VIOLENCE FOR VIOLENCE'S SAKE
I love all types of crime stories. I will just as soon read a dark, gritty tale by Dennis Lehane as I will an English drawing room mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers or Edmund Crispin. However what miniscule talent I may have has always seemed to manifest itself through the prism of hard-boiled fiction. And while I can't speak for anyone except myself I'd bet dollars to donuts any writer worth their salt who writes in said hard-boiled style has come up against the question I faced last night during my current round of edits.
Is this too violent?
And before you all jump in the comment section I know there is violence in English mysteries and cozies and other non hard-boiled genres. However, most of the violence in these books is off screen. We may see a body lying in repose in the library or the greenhouse and we are assured through the astute observation of the brilliant detective that is our guide during this tale that the person or persons are dead. There may be a few drops of blood on the harpsicord but generally that's about as graphic as those types of novel tend to get. And that is perfectly fine. Not every story has to involve shattered jaws and broken teeth.
Most of mine do and that's okay as well.
Yet I still find myself wondering where is the line? When does my desire, or my duty, to give the reader the most comprehensive and detailed description of the rage my characters feel and the consequences of that rage on the human body stray into gratuitous voyeurism? Is there even a line ?
Last night I was working on a scene where my protagonist catches up to the man who betrayed him. A man who killed my protagonist's best friend. At one point the protagonist shoots his enemy in the knee. From my research and discussions with some medical professionals who undoubtedly will cast a suspicious eye at me from now on, I've learned this is one of the most painful places to be shot.
As I was writing this scene I realized that wouldn't be enough for my main character. He wants this man to suffer. A mere bullet wound is not nearly enough. I won't go into detail here as to what he does but believe me when I say it's not for the faint of heart. In the course of that scene I found my line. I found the place where I can go no further. My line is probably different from yours, whether you are a reader a writer or both. And yes I know that may seem like some mealy-mouthed cop out but it also happens to be the truth.
I'm a firm believer that violence is as necessary to a good crime story as love is to a romance novel. Much like sex in the latter violence in the former is a foundational component. The graphicness of these narrative techniques is up to the author. We all have to find our line . I don't think that you have to agree with where my line is but I think in a society that seemingly restricts our freedom of expression more and more everyday we do have to agree to allow everyone to find that place on their own.