I pulled no punches in my latest thriller SNUFF TAG 9, but some people seem to think the violence is too graphic. I don't think it's gratuitous, but I have to admit I probably crossed the border into horror a couple of times. Any thoughts on this? As a thriller author, how far should one go in graphically depicting the violent scenes?

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Funny, how the author is often identified with the protagonist.

In some ways this relates to your previous question about the quality of the writing - are you asking how much is too much for the quality of the book or for the sales potential?

If it's gratuitous, then the quality is affected. I think most of us would agree on that. What I'm more interested in knowing is the threshold for the average thriller reader. This book straddles the fence between mystery/thriller and horror in some places.

Sure, but context affects the level of gratuitousness. I liked "American Psycho" quite a bit (though the movie is awful) but it was a satire and not a thriller. I think the thriller category has to be especially careful about its level of titillation (or gratuitousness) because as the name says, it's designed to thrill. Which isn't the same as titillate, of course, I understand that.

Sociopaths don't need media or pop culture to come up with crazy ideas.


That is naive.

There's room for everyone. I will go quite far, but if there is a reason. I don't do gratuitous for the sake of it. I don't find violence appealing, but I do find it necessary in crime stories. And once you've read True Crime all fiction tends to pale in comparison.

For the how much is too much question: listen, it's your book and you are the audience. If your character's are well drawn out and the reader is hooked on them then something horrible happening to them in a graphic way could be effective. If it happens to a minor character and is used as a plot device, then you could be showing the raised stakes for the main character. If you are doing it to desinsitize one to the violence in the story like your character may feel, then that is cool too. If you are going to a gross out context, go for it.  I don't see a negative. Just be aware that it isn't for everyone.


As far as media fueling crime a killers, I don't agree. The first book that should be destroyed for a long history of group and personal violence should be the bible if we were all to agree on that. Criminals and killers are developed though a combination of nature, nurture, and psychology. Often the victems of greed, hate, and delusion. This has been a cnstant before books and movies and music. Often a killer will distance himself from his crimes by saying media made him do it, but that is because he is not ready to face the screwed up shit inside of him. It's all choice for them. They can deal with it or not. :-)

Good points, M.E.

I think as a nation we have been somewhat desensitized to violence, mostly because of the news media, going back to network coverage of the daily horrors of the Vietnam war. But FBI statistics indicate a steady decrease in violent crime over at least the past decade, while the violence in books and movies and TV and video games has become increasingly graphic, so to say that violence in fiction causes violence in real life is, if nothing else, statistically inaccurate.

The slight decline in violent crime in the U.S. is insignificant when you see that our murder rate is 4 times that of China, and more than 10 times that of Japan, Korea, and most European countries. Besides FBI statistics don't break it down to particularly perverse crimes.

It's usually demographics that drive these ups and downs. The peak period for the commission of crimes is 18-24 years of age, so my guess is there's a temporary dip in that population. Another big factor at times: changes in reporting methodology.

By the way it's hard to trust any statistics out of China. The government is very self-serving.

There's a question that needs to be asked here: is the violence content of popular media greater here than in the other countries cited?  

Our violent crime level, while improving, is shameful. On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons for it, not the least of which is America's tradition of violence and the difference in gun control laws between us and the rest of the world. Media violence--while I do believe efforts must be made to keep from exposing young children to too much of it--is a convenient whipping boy for arguments that son't want to look at, or do anything about, the deeper causes.

The best example is the zombie craze that has been going on in the last ten years. Althought, I think Romero's Dawn of the Dead stated it best. His purpose was to make the film disgusting the first 30 minutes to numb us to the setting. Then by the end we, like the characters are desensitized. The point being that the outside world can numb us, the daily grind of surviving our times, and shutting down that part of our brain that prevents us from violence as a way of life.

True, we do live in a violent world, as crime writers who have our ear to the news can very well see that. Last year in brooklyn we had this hasidic (sp) jew kidnap a boy and when the boy's face got all over the news started to dismember him. He did it out of panic and fear. I doubt any fictional media influenced him. He was thinking in practicalities as framed with his diseased mind.


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