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Rape in fiction


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#1 MinDonner

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 09:52 AM

What it says on the tin (though with a request for everyone to play nice).

Overused as a trope to threaten female protagonists with? It seems to come in many guises; sometimes it gives them a proper lady-specific cause for VENGEANCE, sometimes it is a Fate Worse Than Death for them to be heroically rescued from, sometimes it's just thinly-disguised wank-material for adolescent-brained hacks (see: the Yeard, the Duke, etc etc). Is it ever done well? Is it ever necessary?

Donaldson gets a lot of flak for the infamous scene in the first Thomas Covenant book, but for me, that is one of the least problematic literary rapes I can think of. For one thing, it's not sexy, it's written simply as an act of ugly violence; for another, it's an act with (distinctly non-heroic) consequences.


Thoughts?

#2 WoIfgang

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 10:03 AM

When it comes to Donaldson I found the rape and abuse in "The Real Story" much more disturbing.

I think the rape in the first Covenant gets so much flak because it's the hero who is the rapist not some villain.

#3 red snow

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 10:23 AM

It's all fair game to be honest. Murder, torture and other acts of violence are allowed so the same goes for rape. If it's gratuitous, it's not for me, but I'm not going to demand it's banned from all forms of fiction because then I won't be able to read about murder, torture, swearing, sex before marriage and everything else.

It's annoying and lazy when writers feel that rape is a necessary character arc for female protagonists, especially as it never seems to happen to men - the fact that male rape is probably considered "novel" highlights the problem. In terms of sci-fi fantasy it hasn't turned up that often (I must have a sheltered reading library) but when it has there's at least been rape against men included too and it's described as unpleasant in both cases (Prince of Nothing and the Steel remains).

#4 Lupigis

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 11:07 AM

In the books I'm reading, actual rape is pretty rare, but the threat of rape is common. Descriptions of rape are very rare indeed. It still seems to be a line many authors fear to cross (and probably with good reason)

#5 Imagica

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 11:11 AM

I've already made my views on the subject quite clear several times (rape creeps the hell out of me, especially when it happens to a major character, and I would prefer to avoid encountering it in my reading), but the thing that bothers me even more is that some readers, evidently, came to expect it in any darkish fantasy work. I still remember a comment on Best Served Cold that said something like "hey, why does Monza never get raped?". Seriously, WTF, people?

And yes, it almost never happens to men, and if it does, it's usually a "freudian excuse" for a bad guy, who, unavoidably, becomes a rapist himself. Well, if we are so politically correct nowadays, maybe it's time to even the odds a little?

PS Sorry if I sound too bitter /smile.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':)' /> I just don't understand the fascination with rape that some people have. Especially writers, and especially females.

#6 Migey

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 11:25 AM

I think that rape is a line that some authors are too afraid to cross, and some are too eager to do so. In fact the only real rape scene ive read in a book is in 'Ship of Destiny' by robin hobb
Spoiler


I think that rape, like anything else, murdur, sex, violence, etc, should be added to the story when and if it adds something to the story.

Edited by Bellis, 28 January 2010 - 11:53 AM.


#7 Slick Mongoose

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 11:40 AM

Might want to put some spoiler tags in there.

#8 alguien

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 11:45 AM

I think that rape, like anything else, murdur, sex, violence, etc, should be added to the story when and if it adds something to the story.


Agreed. If that's how the author sees the story playing out, if so-and-so is a violent psychopath who would do this in these circumstances, then, unless it can be stopped, then it should happen in the story. Gah, I almost hate to say that.

But as a trope it is over-used in genre fiction, much more so in mainstream comic books. I believe there's even a term for the over-use of violence against women in comics, The Women in Refrigerators Syndrome. (specifically because Kyle Rayner, the new Green Lantern at the time, came home to find his girlfriend murdered and stuffed into his refrigerator) Link

ETA: and Identity Crisis was even worse

Edited by Bellis, 28 January 2010 - 11:53 AM.


#9 Eloisa

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 11:49 AM

sometimes it gives them a proper lady-specific cause for VENGEANCE

Oh, Jesus, this aggravates me. It's a subset of the Women Don't Go On Adventures Without A Really Special And Traumatic Reason For It line of writing; while male characters also tend to be given at least a Special And Traumatic reason to go on adventures, the repeated use of rape as a plot device - because what else is going to force a woman to go out into the world? - has gone past trite and into seriously annoying. Like red snow said, annoying and lazy - yet another case where authors in a supposedly imaginative genre show their lack of imaginations.

