Friday, May 10, 2013

If the pen is mightier than the sword...

www.zenithgallery.com/

... what happens when the pen is the sword?


I have no insights today, only questions.

We have a common bond on this blog. We're all suspense writers of one form or another, and if you're like me, you've done research that's taken you dark places. But speaking for myself, while some of the research gave me nightmares, I've always had a clear understanding that I write fiction. I create events and people that aren't real.

While the news has been non-stop lately with horrible acts of terror and victimization, two conversations this week have resonated in unexpected ways. Two writing friends shared events that were keeping them awake at night. Men they knew, people they'd gone to lunch with, worked with, thought they knew, had snapped and lashed out. The men killed others, including their wives, and then took their own lives. In both situations, my friends were shaken—hadn't seen the potential for violence, any evidence of mental illness—and were grieving.

I write about law enforcement professionals and amateur sleuths who put themselves in harm's way to bring villains to justice. I've read your books and know your characters take similar paths. But this intrusion of real life into the fictional world has made me wonder. We complain about violent video games and their impact on the kids who play them. Are we writing novels that desensitize people to violence or murder?

What do you think? Does the experience in reading a novel evoke different emotions than the hands-on, visceral experience of a video game? Do we need to dial down the violence? Or does horror rule?

5 comments:

Anne Marie Becker said...

You pose some interesting questions, Cathy, and I don't pretend to have the answers. ;) However, when I read a book that brings me to the depths of some emotion - whatever that emotion is - I feel stronger and more alive because of it. I've read horror and suspense all my life and never felt the urge to hurt someone because of it. Rather, it helped me understand the spectrum of emotions, and (through the characters' experiences) what can happen if it were taken too far. Hope that makes sense. ;)

Elise Warner said...

Fascinating questions, Cathy. I don't believe anyone--including psychiatrists--have the answers. I don't believe books cause these horrors. Perhaps it can be caused, in damaged individuals, by violent video games but then again, there have always been terrible examples of man's inhumanity to man. We just learn about them immediately today.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Cathy, that's a sobering question. I can't speak to video games as I never play them. But as for violence and horror in our own writing, I think that the value of mysteries as a genre is that they help bring order to a chaotic world, if only within the pages of the book. I don't think they encourage violence; rather, they help exorcise our demons.

Cathy Perkins said...

Y'all are wonderful

You've touched important points - understanding the spectrum of emotion; the sad fact of man's inhumanity and bringing order to a chaotic world.

The Day of the Jackal will always resonate with me as the book that made me align with an assassin. I just finished The Innocent, an unidentified US shadow organization with sanctioned hits by an assassin... who has a conflicted soul.

The more I write, the more I find myself digging into the emotional fall out of the crime - the violence can be off page because the act itself is not what's important.

I think y'all are right - a way to work through the dark, in all its forms

Toni Anderson said...

Cathy, these are good questions. And I don't have answers, I only have snippets of information/knowledge I've read that seem to make sense (to me).

Video games can be a problem (possibly/maybe/perhaps) because they literally teach people from a young age about aiming at someone and pulling the trigger. It makes the act of taking a life less about a thought process and more a reflex that feels good. Soldiers and cops train for this sort of thing, I believe, by running scenarios over and over so they also don't over-think situations when they happen, and so they aren't paralyzed by the human body's natural revulsion to killing when they are thrust into this situation. Video games (can) dehumanize and therefore affect the emotional growth/development of young people. This isn't true for everyone, the same as exposure to porn at a young age won't definitely turn someone into a sadist, but most of us as parents want to keep our kids exposed to age-appropriate material. (Video games, TV, movies and books).

It does give me pause writing some violence. Unfortunately we live in a violent world. Look at the countries where there aren't many video games or books. Are these countries less violent?

I have had storylines of rape victims in my books--the prevalence of rape is so massive all around the world that I don't use it as an authorial tool. It's a too common fact of life. I want my characters dealing with reality, I don't want them in ivory towers. To me, books offer a way of dealing with violence that allows the reader some control over how they process the information, as opposed to the movies which ingrains it on my eyeballs forever!

It's a very interesting question, Cathy. I certainly don't have the answers.