Should Authors Be Held Accountable for the Violence in Their Books?

Ink SplatterMy heart goes out to the people of Aurora, Colorado.  I live in Tucson, Arizona.  Not too long ago a similar tragedy occurred here when our congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot at an event in front of a Safeway supermarket.  Six people died, many others were injured, and it had a profound impact on our community. Tragic events such as these are always followed by the inevitable debates as we struggle to make sense of it all, and sooner or later someone always makes the comment about too much violence in TV, movies, or video games, pointing the finger of blame at the entertainment industry.

Movies, television, and books are all mediums for storytelling. All story plot lines revolve around conflict, and how the characters react to, and eventually resolve, the conflict.  Now, whether we want to admit it or not, human beings have a great propensity for violence, so violence is often an integral part of the storyline. This is nothing new.  In fact, Shakespeare was pretty darn violent.  His works are full of murders and suicides. Some writers, like Edgar Allen Poe, describe violent scenes in graphic detail. There is an entire literary genre, called horror, that’s all about violence.

I myself am not into blood and gore, but there are still, nonetheless, some “violent” scenes in my books.  As I just mentioned, it’s part of the conflict and part of what makes the story interesting.  It’s also a catharsis for me, as a writer, to deal with some of the not-so-nice things that have happened to me in my own life, and I find it very therapeutic.  For example, there is a scene in The Reunion in which Gillian learns that her former husband has just murdered his current wife.  However I chose not to portray the scene in a graphic or gory way.  The incident is instead described in a dialog between Ian, Gillian and a police detective.  I leave it to the reader to imagine the blood and gore.  My upcoming novel, The Deception, includes a scene in which three characters are shot.  (Yes, writing that scene was my way of dealing with my own emotions from the Giffords tragedy.)  Still, I don’t get overly graphic or harsh with my descriptions.  My story isn’t about the violence.  It’s about how my characters deal with and overcome what has happened to them.

So, should authors be held accountable for the violence in their books?  Assuming that the author in question hasn’t written a book for the sole purpose of inciting readers to commit an act of violence, such as writing a “how to” book about the best way to kill other human beings, it would be difficult to prove that the author is responsible for any wrongdoing.  While I’m aware of studies out there allegedly proving a link between violent TV shows and movies, and violent behavior in real life, others will argue that the vast majority people do not act out what they’ve seen in the media or read about in a book.  Authors, at least here in the United States, are also protected by the First Amendment, so chances are that a court would rule that those violent scenes would be considered free speech.

Ultimately it is up to the author, and his or her publisher, to determine what, if any, level of violence is appropriate.  As I just mentioned, I don’t get into graphic descriptions of blood and gore in my books, but I’m not going to put up with anyone trying to censor me either.  I know this sounds like a tired old cliché, but if you don’t like a movie or TV show don’t watch it, and if you don’t like a violent scene in a book don’t read it.  Then there is the matter of parental responsibility.  It is up to you, the parent, to teach your child the difference between right and wrong, and to use some discretion in deciding which movies and televsion shows your child should watch, and which books your child should read.  My books, by the way, are written for adults. While they do not contain scenes of graphic violence they do include sexual content. They simply are not appropriate for younger readers.

Our readers want to see the bad guys pay for their wrongdoings.  My books certainly deliver on this, as do most books by other authors.  The bad guys may win a battle or two, but at the end of the day the good guys win the war.  That’s what good storytelling is all about.

MM

Sweet, Sensual or Erotic Romance

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In the world of romance writing there are three distinct types.

  • Sweet Romance
  • Sensual Romance
  • Erotic Romance or Erotica

Sweet Romance is squeaky clean. There is no sex between the characters. All passion is expressed with kissing, hand holding and perhaps brushing a hand along a face.  Suitable for young teens,  readers with strong religious or moral principles, and some elderly readers.

Sensual Romance does include some sex scenes, but the language typically isn’t harsh and the scenes typically aren’t described in an overtly graphic way.  The emphasis is instead on the emotions and feelings of the characters, and the scenes are included so they can consummate their relationship. In other words, the characters aren’t having sex just because they can.  The scene is included because it is a part of the storyline, but the plot does not revolve around the sex scenes. Oftentimes there are only a few sex scenes within the entire story.

Erotic Romance is all about the sex.  The descriptions are quite graphic and the story may include variations such as threesomes, orgies or bondage.  Two characters falling in love and eventually consummating their relationship isn’t necessarily what the story is about.  It’s all about the characters having sex and a lot of it.

When I decided to switch genres and write romance novels I made the decision to write sensual romance.  To me, it is the most logical approach.  It reflects our current society and it’s what today’s readers expect.  Sweet romance would have been fine if it was still the 1950s but, for better or worse, we now live in a different time. My leading characters do make love, but not until after they’ve fallen in love and are emotionally invested in the relationship.  Once their relationship is consummated I usually don’t write another sex scene between the two as it would then become redundant.  I will however, have other scenes with foreplay followed by pillow talk.  This rule, however, only applies for my two leading characters.

From time to time I may have a leading man or lady get involved with Mr. or Ms. Wrong.  On those occasions I’ll approach the sex scenes a little differently. For example, in my upcoming novel The Deception, Carrie, the female lead, has just ended a long-term relationship. She then meets Scott, a married man who’s tricked her into thinking he’s single. Scott knows Carrie is emotionally vulnerable so he takes advantage of her.  Because Scott is a Mr. Wrong the sex scenes between him and Carrie are a little racier. Both characters know their relationship will not be a permanent one, but even then my sex scenes aren’t overly graphic.  I’m more interested in what the characters are feeling during the scene.  Incidentally, Alex, The Deception’s leading man, does not appear until after Carrie’s fling with Scott has ended.  One thing I will not do is have my characters bed hopping.

If you’re looking for sweet, squeaky-clean romance I’m afraid you won’t find it in my books.  However if you’re looking for something believable that will leave you, the reader, satisfied,  I’ll think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

MM

Yes I Write More Than One Draft

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I was watching a DVD of Stephen King’s Misery the other night.  Good flick, but not totally believable.  I mean I bought the bit about the romance author being held captive by the deranged fan.  Go on any news source website and, sorry to say, you’ll read similar accounts of real-life events.  No, I’m talking about the male lead, Paul Sheldon, producing a polished first draft of his manuscript on a manual typewriter no less.  Yeah, right.  Like that would really happen in real life. The other unbelievable scene is when he and his agent are discussing the fact that his novels put his daughter through college.  Really????  Hey, it’s only a movie, and that scene made me laugh, which was a good thing.

Okay, so the book was written in 1987, and back then the traditional publishers, (or the Big 6 as we authors like to call them), ruled the industry. Back in the day they did give big advances, at least for some authors. Back then some authors probably did make a good living off their books, and no doubt Stephan King was one of them. However, that’s not the case today, but I digress.

Anyway, it was a real hoot watching the polished first drafts coming out of Sheldon’s typewriter.  Fun scenes, but pure fantasy.  In reality, we authors write many, many drafts and revisions.  A funny thing happens when we write, particularly when we write novels.  Our characters come to life, and they change and evolve right before our eyes as the plot unfolds. This means we often have to go back and rewrite earlier chapters. (Which I actually enjoy doing, by the way.)  What you all are reading with my books is the result of many rewrites and revisions, and that’s before I send the manuscript to my editor.

That said, I still enjoyed the movie.  We authors love our fans, and Misery is a nightmare fantasy of a worst-case author-fan relationship.  If you like suspense, without a lot of blood and gore, I recommend it.

Have fun.

MM