One of the great things about both comics and prose fiction is that, in Europe and America at least, there’s no censorship. Unlike films – which usually have to get the approval of a censorship board before they’re released – we thankfully allow our authors and comic writers their full right to freedom of expression.
Yet, at the same time, if you’ve read enough comics and novels – you’ll know that some of them use exactly the same kinds of tricks that film-makers do to get stuff past the censors. In other words, they sometimes leave things “offscreen” and imply that events have happened, without actually showing them.
For example, many TV shows will depict gruesome deaths by just showing blood spattering onto a wall or a window, without actually showing the gruesome death itself. Likewise, the classic literary example of this sort of thing is of a writer “closing the bedroom door” just before two characters spend a passionate night together
Anyway, since censorship isn’t really an issue for writers and comic creators, I thought that I’d look at three of the most obvious reasons why this sort of thing turns up in books and comics:
1) Realism: It’s a fact that, in real life, we’ll thankfully only hear about a lot more horrific or romantic events than we’ll ever actually directly see or experience. Thankfully, real life is a very uneventful thing.
I mean, unless you’re an extremely unlucky person – even if you only watch the news on TV once, then you’ll have heard about more horrific events second-hand than you’ll ever actually experience in your whole life.
Likewise, although you’ll probably have a few romantic encounters in your life, you’ll probably hear far more other people talking about their love lives (or about other people’s love lives).
So, although fictional characters’ lives should obviously be more dramatic than most people’s real lives are – it’s only realistic that they’re probably will hear about more things second-hand than they will actually see or experience.
2) Complexity: Generally speaking, certain things are more difficult to write and/or draw well than other things. Sex and death may well be the two things that fuel all forms of creativity, but both things can be surprisingly difficult to describe or depict in a compelling or realistic way.
So, if a writer knows that they’re laughably bad at writing about one of these things, it’s often better to just imply that it’s happened than it is to write a clumsily-written scene that will make your audience either laugh or cringe.
The same thing is true for art too. It’s a fact that some things are easier to draw than others – scenes involving, say, gruesome violence, require an artist to know how to realistically draw people in a variety of different positions (eg: swinging an axe, firing a gun etc…). Plus, for example, an artist also has to know the right amount of blood to add to the violent scene (and, yes, less is often more when it comes to including blood in comics and artwork).
In other words, if you don’t have the abilities to do the scene in question justice, then it’s often better to just leave most of it “offscreen”.
3) Imagination: Generally speaking, if you don’t show something in a story or a comic, then your audience’s imaginations will have to “fill the gap”. There’s a good chance that your audience’s imaginations will come up with far more graphic images than the ones you were probably thinking of when you were writing your novel or comic.
In other words, sometimes leaving things “offscreen” can be a way to make them more horrific or erotic. After all, if you just hint that – say- two extremely attractive characters spent a passionate night together, then your audience is going to have to imagine what it looked like. Chances are, they’re probably going to embellish it a bit because, well, it’s a fun thing to imagine.
Likewise, if you leave some of the most horrific parts of your horror story to your audience’s imaginations, then they’re probably going to assume that – since it looks like it was too shocking for you to write about- that it’s probably about ten times worse than what you actually imagined. And, since it’s hard not to imagine horrific things after they’ve been vaguely described to you, your audience’s minds are probably going to be filled with far more horrific images than you could ever create yourself.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