Is Graphic violence becoming a modern day trend in thriller and mystery writing?

I read Writing Mysteries, A handbook by the mystery writers of America and I would like to have opinions on Jeremiah Healy's rules of violence in a private investigator stories. Though my books are not private investigator types nor are they hard boiled mysteries, I believe  most of the advice in that book pertains to mysteries and thrillers as well.

 

What do you think that "...there must be some violence but no graphic scenes of child abuse, rape and animal cruelty." Even though these things exist in real life and mystey and thriller writting emulates reality.

 

As of late, I've read plenty of stories that violate this rule and quite frankly, thought they were more realistic and I disagree with Jessica Mann and Jeremiah Healy.

 

My novel INSTANT MESSENGER for instance is a fiction based on real life serial killers, and I believe I owe it to my audience, the true crime lovers, to give them a front row seat of what happens to victims of serial murder, violence and rape behind closed doors.

 

I quote one article bellow.

 

·  Amelia Hill

·  The Observer, Sunday 25 October 2009

·  Article history

"Jessica Mann, an award-winning author who reviews crime fiction for the Literary Review, has said that an increasing proportion of the books she is sent to review feature male perpetrators and female victims in situations of "sadistic misogyny". "Each psychopath is more sadistic than the last and his victims' sufferings are described in detail that becomes ever more explicit, as young women are imprisoned, bound, gagged, strung up or tied down, raped, sliced, burned, blinded, beaten, eaten, starved, suffocated, stabbed, boiled or buried alive," she said."

 

What do you think? Is mystery becoming more realistic and the meek should either cope with it or, exercise their right to freedom and simply not read what is quickly becoming a trend—realism?

 

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What do you think that "...there must be some violence but no graphic scenes of child abuse, rape and animal cruelty." Even though these things exist in real life and mystey and thriller writting emulates reality.

I recently devoted an entire post/thread to the question of graphic (and gratuitous) animal cruelty in crime fiction, but I would say that it applies to other descriptions of extreme or graphic violence as well. Where to draw the line? Gratuitous is one operative word, but there seems to be a lot of disagreement on what constitutes a "gratuitous" description or scene. For my money, any incident that is tossed in for sensation's sake is bushwhacking the reader.

In real life, yes, there is often grisly violence, and if we are going to read mysteries, shouldn't we be prepared to swallow it in fiction? But people DO read mysteries for entertainment---we are NOT in forensics school.
It is not always necessary for a writer to go into great detail to convey the horror of a particular crime. And usually there is no way to forewarn a reader that between the pages of any given book there may be something they would prefer NOT to read.

But some readers, if they encounter a very graphic description of violence, will simply not read anything else by that author. I gave up on Patricia Cornwell for just that reason---the murders she described became ever more violent and bizarre---beyond the pale.

It seems to me that except for the murders and mutilations committed by truly sick individuals, serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and BTK, even real life murders are more the "garden variety" shootings and stabbings or strangulations. So I guess it also depends on the kind of murder you're writing about.

But note well: some very fine mystery writers have managed to build reputations and garner many readers WITHOUT resorting to stomach-turning realism.

I think readers like to know what they can expect from a given author. Then they can avoid the ones who employ the graphic-description device, and choose something else. It has nothing to do with being meek or not meek. I'm a fairly assertive person, and I abhor violence. I will accept it as the premise for a murder mystery, but I don't want to WALLOW in it.

The thing is, many people think they can "take" fictional violence, that they've got the "stomach" for it, that is doesn't "bother" them, but if somehow we had to see the real thing, I doubt most of us could stomach it.
Cornwell indeed is a good example of the trend, and I admire her for the way she does it. I would agree with you and add that gratuitous violence is violence that does not advance or add to the plot. There was a time when hanging on the basketball hoop (dunking), or gesticulating victoriously when one made an Eagle or birdie during golf was considered gratuitous and non gentleman like—it’s now expected. I believe in the same way, readers are evolving to decipher and analyze a crime not just the scene, but the manner in which it is committed.

