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 find myself agreeing with the British writer.  It's what the violence does to people and what has provoked it that is of interest to me.  I'm less interested in the coping mechanisms, except in so far as they, too, relate to character.

But it is also true that people are attracted to violent death because they get a vicarious enjoyment from it, not the least of which is the fact that it's happening to someone else. That is why the Romans had amphitheaters to watch people die horribly.  That is why public executions were well attended, people bringing picnics and the whole family.  That is also why crowds gather whenever there has been an accident or a murder scene.

Human beings are flawed. 

Human beings are flawed.

Major-league flawed! 

But some fight it. :)

:)  Apparently not many when it comes to books.

The fact that it's fiction, no matter how graphic, somehow removes the guilt. Note how women, traditionally the most straight-laced sex, have taken to buying and reading pornographic novels when in the past they shuddered at men's magazines.

Apparently not many when it comes to books.

But who will ever know? :)  And if it does no harm....people seem to need their "guilty pleasure," perhaps because life can be so dull and unsatisfying for so many.

As for women being straight-laced---that's only a cultural "construct." :) When sexuality is repressed for too long---watch out!  Feminism helped open the floodgates.  

Yet people can still read porn and behave like prudes. It's strange to think that women would read this kind of stuff when it has traditionally degraded women and made them into sex objects. But maybe I'm just not up on contemporary porn---perhaps it's the women who are in control, and the men who are the objects? 

I've said before, I am sure, that I have a hard time with excessive violence in crime fiction. I got so turned off by the sadism in Val McDermid's books that I simply cannot read her. The same thing happened with Patricia Cornwell. Maybe I'm just too "old fashioned."  :)

As for straight-laced women:  yes, it may be a cultural construct, possibly created by women, but the fact is that it is their public persona for most women. And let's face it, women aren't very tolerant of other women.

Reading e-book pornography is a very private occupation.  The success of such books may have helped liberate some women from their embarrassment.  If everybody reads it, then it must be ok.


I would say that the current fad will pass in time, but raunchy romance novels have been with us for a very long time.  And yes, in romance novels, the man is the object.

McDermid's THE SIRENS SINGING is a shocking and sadistic book, but it is a very clever one.  That saves it in the end.  The rest of McDermid is forgettable.

raunchy romance novels have been with us for a very long time.

Yes, and I once met someone who actually wrote some---she was a CLASSICS graduate student!  But, honestly, I've never even read one. I'm too afraid of the bad writing I'm sure I'd encounter!  

Yes, many women do adopt the public persona of being "straight laced." As for the cultural construct, I think it's a case of enablement, as it suits both men AND women.

And I'd agree with you about women's intolerance of other women. Many women like to think of themselves as belonging to a sisterhood---until it comes to competition over available males!  But perhaps even female rivalry is a cultural construct! :)  Again, one that suits all parties. 


Yup!  We got that right on all counts.  :)


I skimmed a couple of the bodice-rippers. They aren't really badly written.  The problem is generally an absence of plot and character (beyond the toothsome female and the hunk), a predictable sex scene every 10 pages or so (there's a challenge for you: how to avoid repetition?), and a general pointlessness.  The sex scenes are the point.

Actually, there are books by two college educated women about their experiences as call girls. they did it to finance their educations. And while I'm at it, I agree with your comment, Caroline,  about the fact that women were/are prudes and don't like sex is, as you said a "construct" and much of it was constructed by male doctors, psychiatrists, sociologists and the like.

I think you're right.

Killing another person is the  extreme violence, no matter how the murder is committed, and especially with certain high profile cases, the public wants to know WHY. Any gorey details might be of interest to a detective, a forensic scientist, or a jury in uncovering evidence, but I think  most people are just asking "why did this happen?" 

Unfortunately the WHY is seldom answered satisfactorily, certainly not fully. It stops short of the whole truth because maybe we can't ever know why some human beings need to kill other human  beings.  We say it's because of a pathology,   or overwhelming rage,   or the inability to empathize with others--but are those symptoms or causes?  So we are left with speculation. Crime writers, and their readers, like to speculate. 

I think that the best crime fiction picks up where real life crime leaves off, and tries to get at an answer. I suppose the fact that it usually fails keeps us reading!  :) 

The graphic use of violence depends on its relevance to the plot along with the psychology and motivation of the characters.  Some readers just don't want to experience it.  But done well, it can add to the overall reading experience.  Anyone who wants to experience great writing in a symphony of violence might want to read Run by Douglas E. Winter.

If you check out the reviews, they are all over the place from 2 Stars to 5. In this story you've got to accept the violence as part of the protagonist's world. As I said in my review of Run"Fans of Elmore Leonard, Andrew Vachss, and James Elroy will consume this novel like the feast of the mind and soul that it truly is, for while violence, death, and deceit are the elements that tumble out of control in Burdon Lane's life, it is ultimately the humanity of this self-admitted 'bad guy' that redeems him. You will remember Run for a long long time." It was the excellent writing and the violence that has made me remember it for a long, long time. 


I'm probably the wrong person to ask. My Amsterdam Assassin Series revolves around a freelance assassin, Katla Sieltjes, who specializes in disguising homicide. She rarely uses guns, and the violent scenes in the books caused one beta reader to admit that she was glad that I 'lived on the other side of the pond', as if I shared the homicidal tendencies of my protagonist.

For me, violence has to be written well. I'm not concerned with the graphic detail of a violent act, but I dislike errors that shake me from the suspension of disbelief. I don't think graphic scenes in books desensitize readers the way slasher movies might desensitize viewers.

As to the idea that sociopaths might get novel ideas from reading crime fiction with graphically violent scenes, I don't think sociopaths are into reading crime fiction to come up with ideas for their nefarious actions. After all, reading requires imagination to visualize the scenes, whereas TV and Movies will provide much more information to those so inclined without the effort to translate the written word into visual scenes.

If writers are concerned that their books might get negative reviews because of the graphic detail of the violent content, maybe a disclaimer or warning is in order. Just to prevent the sensitive readers from plucking their novels from the stack...

Curiously, I've had two readers complain about the thoughts going through my killer's minds while they, shall we say, "get it off" as they contemplate their victims. One said "Well I guess this is how they think." And yes, it is the way they think, at least according to the interviews I've read about them by FBI profilers.

I insert these "thoughts" by the killer to indicate/show their character and how they think. Should I offer a disclaimer for the sexually squeamish reader?'


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