Book Violence

I’ve been thinking about violence in my books. I got to thinking about it because I’m one of the people that think that violence in video games, TV, movies, and other entertainment have desensitized children and adults and hugely contributed not to just recent gun violence events, but other violent actions in our culture. I firmly believe that. Grand Theft Auto is a game that horrifies me, but then when you look at ‘ordinary’ violence in children’s games and films, it has increased considerably from when I was a child. This post is not about that, or about gun laws, though those things have prompted this issue to rise to the surface. What this post is about is how much am I as a writer culpable in creating the ambience that desensitizes people. Surely if I believe that violence does desensitize, and if I believe that that is not a good thing, which I do, I must consider my part in this as a provider/creator of entertainment.

This is a very complicated subject and not one I can really do justice to. I’m not a psychologist, I don’t have the research or experience to really know the science of violence. I do know that there are no simple explanations. I do know that violence for some is simply raising a voice and using a harsh tone, while for others it’s not violent until bones are broken.

I’m not sure what I think. Part of me says that much of what is depicted in the world of entertainment is quite real and only reflects reality. I’m thinking of Criminal Minds or The Burning Bed, for instance. Is it wrong to depict what is? Does it give people ideas? But so what if it does? People can choose. They are not biologically destined to commit violence. And I believe in freedom of speech and the importance of uncensored art. On the other hand, children are susceptible to many things and should they be exposed to horror films or violent games? If their values come to them through entertainment, does that mean they are incapable of choice because they don’t know better?

The question of values is another issue. I know what I teach my kids, but many kids are taught a much more violent way of life, often coming from abusive situations. They may or may not have active parents or be in situations where those values are tainted or corrupted. So violent entertainment might reflect their world rather than not. Which means, it doesn’t desensitize so much as confirm what they already know.

Then you have questions of mental illness. Mental illness does not automatically mean, or even likely mean, that a person so inflicted will commit violence. Any more than not having mental illness means you won’t commit violence. I am not at all qualified to talk about mental illness, so I’ll just say this. For those with such an affliction, how they perceive the world and other people and the rules of life and living may be quite different from what other people perceive. How they perceive violence is not something I personally can predict and therefore, I don’t know the influence of entertainment on them. I do think mental illness must dealt with more in our culture, and not with some sort of database, but with actual treatment. But of course, not every mentally ill person will partake of treatment and they have a right to refuse. I only mention them because I can’t help but think that people who blow up buildings or walk into schools and theaters to kill people are mentally ill. Maybe I just want them to be, because it’s easier than thinking someone rationale and stable would do that. Which means that this is a piece of the big puzzle that must be dealt with. However, it has little to do with book violence. So back to that.

I know I write violent scenes. Bloody, painful, torturous scenes. I think of them as necessary to the story, because for supernatural situations/characters, it seems that ordinary pain and violence isn’t as meaningful to those characters and the plot. For the Shadowblades and Sunspears in particular, their entire lives revolve around brutality, pain, damage, and death. To give them scrapes or mere broken bones doesn’t seem to do the situation justice. But then again, I created the situation and the characters. Do I have to make them so impervious that so much violence is necessary? My Crosspointe books aren’t my only violent books. There are significant moments of it in all my books. Again, because it seemed necessary to each story. But was it?

I don’t know. The violence I write never feels gratuitous. It feels necessary to the story, and I need to be faithful to the story. But doesn’t that mean the same for the Grand Theft Auto developers? There are lines I simply won’t cross, but there are a lot of lines I do. Should I be censoring myself? Editing myself? Should I be more careful about whether I’m contributing to the desensitization? Should game developers? Movie makers? Does a rating system make sense? Does it even matter?

Honestly, I don’t know. This is a bit of a muddle, but I would love to have a discussion here about writing and violence. We *are* part of the entertainment industry. What could we or should we be doing? I ask because frankly, I don’t think taking guns is going to solve the problem. It might help, but the problem is too big and complicated for one thing to fix it. I say that because of bombings and other killings that happen. Guns are an issue, but I still think that they are more a symptom than a cause. I think that hearts and minds are an enormous factor and I think this is worth discussing.

I put it to you. What are your thoughts?

One Comment

  • Adrianne

    I’ve had a very rough year. I’ve attended two deaths. I’ve attended 3 funerals. And I’ve done a lot of work in recognizing patterns of emotional abuse in my family and working to change them. I’m feeling extremely sensitive to violence right now.

    Last week we watched The Hobbit. I was horrified with how violent it was. Violence sells, so it’s not a surprise.

    But I think a lot of it is that the stories that last, the stories that work best, are stories where the main characters are brought to the breaking point, and somehow they overcome or don’t overcome. I think that’s why Macbeth and Othello and the Odyssey and LOTR are classics.

    When you write, you HAVE to push your characters beyond their limits. To do less is to offer your audience a piece of candy and expect them to make a meal of it.

    But I think that the stories that stick with me best aren’t about super-humans, they’re about mere mortals who somehow manage to do something super-human.

    On the stemming the violence problem, I think telling the right kind of stories are important. If Rambo is our hero, we’re going to see a lot of gun violence. If our heros negotiate good solutions, then our children will attempt to negotiate good solutions.

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