Yes, we are not in forensic school, but the trend lately is that we are facing a much more “educated” and blood thirsty audience. This is reflected in our society in many ways, for instance, jurors in violent crime cases are no longer satisfied by "He raped her" but base their verdicts on the gritty details, the psychological "how he rapped her" to determine between things like aggravated rape, gross sexual assault, mental state of the perpetrator who might be insane because he did something they can trace to an "insane state of mind" and so on to determine the possible verdict between months to years, to life imprisonment and death of the perpetrator. Heck, juries now expect DNA and criminal profiling evidence in capital murder cases.

What I am trying to say is that, some writers and critiques do not want to face the fact that the reader is evolving and the days of Agatha Christie, like the good old Basketball and Golf days of the sixties are becoming extinct.
TV shows like Criminal Minds, Numbers, CSI, Most Evil, American Justice, just to name a few that have more gritty details and realistic forensic facts have replaced the old Murder She Wrote and Inspector Derrick type hardboiled detective shows.
You walk a fine line. "Graphic" may be necessary to the story. "Gratuitous" is never appropriate. Thrillers, particularly the serial killer type, are very difficult to handle tastefully or with respect to the unplanned impact on some readers. Women make good victims because they are weaker than men, and because the sexual overtones make the male stronger and the aggressor. This is true in real life as well. But it can become a cliche, and when you see the gradual building of ever more horrible scenarios instead of a careful building of a profile, then you know the author is more interested in selling books than anything else.
Boy! you hit it right on!
What I am trying to say is that, some writers and critiques do not want to face the fact that the reader is evolving and the days of Agatha Christie, like the good old Basketball and Golf days of the sixties are becoming extinct.

I would question whether this is evolution or desensitization. The more you become accustomed to something, such as a drug, the more you need of it to get the same response. For some people, violence is that drug, and that's true for both the real world and the fictional ones.

I'm not a fan of Agatha Christie, and I'm not a fan of fluffy cozies. I also am not a fan of graphic violence, any more than I'm a fan of graphic sex. I had a lot more that I wrote here originally, but I'm not interested in starting a fight. I will simply state that I disagree that the 'realism' that you mention is taking over mystery fiction, or that readers will not get the horror of a scene without the sound of screams and chainsaws, and bits of blood and flesh flying everywhere. (If you visualized that scene when you read that, you just demonstrated that you don't need the graphic descriptions to imagine what happened.) There is a point where these scenes become torture porn, and I would disagree that this should become the accepted norm in mystery fiction.

Meekness has nothing to do with it. Some people just don't enjoy reading graphic violence.
There is a point where these scenes become torture porn, and I would disagree that this should become the accepted norm in mystery fiction.

Not a bad way to describe it, actually. Perhaps some readers actually do need that in order to "feel alive," as though they are experiencing something real.

I would question whether this is evolution or desensitization.

Well put, Pepper.
I can only speak for myself but I write what the story calls for. Different stories call for different things. I've written detailed raped scenes and detailed murder scenes because they fit the story. I like a book to be realistic and for the author to not take a walk-around-the-bush approach in a story. There are millions of crime writers. Some go that extra level and some don't but I will always write what I want. It's not my responsibility to what others think about violence vs how much etc. Violence is a part of life and if a person can't read about it, then they don't need to read crime fiction or mysteries because most times there will be a level of violence.

It's a matter of readers' taste but me as a writer, I can only please the people who read the types of books I write. I am not out to please everyone else and I don't really care what someone thinks about violence in books. Authors should not be sissies and write with the thought of repercussions in mind.

Real writers write. They don't sit around brooding over what others think and most don't care. Some of the greatest crime writers today are VERY violent and I'd argue that the measures they take to be unique and realistic is probably why their writing is rising above a level of many others.