(Often following this; rape-related PTSD that can be got over in an hour's cuddling and some tender, consensual sex with a male lead. Oh, come ON.)

That said, it's not always done badly, and it doesn't always have to be done badly. As just another thing that happens as a consequence of war, violence, torture and just plain living in unfortunate circumstances (IIRC quarter of women from some areas of America have been raped, and three quarters of women from some areas of Liberia), it's fair enough that it happens to characters who appear in a given book.

So long as it's not... glorified is the wrong word, because that implies a positive presentation; "dwelt upon, to the level of almost eroticising it", I suppose - and so long as it's not always presented as The One Great Trauma That Has To Happen To Female Characters (echoing red snow again). Really - so long as it's treated in a way that has some basis on the way it, you know, actually happens. There's this great fascination with Rape as Punishment (not as a punishing act by the rapists, which is sometimes plausible, but as a punishment from the author for taking the book in a particular direction) as well as Rape as Trauma Source; if it's got to be included (and there's no reason why it should specifically be included, just as there are few reasons why it specifically should not, one of those being it too often is), include it properly.


(ETA: wow, you can tell I'm at work...)

Edited by Eloisa, 28 January 2010 - 11:50 AM.


#10 Trebla

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 11:59 AM

I've already made my views on the subject quite clear several times (rape creeps the hell out of me, especially when it happens to a major character, and I would prefer to avoid encountering it in my reading), but the thing that bothers me even more is that some readers, evidently, came to expect it in any darkish fantasy work. I still remember a comment on Best Served Cold that said something like "hey, why does Monza never get raped?". Seriously, WTF, people?


That's a familiar line from young fanboys who can't stand strong women. I've seen that alot of the years. Somehow it makes them feel inferior. Conversations go like:

Fanboy: "I hate Dany!"

2nd person: "Why?"

Fanboy: "Cause she's a bitch!"

Rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. In some plots it is necessary, like GRRM's scene of Dothraki rape where Dany saves a few women. It showed the Dothraki barbarity and the beginning of Dany's goal to bring change.

Oh and the same fanboys often try to figure out a way for Jaime to get his hand back so he can wield a phallic sword. /wink.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=';)' />

#11 Wastrel

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 12:09 PM

Imajica: well, that's a good question that people asked. I haven't read Abercrombie specifically, but in general it's remarkable just how little rape there is in "historical" fantasy. When it comes to rape, even otherwise 'realistic' authors tend to strongly sanitise their work - particularly regarding child-rape and forced child-prostitution - which I worry can distort the message of the story. [A lot of works turn out worryingly close to callous or even bloodthirsty in their depiction of warfare, in part because the essential 'rape and pillage' element is usually glossed over, or at least happens to non-characters, and off-screen.]

Hence why, in AFFC, Brienne is constantly confronted with threats of rape - it may be off-putting to some readers, but what do you expect? She's a woman wandering around a war-torn countryside alone - inevitably she's going to be a target for rape! Female characters can only realistically avoid rape if they are a) freakishly good at fighting, /cool.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='B)' /> surrounded by strong protectors, or c) protected by an honest and powerful system of law.

Even today, in a 'civilised' society, we're only a thin line away from systematic rape. Consider: 1/3rd of women who serve in the British Armed Forces (one of the most disciplined and civilised armies in the world) are raped by their comrades. 7/10 are sexually physically abused in some way. [9/10 are subjected to sexual verbal abuse and threats]. That's what happens in the disciplined, educated, volunteer army of a modern, enlightened, western nation with a strong rule of law. Go back to medieval times, and any woman who was not actually a well-beloved close relative of an extremely powerful man in a very safe home a long way away from any warzones could probably EXPECT to get raped in her life. As for those who purposefully went out 'seeking adventure' unnecessarily... well, they presumably accepted rape as a hazard of the lifestyle.

And that's even without considering the marriage element. Somehow, barring a few marriages-to-horrible-villains, the wife and husband always love each other and the husband would never force his wife to do anything she didn't want to do because he's just so nice - whereas in a more realistic historical setting, he could be the most heroic character in the novel and still, thanks to 'entitlement', sexual frustration, and the overpowering social and economic requirement for heirs, end up raping his wife. [Husbands who were willing to accept "I don't want children" without complaint were a noble but small minority, not the rule]. And where's the widespread sexual abuse of daughters! In England, as late as the nineteenth century (in rural areas), daughters were expected to 'replace' their mother in her household chores if their mother died, and 'caring for' the father was included in those duties. In less the less enlightened times of the Greeks and Romans, the head of the family could go and bally well penetrate whichever memeber of his household he wanted as part of his due payment for protecting and feeding them all.

Not, of course, that it's only women who are affected. Realistically, all these young boys in fantasy novels who join the army, or a band of brigands, or become sailors, or join a religious order, or take up a skilled craft as an apprentice, or join a guild, or work as servants - well, a large percentage of them would have received more of an education than they wanted. Even in the 20th century, a famous First Lord of the Admiralty could describe the naval tradition of the British Navy, reputedly one of the

No, I think the question is not "why is there such a fascination with rape that it features in our fiction?" but actually "why is there such a fascination with rape that it is almost entirely avoided in our fiction?"

[To be clear: I do think there are good answers to that question - I'm not saying that all novels should be filled to the brim with historically-accurate levels of rape. I'm just saying that that's the direction the question should go. We shouldn't be surprised if a little reality creeps into fantasy]

-----------



I can't really think of many rape scenes in the fantasy I've read [by which I mean central-character scenes, not background details]. The examples given in the other thread; Covenant; ASOIAF has some semi-significant rape, and threats of it. I don't think there's anything wrong with any of these examples.

It's not an overused threat - it's an underused threat. Saying that threats of rape against female characters are an overused, cheap trope is like saying that all these threats of death that you get in fantasy are overused: well, actually, both death and rape are a) omnipresent dangers, and /cool.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='B)' /> generally agreed to be bad things. Of course they're going to be used as threats! [Rape is, particularly, an underused threat against men].

I do have a bit of an issue with the "fate worse than death" treatment of rape - not because I have any problem with women considering it such, but because I question the assumption that women are always going to have that psychology. If you take some princess out of her palace and threaten her with rape, yes, it's realistic that she'll treat it as a threat of a fate worse than death - but, realistically, most women in a medieval setting will probably treat it more as "fuck, I was told this would happen eventually" than as "I'd rather die!". After all, most of the population in these settings has a default condition of being cold, hungry, physically brutalised, and entirely powerless over their own lives and bodies, so rape isn't the unprecedented affront to identity that it is in our society (if you grow up knowing that you're powerless and helpless, rape, while unpleasant, is presumably less of a shock to your psychology).

Indeed, in those situations, for a lot of women rape would be fairly low on the list of Terrible Things to Avoid. A lot of women were willing to accept the probability of rape in exchange for better conditions, by entering service - I'm sure a lot of them even considered that a good bargain. [And, in turn, this "you knew what you were signing up for" element is part of what frees the men in power to exploit their female workforce without considering it 'rape', in the same way that they didn't consider visiting a prostitute 'rape'. I'm not saying that they're right, but I think it makes their actions more understandable.]


I agree, in theory, with there being something wrong with using rape as a cheap source for a vengeance quest - but I've never seen that in print myself, so it's not really an issue for me. [I suppose you could say it appears in a side-plot in ASOIAF, in the vengeance of MMD - but actually, I think that that vengeance was far wider in scope, dealing with the destruction of her town and the ancient pillaging of her race, than just that single act of rape.]

------------

Can rape ever be done well? [OK, take the non-creepy interpretation of that question, please...] Yes, I think so. I think that Liveships is a good illustration of this. Various people are raped, or come close to being raped, both men and women; and I think that Hobb does a good job of exploring how different people respond to this. I admit that the one historical rape* is made a little 'cheap' and Freudian, along the 'abused people become abusers' line, but hey, it IS statistically commonplace for abusers to have been abused, and vice versa, and I never got the sense that that was offered as an explanation for the WHOLE of that person's character.

*One of two historical rapes? One way in which I think Hobb does well with rape is in not assuming the strict binary division of our morality system. One female character in the novel lost her virginity in a way that, iirc, could be interpreted as rape. And in some ways was, given that she was only a child at the time, although iirc she doesn't consider it as rape in hindsight, although I could be mistaken.

-----

Is it ever necessary? Well, no. Not unless your novel is entitled The Many Rapes of the Rapinous Adventures of Rapacious Raper McRapey the Rapist, in which case, yes, your customers are likely to be annoyed if you omit it. But it's unnecessary only because ALL fiction is unnecessary. You don't HAVE to include any plot element. You can always write a different story!

#12 Mentat

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 12:11 PM

What it says on the tin (though with a request for everyone to play nice).

Overused as a trope to threaten female protagonists with? It seems to come in many guises; sometimes it gives them a proper lady-specific cause for VENGEANCE, sometimes it is a Fate Worse Than Death for them to be heroically rescued from, sometimes it's just thinly-disguised wank-material for adolescent-brained hacks (see: the Yeard, the Duke, etc etc). Is it ever done well? Is it ever necessary?

