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Old 05-03-2015, 12:49 PM   #1
AstoundingBruce
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Am I a Wuss?

I have been reading (and reading and reading) and I have observed a trend which disturbs me.

While I enjoy books with action and thrills, I have noticed a lot of authors include extremely graphic depictions of torture and violence. It is often so egregious I can't even bring myself to finish the book.

Now I fully understand that conflict is at the very heart of storytelling. And violence is a form of conflict. On the other hand, I have found most readers have vivid imaginations. Is it really necessary to spell out each and every gory, tortuous (dare I say, psychotic) detail?

I'm sure I could argue that violence is an easy way to have conflict in a story, but that is not what I am ranting about. I am talking about the kind of over-the-top descriptions that leave nothing to the imagination.

I won't mention names or titles, but one such book has a scene in which a character is severely beaten with a baseball bat. The author described each blow, every crunch of bone, each tooth that was knocked out. I actually stuck with this book until another scene in which a different character was bound, a garden hose forced down his throat and...I couldn't tell you, I stopped reading.

As a writer, I feel the author could have gotten more mileage out of these scenes by being more vague. After all, telling me someone is being tortured with a garden hose, then cutting away to another scene leaves a lot to the imagination. And although as a reader I may imagine the most vile abuses, I won't be able to confirm them.

Another such book described, in detail, the torture of a twelve-year-old. A twelve-year-old! In. Graphic. Detail. And it wasn't the only one: Yet another book opened with a group of naked children being severely beaten.

I had agreed to read that last one in order to provide a pre-release review. When I contacted the author and told him why I could not, in good conscience, recommend the book his response was, "It gets better." I'm sure that will look great on the back cover: "A gripping tale that is ultimately better than the brutal abuse of children."

In some of these books, I wonder about the story itself. It doesn't seem as if the violence is moving the story along. Rather, it seems as if the plot is just a vehicle to get from one ultra-violent scene to another.

So, what do you think? Has literature changed? Or am I just a wuss? Every book has an audience, but what are your feelings? Can things like torture, assault and rape be depicted too graphically? Do you prefer the author to leave some details to your imagination? Or do you want every lurid detail in hi-def surround sound?
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Old 05-03-2015, 02:02 PM   #2
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I think such things are cheap pornography.
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Old 05-03-2015, 03:58 PM   #3
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Literature is constantly changing. The absolutely fantastic thing is that if you suspect you won't like a book or that you will be offended by it, you don't have to even start reading it. If what you find offensive takes you by surprise, you can, as you put it in your post, stop reading. If you feel this is not enough, you can leave a review condemning the gratuitour violence, sex etc. I can't imagine that the author you contacted to say that you could not recommend his book was happy about it. If enough people share your response, the book will not be a success. There are so many ebooks being "published" now, and they never go out of "print". I'm sure you can find something to read.

Personally, I'm sure that the vast majority of us have personal limits on how graphic descriptions of sex and violence should be. We should not seek to impose our values on others. Are you advocating censorship?
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Old 05-03-2015, 05:13 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by arjaybe View Post
I think such things are cheap pornography.
+1, well, an extremely close parallel to pornography.

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Originally Posted by darryl View Post
Personally, I'm sure that the vast majority of us have personal limits on how graphic descriptions of sex and violence should be. We should not seek to impose our values on others. Are you advocating censorship?
I don't really read Bruce's post that way. I believe he is just expressing his personal distaste, and wondering who else might feel the same way. Advocating one's opinion is not anything like the same as censoring (banning/shutting down) opposing viewpoints.
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Old 05-03-2015, 05:37 PM   #5
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You're not a wuss you just don't like graphic violence. Some people do, hence these books have a readership.

Are you asking the question as writer trying to determine what sells? Because if you are, then don't write something you personally are uncomfortable with. It'll show and it won't be your best work. There's still a huge market for books without the graphic scenes.
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Old 05-03-2015, 09:10 PM   #6
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There are genres where such explicit violence may be expected, but I am inclined to think it may be getting more widespread, creeping into genres where it doesn't really belong. I think that in some cases the authors justify it as "shock value", something to grab the reader's attention ... but it's one of those things where a little goes a long way, and a writer needs ask themselves just how explicit it really needs to be. For shock value the first blow can be enough - more than enough, to keep dragging it out actually reduces the impact. As you suggest, there are also other, more subtle ways, to express violence.