But writers shouldn't care about this if they intend to stay creative and do what's right for the story. If we did that, we might as well be puppets if we let folks dictate what we write. You can't please everyone. People who don't like violence can read cozies and romance. But for others, there are plenty of hard-core crime fiction as well.

Violence is real and I couldn't see how a crime fiction story would be entertaining if it wasn't violent at all. There are certain levels of violence but the point is, the writer needs to write what they want and feel and not worry what others think.

Best Wishes!

http://www.stacy-deanne.net
I can only speak for myself but I write what the story calls for.

But, Stacy, YOU are the one who determines what the story calls for.

the writer needs to write what they want and feel and not worry what others think.


Then you better know who your readers are.

People who don't like violence can read cozies and romance. But for others, there are plenty of hard-core crime fiction as well.

Please, let's not insult the intelligence of readers who don't happen to like excessive descriptions of blood and guts; that doesn't automatically consign us to the tea-party table! No, we don't have to read cozies or romance. I have no problem with hard-core, gritty mysteries. But this is, to some extent, about taste.

We don't always have to be subjected to blood-thirsty extremes, just because some writer gets off on sensationalism and makes the excuse that it's "realistic." That was the point of the original post, as I read it. And by a truly skilled writer, violence can be implied without being described in minute and gory detail.

Certainly, I can read other books. And I will. There's no shortage.
As readers, we all have the choice of not reading something or not buying something. But I don't judge other writers on how much violence or something they write. I judge them on how well the writing was and how entertaining it was. If the story calls for a more violent scene, why cut corners and not display that? Why not heighten your readers' emotions to that next level? But like I said, it's not an author's responsibility to write a certain way just so they won't tick folks off. Please. If we all start doing that, why write? The same thing about being politically correct. Authors need to just write the DARN story and stop trying to provide some type of inner lesson in every story they write. That's not the job of crime fiction. Crime fiction's main job is to entertain and no matter what level of violence a writer uses, if it doesn't entertain, it falls short either way.

Best Wishes!
Amen to that
I've been following this for a while now and did some thinking about the violence in my books. In several cases, I can isolate scenes simply because they make up the prologue to the book. Those prologues were written to move the crime to the forefront of the reader's mind and to save me the trouble of constructing a first chapter with a body in it. And yes, I was probably also thinking that I didn't want anyone to make the mistake to think the book a cozy. That danger always exists with historical novels.
As to the types of violence: in one book a man shoots down a young woman just as she catches her child in her arms, killing both; in another a woman decapitates another woman because her lover chickens out; in a third a blind woman is tracked by an unknown assailant who ends up killing her with his knife in a rather bloody scene; and then there is the party on a lake where someone keels over after eating a special dish. The levels of graphic detail aren't all the same, but it strikes me now that in each case the character of the victim was as important to me as the character of the murderer. If you use violence, make it mean something!
That danger always exists with historical novels.

I.J., I have so far read one of your books, and have two others on my "to read" table. The way in which you handle violence seems to me perfectly in keeping with your story, with the period--no stranger to extreme and brutal violence-- in which your novels are set, and the way you present it is neither gratuitous nor "sensationally " graphic.. I'd say you have used great economy of means in presenting it as you do. We can visualize all we need to, without dwelling on it. And, you also balance the violence with passages that are really poetic in their descriptions of people and landscape.

Probably the most "violent" book I have ever read s Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," which is a kind of anti-myth about the history of this country and the making of the West; a prologue to what "we" would become. Some of the violence makes your hair stand on end. A good friend of mine didn't think I had the stomach for it, but I did---I read it all, because it is great work of literature. The violence DID mean something. And it was balanced by beauty of the highest literary calibre. (The same friend, who is a poet herself, said that McCarthy writes like "St. John the Divine."

And then, there's the Iliad. Many violent deaths, some described "graphically," but not one meaningless one. Every slain warrior had a name, and a history, and "went down to the House of Death." Respect.

So I make my exceptions. But there's a big difference between---as you say, violence that means something, and pure sensationalism. Yes.

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