Showing posts with label violence in books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label violence in books. Show all posts

Apr 11, 2016

Disposable Bad Guys

There's been a discussion on one of my chat groups concerning the casual killing of "bad guys" in movies and books. There are two schools of thought.

First, it's escapist fiction, so it's supposed to by over-the-top. I enjoy the characters in NCIS-LA, but in almost every episode there is a scene where they blow away everyone who might be a bad guy.
   No one ever investigates afterward. Nobody gets put on administrative leave until it's determined the shooting was "righteous."
   No foreign government demands the U.S. answer for agents who shot up a whole neighborhood. If they even make a peep, someone, usually Henrietta, "handles" it. The question of whether all those deaths were warranted is ignored.
  The assumption is the good guys are the good guys, so they get to kill bad guys. Period.

The opposing arguments hold that indiscriminate killing sends the wrong message, in fact, a whole bunch of wrong messages.
   Shoot first and ask questions later.
   Anyone around a bad guy must be a bad guy, too.
   Death is the only/best punishment for those who hang around with bad guys.

It happens in books, too. Yesterday I finished Lee Child's newest, MAKE ME, and there's a lot of "kill 'em all and let God sort it out" mentality. Child makes his bad guys pretty bad, so the argument can be made that killing them is justified. We tend to like vigilantes when their practices "save the time and expense of a trial." So much for that Constitutional stuff about innocent until proven guilty.

I don't really have a side in this argument, as long as we're talking fiction, but the unfairness of it does flit through my head when I see/read such things. I'm more comfortable in STAR WARS, where the legions of soldiers shot, bludgeoned, and otherwise put out of commission are robots, not people with mothers, brothers, and even sons and daughters to mourn them.

Bang, bang, shoot-em-up is okay for entertainment, as long as we recognize that in real life, those things support the "eye for an eye" mentality that keeps violence going.  Maybe some people need killing, but that's not a task to be taken on lightly, even if you've got a badge, a mission, or what you consider a good reason.

Jan 4, 2016

Blood & Guts in Mysteries


 In classic Greek theater, violence happens offstage. If someone's going to kill himself, he tells you so then exits. If the hero and the bad guy engage in a duel to the death, they'll thrust and parry "stage right and exeunt." Only one will return. It's partly good taste, the belief that audiences shouldn't have to see such things. I suspect the other part is more practical: a good death scene is difficult to stage--and what do you do with the corpse afterward?

Shakespeare takes the easy way many times, too. People come in carrying dead bodies, like Lear bearing poor Cordelia; or parts of them, as Macduff does with Macbeth's head. Easy to make a fake head, not so easy to make it appear the head of a living actor is being separated from his body.

Today we have all kinds of tricks to make on-stage deaths look real. If you've seen the Three Musketeers decapitate the evil Milady just as the theater goes dark, or the trick of light in Les Miserables that makes it seem Javert is falling to his death, you know how effective those moments can be. Don't get me started on blood and gore in movies. Just don't.

In books, written descriptions of death have become more and more lurid, especially in mysteries, and I for one don't like it. Call me soft, but I don't want to read details of how a terrified victim is killed by inches by a crazed antagonist. Since I don't like to read that stuff, I don't write it.

I just re-read my most murder-filled novel, Shakespeare's Blood. Victims in the book are killed in ways that mimic deaths in Shakespeare's plays, so they're not pretty. What I did to dial back the horror is keep the violence mostly off the page. Bodies are found, and readers learn what happened to them, but you don't have to be there and watch it happen. That creates suspense and concern for the protagonist, an American tourist in Britain who's being chased by a madman. We know what awaits Mercedes if he catches up with her, but we don't have to dwell on how we know it.

I re-read the book last week, because another author contacted me to say that April 23rd is the 500th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Her book concerns the Bard too, and she wondered if we should do some shared promotion. I agreed, so we'll see what we can put together.

Either way, I like my way of presenting murder. It's never nice to kill someone, but it's a tiny bit nicer if the readers don't know all the gory details.

How About a FREE Print Book?

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