Donaldson gets a lot of flak for the infamous scene in the first Thomas Covenant book, but for me, that is one of the least problematic literary rapes I can think of. For one thing, it's not sexy, it's written simply as an act of ugly violence; for another, it's an act with (distinctly non-heroic) consequences.


Thoughts?



As with most everything, it depends on how it's done. In my experience it's more something that happens to anonimous background characters to prove the grittiness and realism of the setting. In ASOIAF no major character gets raped, but back ground women get raped all the time (tavern wenches are like the red shirts of rape).

I dislike extreme psychological anguish in literature, so things like rape, torture and mutilation usually make me uncomfortable, but that's realism for you, I guess.

I can't really think of that many female protagonists who are raped, but such scenes always make me think of Bond villains placing Bond in their inefficient traps. Kill her instead. Really.

#13 Morrigan

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 12:27 PM

I think Wastrel's post summed up everything there is to say about the subject. /smile.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':)' /> Very thorough.

As with most everything, it depends on how it's done. In my experience it's more something that happens to anonimous background characters to prove the grittiness and realism of the setting. In ASOIAF no major character gets raped, but back ground women get raped all the time (tavern wenches are like the red shirts of rape).

Hah. Well, some have argued that Cersei was raped by Robert (not sure I completely agree, it's only rape by modern standards, and since Cersei loathes Robert and would never, ever want to sleep with him yet Robert is king and needs heirs that would mean every single sex act they've done would be rape... kind of a stretch here), and then you have statutory rape with Dany and Drogo but again that's only through our modern eyes.

I can't really think of that many female protagonists who are raped


A major protagonist from Liveship Traders is raped, and another more minor character is raped (repeatedly, she's basically a sex slave at some point) as well. Both react very differently to their situation. I think Mrs. Hobb handled the subject pretty well.

Doesn't Guenwhyfar get raped by some brutish soldier at some point in The Mists of Avalons? It's been over ten years since I read it so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but that scene somewhat disturbed me. Guenwhyfar was a thoroughly despicable character and I sort of wanted her to die (even if it's not canon with the legends /tongue.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':P' />), but I couldn't help but feel sympathy after her rape, and so it left me pondering: why am I ok with wishing she'd die, but I am perturbed by her rape? Hmm. Go figure.

#14 Mentat

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 12:35 PM

Hah. Well, some have argued that Cersei was raped by Robert (not sure I completely agree, it's only rape by modern standards, and since Cersei loathes Robert and would never, ever want to sleep with him yet Robert is king and needs heirs that would mean every single sex act they've done would be rape... kind of a stretch here), and then you have statutory rape with Dany and Drogo but again that's only through our modern eyes.


Well, some will argue most anything.

A major protagonist from Liveship Traders is raped, and another more minor character is raped (repeatedly, she's basically a sex slave at some point) as well. Both react very differently to their situation. I think Mrs. Hobb handled the subject pretty well.


I've only read the assassin trilogy from Hobb, and I didn't particularly like it, so I never read anything else by her.

Doesn't Guenwhyfar get raped by some brutish soldier at some point in The Mists of Avalons? It's been over ten years since I read it so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but that scene somewhat disturbed me. Guenwhyfar was a thoroughly despicable character and I sort of wanted her to die (even if it's not canon with the legends /tongue.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':P' />), but I couldn't help but feel sympathy after her rape, and so it left me pondering: why am I ok with wishing she'd die, but I am perturbed by her rape? Hmm. Go figure.


I thought Guenwhyfar was Drizzt Do'Urden's panther...

Death is a dignified, tidy end to a character. Joe Abercrombie actually said it was a lazy one, and I tend to agree.

#15 Alexia

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 12:35 PM

Hah. Well, some have argued that Cersei was raped by Robert (not sure I completely agree, it's only rape by modern standards, and since Cersei loathes Robert and would never, ever want to sleep with him yet Robert is king and needs heirs that would mean every single sex act they've done would be rape... kind of a stretch here), and then you have statutory rape with Dany and Drogo but again that's only through our modern eyes.


