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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I'm tired of this topic.  We've had it before, and there is no way of winning it for either side.  People who enjoy reading and writing about violence will continue to do so and defend their choice, and others will just as stubbornly tell you that excess turns them off.

As a writer I'm not in either camp.  For me the test is believability.  The crimes that occur in my books are ordinary ones and there is a believable number of them.  I don't write thrillers in their narrowest sense.  In other words, it isn't the violence and repetition of the crimes that drives the books but any number of other or additional things. 

But sociopaths are interested in such subjects, read and watch them, and may well be stimulated to imitate them.

"That is an error in science known as 'sampling on the dependent variable,' which is akin to asking hard drug abusers if their first drug experience involved cigarettes or marijuana.  This doesn't prove that such chemical substances are "gateway drugs," because there are plenty who have used them and don't go on to use more illicit drugs.  A simpler way to expose this fallacy is by asking murderers if they've ever eaten broccoli.  Just because almost every known psychopath has eaten broccoli, that doesn't mean that broccoli is the cause of psychosis."

This article explains it much better than I could:


Thanks Jude, great point.

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.

It's not only demographics. There are many factors that affect the rate of violent crimes. I've never seen any data, however, to support the supposition that violence in the media is one of them.

Well we all know there are copycat crimes spread by the media but the only studies I've seen on the subject have to do with TV, which increases rates of violence among children and adolescents.

There were serial killers who predated TV and other forms of modern media, that predated books, probably, and they can draw their sick inspiration from a Sears & Roebuck catalog, anything, really.

One could argue that the graphic depiction of crimes in novels aids normal people in dealing with the worst of humanity. Perhaps a certain degree of desensitization is protective.

One could argue that the graphic depiction of crimes in novels aids normal people in dealing with the worst of humanity. Perhaps a certain degree of desensitization is protective.

Maybe so.

There's something going on beyond prurient interest. Otherwise I don't think the violence in books and on TV would be so widespread.

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?

One of the most violent movies I've ever seen was a 1991 Hong Kong film titled Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky, based on a Japanese Manga series. It makes Pulp Fiction look like a cozy.

And one of the most violent books I've ever read was a Japanese novel titled Battle Royale. It preceded The Hunger Games by several years, and it's basically the same premise, but Battle Royale is WAY more graphic in its depiction of the violence. I've heard the film version is bloody as hell too.

So if violent media precipitates violent behavior, Japan should be the most dangerous place on the planet.

As far as this reader goes, I don't read crime fiction for the violence at all. I wouldn't care if there were no violence to speak of---or at least none described.   I certainly don't need a lot of graphic detail to draw me in.  I read mystery/crime fiction for the PUZZLE. How the detective (or other protagonist) goes about working out the solution. I read for the suspense that process generates, never for blood and guts. 

So you don't care anything for the characters, Caroline?

Actually, I do, and I have some pretty strong preferences about those.   But I don't choose first to read a mystery for the characters alone, or for character analysis.    I choose mysteries because they present a puzzle. (I want to know not only who committed the crime, but why).    If it's a very good puzzle, and if the characters (and the setting)  are interesting and believable, then I'm happy.  For that matter,  I also like reading poetry, though for somewhat different reasons---language and insights that alter my perceptions of the world. There the puzzle is an existential one, and   character  is imbedded in voice.  

But...hm....perhaps all really good puzzles are "existential."  Especially murder! 

I once read a comment from a British mystery writer (her name I forget now) and she said that mysteries weren't about murder, but fractured relationships. I think most people are interested in violence in that it's one of the extremes of human behavior, and they wish to know what causes it, what it's like to deal with it. Only a small percentage are attracted to violence for titillation's sake. (I hope I'm right.)


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