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:~: Tuesday, October 10, 2006 :~:

Has anyone else noticed...

...how prevalent violence has become in media over the last year or so (or more)?

This may seem like a strange subject for me to cover considering I write romantic suspense and have been focused on creating the eeriest, coldest, evilest villains my good-little-girl brain can come up with. But, I've been noticing my own intolerance for gritty violence more and more lately.

I picked up a book CD at the library a couple days ago--Darkly Dreaming Dexter. It's about a serial killer who kills serial killers.

Damn. Why didn't I think of that?

The idea intrigued me. I wanted to see how this author made it work. I wanted to see how a serial killer protagonist would turn out. I wanted to see how many rules the author broke and chuckle to myself with knowing chagrin when I could identify every one.

I figured it would be pretty good considering the reviews and comments on the container, and it lived up to my expectations--which, now-a-days, is pretty dang hard to do. Writing has ruined me as a reader (although I still read and am trying to read more often).

If you don't mind a sick and twisted read, I'd recommend it. Entertaining, dark humor, three dimensional characters, even a protagonist who's part villain, one you have to both root for and admire all while realizing he is one sick bastard.

And while the book was quite graphic, stomach-turning in places, it wasn't as overdone as it could have been.

Then recently I saw this advertisement for a series on HBO--Dexter. They made this premise a series. Dexter is, by profession, a blood splatter expert working in a police lab--only one ironic twist of his character. I could see how this would easily become a series. As I felt I already knew Dexter better than my next door neighbor, I was sure I'd want to watch the series.

Then I saw the previews. And even knowing what I knew, having read what I read, I found them disturbing. There is something very different between reading about crime and viewing said crime. The previews were based on acts performed in the book--it was depicted accurately from what I could tell. But infinitely more explicit.

Yesterday I saw the new movie, The Departed. Again, very intriguing. Again, very violent.

It all solidified something that I've been struggling with for a while now--graphic violence as entertainment.

How can that possibly be healthy? What does that say about us as individuals, as a society? And, more importantly, how is it shaping the next generation? Deep, disturbing questions with few answers. At least, few positive answers.

With the prevalence of forensic-related television, detective and police shows, violence in the news, increasingly graphic movies, it seems to me we've become desensitized. Because we know more, because we've seen more, it takes more to reach us, move us, jolt us, scare us, give us a thrill.

In other books I've read recently, I've noticed the villains are scarier, colder, bolder, angrier and overall, more screwed up, even more hopelessly screwed up.

You've read the reviews of best-seller suspense. Chilling is the word that comes to mind--and this is touted as a good thing.

Maybe I'm reading in the wrong genre. Worse, maybe I'm writing in the wrong genre.

I don't know.

What I do know is that keeping up a good edge-of-your-seat suspense without all the blood and gore is one hell of a bitch. IMHUO, a story filled with violence is much easier to write. It's plot heavy, characterization light. There has to be just enough characterization to justify actions, but it's that action, that next ambush, that next murder, that next beating that holds the audience's attention.

In lieu of action and violence, you need deep, meaningful characterization. Your cast has to be powerful and flawed, sympathetic and courageous. They have to have big problems, inside and out, and they have to have the tools, or gain the tools, to overcome them. They have to have a lot at stake and those stakes have to continually rise until there is either success or death--not necessary literal death, but a death of some kind, of something invaluable to them.

What is your view on the rise of violence in the media over the past few years? Of graphic violence in books, in movies? Do you see a trend? How do you feel about that trend? How do you handle violence in your own writing or reading?


Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

I don't write horror, and I don't read it. And there's a reason. It gives me nightmares. I know there are people who love Silence of The Lambs, but when I saw it I could barely keep my eyes open (and most the time I didn't. I had my hands over them to avoid the images). The same can be said for the movie Seven. And I flat-out refused to watch Red Dragon for the same reason. Both (or all three I'm told) were good movies. Both were chilling. But both are movies I won't watch again and both still give me nightmares when I think about them.