No, its not. Rape is rape. It's only illegal by our modern standards. To say nothing of the fact that Robert would get drunk and physically hurt her during sex. And Dany was too young for marriage by the eyes of her own society AND her own brother. /smile.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':)' />

Doesn't Guenwhyfar get raped by some brutish soldier at some point in The Mists of Avalons? It's been over ten years since I read it so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but that scene somewhat disturbed me. Guenwhyfar was a thoroughly despicable character and I sort of wanted her to die (even if it's not canon with the legends /tongue.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':P' />), but I couldn't help but feel sympathy after her rape, and so it left me pondering: why am I ok with wishing she'd die, but I am perturbed by her rape? Hmm. Go figure.


She does and the scene was very disturbing (Mordred, I think his name was). I actually liked Gwenhyfar very much as a character - her beliefs don't mesh well with mine at all but she was very well drawn and had a lot of depth.

Anyway. I really don't like reading about rape in fiction. Brienne was not so bad because nothing actually happened and it was an attempt at portraying realism. On the other hand, that tavern girl that Gregor and his men raped made me feel sick and it happened off camera. If it has a purpose and isn't pervasive, fine. I was considering reading the Prince of Nothing books and am really hesitant because I've heard there's a lot of rape in those books.

#16 Chataya de Fleury

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 12:46 PM

I was considering reading the Prince of Nothing books and am really hesitant because I've heard there's a lot of rape in those books.


Yes, you may want to stay away from that. The first chapter begins with an older man raping a (male) child. It goes downhill from there.

Despite the praise I've read/heard for the philosophical grounding and the writing of the series, I just can't bring myself to get into the books because of the violence, specifically violence towards women and children. I stopped at Book 2. Had to skim parts of Book 1 because of said violence.

#17 LugaJetboyGirl-irra

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 12:51 PM

I'm sick of rape being used as an obstacle that the male protaganist has to overcome in order to gain the love of his sweetheart. I don't care what you say, Wastrel, it's overdone and its cheap.

For example, rape is a lame plot element in Peter Brett's The Warded Man:
Spoiler


Geesh. And no offense to Paedar, but

Spoiler


Those poor poor, women. They just need a man to heal them.

Edited by LugaJetBoyGirl, 28 January 2010 - 12:53 PM.


#18 Imagica

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 01:31 PM

Speaking about the argument of "it happens in real life, so it must happen in fiction" - well, there are a lot of things that happen in real life, and even more that don't, that appear in fiction, especially fantasy. It's possible to create a believable (and even dark) world/story without resorting to such things, imho. Or at least doing it to background characters, like in ASOIAF (I've never actually considered Dany/Drogo sex as true rape, but of course, you mileage may vary).

And you really better avoid Prince of Nothing. For God's sake, one female character gets repeatedly raped for half of the book (and then I stopped reading). It's just disgusting.

#19 Maithanet

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 01:39 PM

No, its not. Rape is rape. It's only illegal by our modern standards. To say nothing of the fact that Robert would get drunk and physically hurt her during sex. And Dany was too young for marriage by the eyes of her own society AND her own brother.


Well I'm not going to touch the Cersei example, since I believe she would consider it rape, or close enough as to make no difference. But I think calling Dany+Drogo rape is pretty much dictated by your modern viewpoint. Dany didn't consider it rape, and neither did Drogo, and they are the players that matter. I don't know exactly what society would be "Dany's own" at the start of GoT, but in Westeros getting married off very young seems pretty common among royalty at least (see Sansa+Joffrey, Margaery+Tommen). Viserys arranged the marriage along with Illyrio, so I don't see how he saw her as "too young", and who cares what that little shitstain thinks anyway?

Oh and Wastrel, good post. But you might want to edit it, because part of it was lost. You are talking about a British Navy quote, but there is not quote.

Edited by Maithanet, 28 January 2010 - 01:41 PM.


#20 ambyr

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 01:41 PM

In theory, I think there are times when it makes sense to include rape, or threat of rape, in fiction. In practice, I feel like I trip over it in every book I read. I know this isn't a true; a quick count tells me that rape or threat of rape (RoToR?) shows up as an at least semi-significant plot point in 22 of the last 61 books I've read. And most of those weren't badly done, though in a few it struck me as wildly unnecessary. (As a side note, I rarely read books in a "military" sort of setting, so the argument "rape is a commonplace during war," while true, is fairly meaningless to me.)

On the other hand, when it's used poorly, it makes me want to (and sometimes actually) throw the book across the room. The "rape as character motivation" trope has been brought up already, so I'll throw out another one that I've run into several times recently that exasperates me: "poor male protagonist is falsely accused of rape by conniving woman after engaging in consensual sex." In the cases where I've read it, the authors appear to be using the trope to try to gain audience sympathy for the hero. Trust me, authors: there are better ways.