Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Do we Encourage Violence without Realizing it?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I've been thinking a lot lately about tragedy. The kind we write about on paper and the kind we see in real life.

I don't mean to be a big buzz-kill during the holidays, but after the heartbreaking tragedy in Connecticut, I think this is timely and it's important.

LJ  posted a very valid question the other day on her Facebook page. She wondered if the violence she portrays on paper might in some way encourage or influence violence in the real world. It was a very candid and honest introspection, and I admired her for being so open and sharing it. It also resonated strongly with me because I've often been concerned about the same thing.

And I've struggled with it. A lot.

But I also managed to come to terms with it a while back, because I made an agreement with myself. Or maybe it was more of an understanding. Most of us who write mysteries and thrillers write with a specific purpose. An intent. For the most part, our novels focus on conquering evil, and our heroes aren't the bad guys (or gals)--they're the good ones. Our messages aren't to go out and hurt people; they're that those who are hurt can still find some measure of justice and resolution. It doesn't take away the pain--I know that--but it doesn't create it either.

There will alway be violence in the world. It's an unfortunate fact, but in some small way, on some level, I think our work fosters feelings of empowerment. It provides hope. For the ones who have never been touched by such horrible tragedies, it can allay fears. For the ones who have, it sends a message that there is in fact still good in this world, and there are people who champion what's right, who work every day to prevent violence, and when it does happen, who do what they can to make sure those who cause it will never do it again.

And for those of us who write about tragedy, I think it also helps us cope as well on a very real and intimate level. We don't enjoy violence, but we know violence is a reality, and when we reach out to our readers we connect with them in a meaningful and significant way.

What do you think?


  1. I think you're right. Most crime fiction is about stopping the bad guys and bringing justice to the victims. As a writer and reader, crime fiction helps me process my fears. Unfortunately, some fiction, in books and especially movies, glorifies violence and plays on people's fears without assuaging them. But those are exceptions.

    And so far, I've yet to read a news report that said one of these mass shooters had a stack of crime fiction on his nightstand. I think we do much more good than harm.

  2. I agree with L.J. I believe our books portray the real heroes, those who conquer the "bad guys," whether they be accidental heroes, like my protagonist, or full time cops fighting evil and solving crimes.

  3. Please, reading a book about an amateur detective is not going to send me out on a killing spree. I have owned handguns and rifles and have never used them in defense. I got the training to do so, but have never had to.

    Only someone whose brain is sick or twisted will go that route.

  4. I think our stories are there to help us in a couple of ways. For the storyteller, I think it works out the violence in our own hearts. Not that we want to kill innocent people or do anything nuts, but that everyday kind of build-up of dealing with inconsiderate or silly or (dare I say) stupid people. I killed off an annoying agent in one of my books - it felt so liberating, I can now stand to be in the same room with her.

    For the reader, I think it helps them because our stories all end with the killer being caught and evil being vanquished. We talked about this in my post last Thursday. People have a need for good to triumph. I know there are stories (usually horror) that end badly, but I think our souls need to know that everything will be all right in the end.

    Will someone use one of our books as some kind of green light to go out and kill people? Maybe. They might also use "Fun with Dick and Jane" or "The Joy of Cooking." Crazy people who want to kill will look for any justification, because, well, they're crazy.

  5. I completely agree with you, Drew.

  6. Well said, Drew and all of you who posted responses. After the events in Newtown, I wondered whether I should take a break from editing thrillers and other crime fiction, but for all the reasons you've all stated and the fact that I enjoy fast-paced page-turners, I think I'll stick with it, while continuing to turn down stories depicting really graphic violence, and horror stories.

  7. A very interesting question. A book, a movie, any creative product can be blamed or celebrated, it's all in the mind of the viewer.

  8. I don't think it's necessarily the level of violence that's the problem. There are some extremely graphic works which deliver very powerful and poignant messages--and in many of those, the message would not have been as clear without taking the story to that level. Violence can be an extremely valuable plot element--but throwing it in just for the sake of eliciting shock is where things go wrong.


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