Monday, December 14, 2015

A Brief History of Violence

My books aren’t for the faint of heart.

Not that they’re gratuitously violent, but my stories are about bad men doing bad things, and blood gets spilled. Sometimes, a lot of it. It’s an interesting question whether they’re reflective of the world we live in, or the world is now reflecting what’s become so common in books and on screen: violence as a solution, as first and best answer.

A few months back there was a lot of good debate about the rape as an overused trope. A line of argument went like this: it’s become a common and lazy device that whenever we writers or screenwriters want to convey trauma, or evilness, we just toss in a rape scene and call it done. But I wonder if the same is true for violence in general?  Violence as the solution, as the answer. Whenever we want to amp the action or the threats in our stories, are we having our characters reach for a gun first? And even if that's true, do we have any responsibility for it? After all, we’re (only) trying to entertain, to tell a story, and if a violent resolution or outcome is what our story “needs,” then our only responsibility is to that narrative.

I’m not one to engage in a lot of overt political or sociological debate or discourse, and definitely not in the wilds of the internet, so I’ll try refrain from it here (and it could be argued I don't have much of a leg to stand on, given the cover of my very own upcoming release). But the use and limits of violence was a theme I had in mind while writing THE FAR EMPTY, and then again, while finishing the sequel, which I explored through the thoughts and actions of one my characters. I wanted to introduce a protagonist who was uncomfortable reaching for his gun, even though he wore one every day. One who purposefully avoided violent confrontations, although he was more than capable of handling them, who had a tremendous amount of authority, but was very careful in how he wielded it.  Even more interestingly, I wondered how did a man like that dealt with threats that couldn't be reasoned with? (I think these very same questions were raised by the character of Morgan in this most recent season of THE WALKING DEAD).

There are no real answers here, nor are there any in my book. I’m just a writer, trying tell stories that interest me. And they're just words after all, right? But still, I can't help but be cognizant of this increasingly violent world we live in...the one that scrolls across all our television screens every day.

Sometimes actions do speak louder than words.


  1. I think it's interesting you saying if violence is as lazy a trope as rape because I hadn't thought about it before. I will say that many times a new writer (my younger self included) tries to add in a "hook" we would make violence or destruction and it usually doesn't work very well. There are definitely writers who kill off characters in replace of an actual meaningful ending. But I'm not sure that we villianize violence in the same way we do rape. A rapist, when people agree he/she is one, is automatically evil. It would be hard to get away with a protagonist who straightforwardly rapes someone as a good guy, (possible if people try to legitimize his actions as not rape) but good guys can murder people all of the time and it doesn't make someone evil. (Hunger Games as an example.)

    I remember when playing Dungeons and Dragons, I didn't want to kill people, but find another way around conflict unless I had to. My Dungeon Master and fellow players were furious, claiming XP was based on how many orcs you killed. I think in most genre books, outside of romance and sometimes mystery, violence and death is expected, and I remember how shocked I was when I first watched an anime called Rurouni Kenshin and he refused to kill anyone.

    Does violence in books promote violence in life? Is it a reflection of that violence? I do believe there's a reason people tend to be drawn to it, but I would say it has to do with the desire to experience it in a safe place without personal ramification. I don't really like violence myself, but most of my favorite books and television shows have it. I don't like watching people be hurt or die, but I love watching people be saved and survive.

  2. And your point is well taken...we do like people being saved and surviving, which necessitates putting them in dangerous, often violent situations to begin with.

    Again, I don't know that I have any real theory here, as much as just some random musings (that happened to make their way into my book, lol).

    But great insights, and nice shout-out for some D&D...