I sometimes thought that it would be good if there was some sort of classification system like we see for movies. At the moment we generally only have the one "adult" classification, but it as far as I can tell this is mostly used for marking the more extreme end of the spectrum. It is not fine grained enough. I have my doubts how effective it could be, some people see more, or react more strongly to, violence (or whatever) in a scene than others.
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Old 05-04-2015, 02:24 AM   #7
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I don't have hard facts or numbers to back it up, but my suspicion is that the "Cozy" genre has been growing as a response to increasingly explicit violence in the Mystery and Thriller genres.
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Old 05-04-2015, 07:02 AM   #8
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I don't really read Bruce's post that way. I believe he is just expressing his personal distaste, and wondering who else might feel the same way. Advocating one's opinion is not anything like the same as censoring (banning/shutting down) opposing viewpoints.
Fair enough. I am not a fan of censorship and possibly reacted a bit more strongly than was justified. Perhaps the OP will clarify in due course.
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Old 05-05-2015, 01:37 PM   #9
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The only time it ever bothered me was in The Girl Next Door, and looking back I don't think that was particularly graphic and it was mostly because I wasn't expecting it (my neighbour tricked me into reading it, and I didn't look at any reviews).

If it turned up in a romance or something, fair enough. But with a market for graphic violence those sort of books are well enough described to avoid them if they're not your thing.
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Old 05-07-2015, 01:47 PM   #10
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I wouldn't describe anyone as a wuss for disliking certain types of fiction.
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Old 05-08-2015, 02:59 AM   #11
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You're not a wuss you just don't like graphic violence. Some people do, hence these books have a readership.
Agreed. Just as movies like Saw have an audience. I do think implying that kind of violence and leaving certain graphic elements up to the reader is a more powerful way of storytelling, and allows you to move along the pacing.
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Old 05-08-2015, 06:16 AM   #12
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Agreed. Just as movies like Saw have an audience. I do think implying that kind of violence and leaving certain graphic elements up to the reader is a more powerful way of storytelling, and allows you to move along the pacing.
As a teenager I remember debating with a friend whether "When a Stranger Calls" (the original movie) was scarier than "Friday the 13th". The latter is of course a so-called "slasher" movie whilst the former, which I thought was a lot scarier, leaves much to the imagination. Whilst I myself have never been a particular fan of "slasher" type movies, the point is that my friend was and probably still is. The OP has a good point provided that the point made does not extend to imposing his own views on others by way of censorship.

I have no problem with the suggestion of some sort of classification system for the purpose of informing people of the nature of what they are considering reading so they can make an informed decision whether to do so.
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Old 05-08-2015, 06:33 AM   #13
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I share AB's feelings. There is something deeply disturbing about those detailed scenes of graphic violence. It's worse if it becomes a type of paradigm, and writers consider that including such scenes is a means to make their work popular.

It's hard to know what to do, because on a case-by-case basis, authors can always justify such scenes. It becomes a problem when you consider them collectively.

The answer would seem to be not censorship, but some form of radical-pacifist writing that actively showed the destructive effects of violence on people's lives.
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Old 05-08-2015, 08:41 AM   #14
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[...] It's hard to know what to do, because on a case-by-case basis, authors can always justify such scenes. It becomes a problem when you consider them collectively. [...]
I agree. And not just collectively, but contextually. Sometimes violence truly is part of the story, and the story would miss something if it didn't include it. But the reverse is also true, sometimes explicit violence is simply out of place - and that in itself will make it stand out as more explicit or wrong to the reader.

The difficulty, for the writer, is that different people will react in different ways to the same scene. What seems mild to some will seem unnecessarily explicit to others. What seems horrifying to some may barely raise an eyebrow with others. (One of my still unpublished short stories I find truly horrifying in a way that has nothing to do with the violence in the story, the violence in this case was more about elucidating the horror rather than creating it.)

I have found, too, that a fantasy element to the violence often seems to make a scene seem less violent/extreme/explicit to many readers. It seems to me there are two things going on here. One is that the fantasy element often needs more explanation, so being more explicit is sometimes necessary. The second is that readers tend to remain aloof where the violence involves non-human characters. (Which isn't to say the writer has carte blanche even in fantasy, only that it can change what is acceptable or necessary.)


* Speaking things distressing to (apparently) just some readers. Was I the only one distressed that the "good" vampires in the Twilight series took out their frustrations on bears and mountain lions and the like? I mean, really, think about the environment people! Go pick on drug dealers and murderers or something.
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Old 05-08-2015, 11:19 AM   #15
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* Speaking things distressing to (apparently) just some readers. Was I the only one distressed that the "good" vampires in the Twilight series took out their frustrations on bears and mountain lions and the like? I mean, really, think about the environment people! Go pick on drug dealers and murderers or something.
I cannot see how that is conceivably offensive to anyone, unless that person happens to already be upset about killing animals for food in the ordinary way of things. In which case, why are you so upset about the vampires of all people???

Killing animals for food is not a vampire-specific thing.
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