20
$\begingroup$

I don't see how can be used for world building. The tag text says:

For questions about the application of mental or physical suffering, usually without the intent to kill.

I'm trying to think of ways torturing could be used for building a world, but nothing comes to mind. I can only think of it as a plot instrument, so questions sometimes get votes to be closed as story-based. I have also checked some questions and I'm starting to think most of them would be just as acceptable (or not) for the site without the tag.

Should we burninate it?

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ My reflections written here worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/a/7932/30492 apply, mutatis mutandis, also here $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jul 21 '20 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ +1 because I can't easily see a way to word the description/wiki to keep people focused on worldbuilding, which means it serves more as an encouragement for storybuilding questions. To add to the discussion, see here. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 21 '20 at 20:00
17
$\begingroup$

It is true that we've gotten a lot of torture & violence queries of late that seem to run story based, but this is no reason to eliminate the tag. If anything, we're just demonstrating that the forum's system works by closing off topic queries.

So, what about torture itself? Well, it has long been a part of jurisprudence. For long, it was considered both a valid means of obtaining confessions & eliciting evidence and also a valid form of punishment itself. Torture also plays a part in various coming of age rituals, initiation rituals, magical rituals, and religious & spiritual practices. It is thus part of the very culture.

WB.SE exists for the purpose of helping writers and geopoets build up their fictional worlds. It's not all bunnies and flowers. Sometimes the flowers bite back, slowly digesting the bunnies in the process. In other words, well made worlds delve into the questions of evil as well as good; and also into the mindsets of peoples & cultures that turn blind eyes to objective evil and even actively engage in it for seemingly noble purposes.

We've also dealt with this query before. Not tag-specific, mind, but in general terms:

We "torture" ourselves with this tag because it is a legitimate line of inquiry for any writer, geopoet, game designer, or hobbyist to delve into. E.g., two of the stories I published at Universe Factory couldn't be written without consideration of the arts of torture and execution in the service of Justice.

We have tags in the first place, for those who use them, to organise queries and help people search by topic. It's my contention that the tag ought to be kept as it is every bit as vital an aspect of worldbuilding as creature design.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$
  • The Book of the New Sun series by Gene Wolfe. The main character is a journeyman torturer. The Claw of the Conciliator (second book in the series) won the Nebula award.

  • Under Jurisdiction (link goes to Amazon) series by Susan R. Matthews. The main character is a Ship's Inquisitor; and yes, he tortures people.

  • The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie. One of the main characters is a torturer in the employ of the Union's Inquisition.

  • Closet Land, a 1991 film by Radha Bharadwaj, with Madeleine Stowe (as the prisoner) and Alan Rickman (as the torturer). (A little bit too much on the artsy side, I would say.)

  • The Hangman's Daughter series by Oliver Pötzsch. The main character's father is, well, a medieval hangman and yes, he tortures witches.

$\endgroup$
9
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Is torture an element of world building in these books, or plot? $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Jul 21 '20 at 19:45
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ I'm with @Renan on this one. The fact that a character in a story tortures people doesn't make torture an attribute of the world. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 21 '20 at 19:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Renan: Just start reading The Shadow of the Torturer. I'd say it's a rather important plot element... More than sufficiently important to require research. I don't know about you, by my reaction to the barrage of childish questions about improbable ways to torture people was to be at the same time disgusted and dismayed by the complete lack of research. After all, George Ryley Scott's History of Torture through the Ages is available for free at Archive.org, and various modern handbooks and reports are not at all hard to find. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 21 '20 at 19:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Renan: I have trouble distinguishing a major plot element from an attribute of the world. In works which have a plot, the world at large tends to be illustrated by major plot elements, doesn't it? Not everybody is able to write purely descriptive plotless works like J. R. R. T. To give a well-known example, is the relationship between Briseis, Achilles and Agamemnon an attribute of the world in the Iliad, or is it a mere plot element? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 21 '20 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ "...a rather important plot element..." That's the problem, isn't it? If people were asking questions like, "I have the following well-described government that executes people in the following way, is that realistic?" it would be on-topic. Plot elements are off-topic. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 21 '20 at 19:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JBH: That's lawyering and you know it. Even the Romans eventually realized that the rituals required by the law were immaterial and only the intent mattered, so that, for example, the ownership of a mancipable good could be transferred without actually requiring the acquisitor to strike a pair of scales with a piece of bronze. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 21 '20 at 20:02
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I disagree (good example, BTW). The question that triggered all this was, basically, "how do I cause the most pain?" I commented that it felt like a gray-region question to me, but I ultimately VTCd because the Q was about the act of an individual and not the presence or implication of torture in the society. Actions-of-single-character questions have always been considered off-topic here and these tags tend to be magnets for character-action questions. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 21 '20 at 20:08
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @JBH: I agree that the question in question was off-topic. I think that there is a place on this site for good questions about torture and execution, but unfortunately most (maybe all of the) questions with these subjects I have seen in the last two years or so were very poorly thought. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 21 '20 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't seem to answer/address the question of "should we remove the [torture] tag". $\endgroup$ – TylerH Aug 5 '20 at 13:36
-2
$\begingroup$

As unpleasant as the subject may be, there are plenty of worldbuilding applications for it. Perhaps it's not obvious if you're assuming the victim is human or of familiar physiology, but if you're talking about torturing a silicon-based individual, or someone who evolved on a liquid ammonia planet, or a supernatural being of some sort, the worldbuilding jumps to the fore.

And what about torture in unlikely places? "My hero needs to torture a spy aboard the ISS, what options would be available?"

$\endgroup$
-2
$\begingroup$

I think world building and story are often entangled. Either looking for a world building detail to explain/justify parts of the story or coming up with backstory to justify your world (building).

Let’s for example take the crucifix, a symbol found on all kinds of religious items in the western middle ages. A question could be “how could a religious heretic be tortured and executed publicly in a most painful way”. Another example being the eagle in the flag of Mexico, deriving from the story how the Aztecs determined where to settle down. This is backstory, but not part of the plot. Instead it is needed to provide depth and coherent detail to the world (instead of just asking “what could a country put on its flag?” or “what symbol could religious followers wear on necklaces?”)

The other case is world building detail to explain/justify parts of the story: Stories are typically grounded within their world. Let’s say I want my protagonist to (get) torture(d) at some point in my story. In that case the country has an attitude and legal regulations towards torture, which is probably somehow connected to their morals and religion. Or I simply seek historic connections - on what point in history which forms of torture were used?


I think worldbuilding stack is a place to ask for help about aspects of your fictional world that you lack the knowledge for solving yourself. Many story-related questions can only be answered because of the hive mind of world building experts who provide scientific knowledge or knowledge of the human nature. And those experts are here, in the world building forum, not some storytelling site (is there even a storytelling stack?).
Even a question like "how could my protagonist gut a victim to keep him alive for hours" relies more of that scientific (real) world(building) background knowledge than storytelling stuff (which in my opinion is the three act structure or how to construct interesting protagonists).


Just don't forget - everyone came here searching for help about things they couldn't solve themselves.

$\endgroup$
0

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .