Don't much like it. I know many do, so I try not to judge. I picked up a mystery in a bookstore yesterday that boasted, "If you like suspense paired with truly grisly detail..." Put it down, even though critics and friends have told me it's very well done.

We all have a line in our tiny little minds, a line we don't like crossed. How much detail should there be as to what the killer did to the victim? How much physical pain and emotional distress can we put our protagonist through? How much do we want to know about autopsy, putreficiation, and such?

I'll admit it. I'm a wimp. I turn away when the CSI or NCIS or whoever person really gets into a corpse. I never saw THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. And I am a terrible caregiver, being uninterested in, even averse to, watching the human body work internally.

This from an author whose upcoming book centers on beheaded corpses left scattered around London. I guess it's all in the execution. So to speak.

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Comment by I. J. Parker on May 30, 2009 at 2:57am
Ah, thanks. I don't much like Poe, though I've read all the stories. I suppose that explains also why I don't read horror in general. That is fiction that is largely a construct to serve a specific purpose: in this case to frighten people. On the whole, that is too narrow and simple for me.
Comment by Peg Herring on May 29, 2009 at 10:07pm
When I mentioned Poe I was referring to Dana's comment that the mind of the reader creates more horror than the narrator actually presents. It's the best part of suspense: bringing out each individual's fears rather than smearing blood across the page.
Comment by I. J. Parker on May 29, 2009 at 8:16am
Absolutely agree, Dana. That's where for me the moral obligation enters into it. Jon Loomis, of course, totally disagrees.
Comment by Dana King on May 29, 2009 at 7:10am
I haven't seen the Dexter show, and won't read the books. I'm no prude, but I have no interest in having the killer presented as the protagonist unless there are consequences. A recent (unsold) story of mine has the protaginist kill the villain in cold blood, but it's done to show how he has changed over the course of several stories. It's presented as a bad thing, and the hope is the reader will root for him to overcome this, not go on to kill someone else.
Comment by I. J. Parker on May 29, 2009 at 6:55am
Poe? If that refers to the novel I cite, it wasn't Poe. It was Val McDermid, working with multiple points of view. I cannot stomach the Dexter books, because we are expected to accept the narrator-killer. That seems tantamount to accepting murder. The reader needs distance.
Comment by Peg Herring on May 29, 2009 at 6:02am
Sounds like Poe to me!
Comment by Dana King on May 29, 2009 at 2:06am
I'm with Ingrid on this one in general, though we probably have different specifics, considering the types of things we tend to read and write. I have no interest in gratuitous violence, or a needlessy graphic description of necessary violence. ("Necessary violence." Now there's a phrase only a crime writer or psycho could love.) I describe the detail only as much as is needed to make the point. Two identical killings can be described very differently, depending on the context, a point I want to make about the killer, a point I want to make about the detective, any number of things.

Too much detail can be counterproductive. Give the reader enough to prime her imagination. She'll come up with something more disturbing--to her--than anything the writer would think of, even if she doesn't imagine the detail.
Comment by I. J. Parker on May 29, 2009 at 1:18am
I sympathize. I also am squeamish about some things and probably am a lousy caregiver. If grisly gore is merely there because some people love to wallow in it, it's not for me. But there was at least one novel that impressed me in spite of dwelling almost lovingly (well: lovingly, since the segments were in the voice of a serial torturer) on shocking details. It was simply a brilliant psychological study of such a creature and extremely well plotted.
I use gory detail and include gory murders, but that is done to heighten drama and increase the guilt of the killer. It does not run the novel.

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