I think you're right, Joan. I think there are viewers are desensitized by the amount of violence on TV and in movies. But I also think for every person who longs for that violence, there are other viewers who don't. I love suspense and mystery but that doesn't mean I want gore. In the romantic suspense genre there's a wide range of what's acceptable. You have authors who are very graphic and descriptive of crime scenes and murders and death, but you also have those who skirt the issue, deal with the build up and fall out and repercussions and write equally as intriguing books.

Interestingly enough, our discussion this afternoon falls in this category. I don't want to write horror and gore, but I see the need for a "chilling" event to jump-start the scenario I've developed. And I think I can do that without actually showing it, simply alluding to it internals and dialogue between the heroine and hero (hopefully).

Suspenseful is good. Chilling is even better. But as a reader I don't need to be "shown" it all the time. Sometimes the most moving scenes are the ones where a situation or event is alluded to and the reader is left filling in the gaps and imagining the details.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Lisa Pulliam said...

I ordered the Dexter books, can't wait to read them. I saw the first episode of the Showtime series, they had it for free online. It was great. I may subscribe to showtime to keep watching it. I found myself withing I would have thought of it to.

I should have! I have a couple of dozen serial killer books on my shelves that have all been read at least once. But thankfully great ideas like that are out there for us to read, even if we didn't create them ourselves.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...


I like the way you said that: deal with the build up and fall out. It's a good concept to keep in mind while trying to write suspense without gore.

I'm not sure how I feel about "chilling". I guess I associate it with that sensation I don't like to feel. Which is one of the reasons I think I've been struggling so hard with my villains.


I didn't know there was more than one Dexter book. And I'm not sure I want to read more, although I really did enjoy DDD.

Which brings up another topic...there are wonderful writers I won't read because they are too graphic, too "chilling". King and Koontz are two of them.

I read King until I hit Pet Cemetery -- then he lost me. I read Koontz until a book I can't remember the title of -- then he lost me.

As hard as we try to make something suspenseful or chilling or whatever, I think there is the potential to write yourself out of an audience.

Similar to the way Hoag and Jackson and Gardner and so many others have shifted from RS (about 50/50) to Mainstream (or 10/90)-- some readers follow, others don't, but I suppose they pick up new readers in the new genre.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Paty Jager said...

I'm scared of the abominable snowman on Rudolph! I don't watch or read anything that could scare me! I like reading suspense as long as it doesn't get too gory.

But... I can watch CSI and Criminal Minds and not even flinch. Go figure! I hate Prison and my dh loves it. So I write while he watches.

Give me a good old Romantic comedy any day and I'm all in. Like Men in Trees. LOL

I'm not sure where the world is going to when they pitch a fit about us revenging the tower and then watch the crap in movies.

1:52 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

OMG, Paty, I STILL can't watch Rudolph because of that snowman!! I also can't watch the Wizard of Oz because of the witch.

Childhood traumas...they stick with us. :-(

2:52 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

No, no, no, J. It's not the witch in the Wizard of Oz. It's those damn flying monkeys! Scare the bugeezus out me every time.


Just the thought of them gives me the willies. I also have a hard time reading Dixon's GMC book because she uses The Wizard of Oz as a repeat example. And all it does is make me think of those creepy monkeys.

2:55 PM  
Blogger MaryF said...

What upsets me is that many of my 4th grade students have seen Saw and Chainsaw Massacre and The Descent, some of the goriest movies ever made. Movies I don't allow my 15 year old to watch! Yet clearly their parents can't be bothered to get a babysitter, so they drag the kids along to see stuff I can't stomach.

Give me Supernatural and The Others anytime.

2:32 AM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...


I haven't seen either of those. I guess I can understand gore in horror (although I don't condone or purchase that genre) but when horror creeps into RS or mainstream etc. it bothers me.

And that's pretty darn irrisponsible of parents to be taking their kids to those movies. I hope they're kept up at night with the kid's nightmares!!

2:50 PM  

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