, and popular fiction (not all subgenres, but lots of it) and also some ‘serious’ fiction, namely classics. I think it’s because I was allowed to read anything and nothing was labeled ‘bad’ literature. I read comics, children’s books, mysteries, fantasy, science fiction etc. And enjoyed quite a bit of it, but hated some of it. By the time I was grown up, I knew what I liked, but I didn’t feel that any type of fiction is necessarily worse than any other. It’s just a matter of quality and personal taste.

Back to stories being adult now – I still don’t completely get it. I mean, sure I know what adult means and I can see that a child might not be ready to read about a war in which really dreadful things are happening. But even now, I find myself always choosing the higher rating if I’m in doubt. That means that I very rarely post anything with a lower than T (PG-13) rating, simply because I want to make sure I don’t offend anyone. I use warnings about things I personally don’t think needs a warning, to be on the safe side.

In Swedish, I normally don’t, but I felt I had to make an exception once in a Swedish fanfic where I dreamed up a relationship between a relatively young man (about 30) with a much older woman (about 60). Strangely enough, writers always think it’s so new, different and unique when they pair up a man who is about 70 with a woman who is about 30. If it’s so unique, why I have seen it about a million times?

I know these things happen sometimes, but I also know it’s almost as rare as the opposite. Yet, people almost vomit when they read about older women and younger men, but not in the equivalent situation. Why? I can accept a well written story about an older man and a younger woman, though my own preferences are different. What I have a problem with, is that it’s presented as ‘normal’ and good whereas older woman – younger man, is not.

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