Perspective and Purpose: Shock vs. Shock Value

Because I’m an egotistical writer, I spend far more time than I should looking for new reviews of 22 Scars. Most of them typically appear on Goodreads or Amazon, and for the most part, I enjoy finding new perspectives on my book; whether the person liked it or not, it’s fascinating to see what people thought of my words, and whether they took them the way I intended or not.

I’ll be honest: not everyone likes 22 Scars. A lot of people are put off by the jumping perspectives and non-linear timeline; others by the often graphic depictions of abuse and self-harm. Yet others find that I captured the dismal, bleak darkness of depression well, and that I didn’t overly romanticize or glorify cutting and suicidal thoughts. What I find particularly interesting is that there aren’t many people who don’t have an opinion one way or the other; people either love it or hate it.

When I wrote the story, my goal was to showcase the terrifying numbness that comes from deep, catatonic depression, and to explore the impact of depression on not only the sufferer, but on those that live with and love them. There’s a reason for the jumping perspectives; there’s a reason for showing self-harm in such graphic detail. If anything, I would hope that someone who cuts, or is thinking of cutting, might read 22 Scars and realize it really isn’t all that great – and the effect on the people around you is terrible and destructive.

In most cases, I think people either get this, or they don’t. And that’s okay – I knew going into it that not everyone would follow what I intended, and not everyone would enjoy it. I knew some people would be deeply triggered, and that some might not even be able to get through the book at all. I expected this.

But I came across a review the other day from a YouTuber that put things into a different perspective for me – one I really hadn’t considered before. The reviewer – Tali Wren – quite fairly states that she was one of those that was unable to finish the book, but for a reason I hadn’t considered before. To her, it seemed that the only detailed descriptions in the book (and she does say they’re well-described) are reserved for scenes of abuse and self-harm, and that it almost seems like I was doing it purely for the shock value of those scenes.

I’ll be honest: I’d never thought of it this way before. I certainly didn’t intend for any scene in the book to be shocking purely for the sake of shock itself; however, I will admit that I definitely wanted certain scenes to be shocking. In fact, some of the self-harm scenes, as I was writing them, needed to be as shocking as possible, with the deliberate intent of unsettling the reader. But it was never for the sake of shock – rather, it was to ensure that people had the chance to see the true harm of these behaviors, and to understand that there is absolutely nothing glamorous about self-harm. It’s a terrifyingly harmful addiction, a behavior that can feel impossible to stop and yet can quite literally kill people – often unintentionally.

But at the same time, I understand the point Tali Wren is making. Read from a certain perspective, it can feel, perhaps, like shlock horror – like I’m trying to be as ‘gross’ as possible, or that I’m trying to deliberately disgust the reader, à la Stephen King.

This certainly wasn’t my intent. I never wanted 22 Scars to be seen as a cheap thrill, or as though I’m using self-harm as a vehicle for graphic horror. The entire book is literally about self-harm, and to that extent, I apologize to any reader that thought this is what I was doing.

To be clear: I live daily with depression. I self-harmed extensively for many years, and bear literally hundreds of scars all over my body as a result. I will never be rid of the memory of that destructive behavior. This is what I wanted to show in my book. Yes, I want to shock – shock self-harmers into realizing the destructiveness of their behavior, and shock those around them into realizing what their loved ones might be doing. But at the same time, I never wanted anyone to think it was purely for the shock value itself. That, I feel, demeans the purpose of the book, and degrades the entire mental health community.

Tali, I apologize that you saw the book this way. It wasn’t my intent. Perhaps one day you’ll give it another chance, but you certainly don’t have to. For everyone else, please take care of yourself, take care of your loved ones, and if you self-harm or believe you might want to – seek help. There is help to be had.

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