Crime Scene

Reader question: How much violence should writers portray in their books?

Every month, I ask my readers a different book-related question, and I get some excellent responses.

In this article, you can read the responses that I got to the following question:

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How much violence should writers portray in their books? 

Is graphic violence ever justified in a book or should it be left to the imagination?

These answers are cut-and-pasted as I received them – and I've left them anonymous for obvious reasons.

However, as an author, there are some really thought-provoking responses in here.

If you'd like to add your own thoughts to the discussion, please add a comment at the bottom of the page.

Blood

Reader Responses

If violence promotes the story-line then I think it is okay but just to have gratuitous violence then no thank you!


For me, writing about violence, sex, scenery, physicality of characters is kind of like art. I want more depth than an opaque watercolor (gouache) but less than optical art (complex colors to the point it appears to vibrate). Where that line is will vary by reader just like any artwork.

Violence is part of life. Definitely, birth is violent (I have had two children); death too often is as well. To say simply someone is born and someone was murdered would be boring. On the other hand, I hate grisly movies full of blood and guts spilling out on the big screen. Finally, a big part of what I love about reading is being able to picture things in my own mind.

Realism without the close-up color photos would be my preference.


I think violence in books and most films is not ‘real' so it goes  over my head, I can't take it in as  ‘violence ‘, if, it is on the TV news, it is real and the I can be involved, it can be upsetting .


To answer your question…violence never needs to be graphic. USA has lost its imagination as it is, we don't need to add more dysfunction to readers.  Same with writing sexual activity in books (another story).

I remember growing up and reading comic books.  Superman and Wonder Woman were my two favorites.  Each time Superman used a new power, it wasn't necessary to describe in detail how it came about.  You used your imagination to figure out how he developed it and it made for great talks with your friends.

Now it seems that unless everything is in writing (slowing down the story) including the chemical formula (okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration) people won't know how to figure it out on their own.  I really liked Stan Lee, but when he created Spiderman, that lost me completely.  Superheros are super; they did not have a “need to know” explanation but Spiderman?  The entire comic book is about how he can't get a date or something equally obnoxious to me.  Same thing with movies and video games.


On the subject of violence, I am sure that for some, the more gruesome it is portrayed in a book, the better. But for me, I think some things should be left to the imagination. Isn't that what books are for? A good author should be able to tell a story without the shock factor of violent details. The story can have horrible violence in it, if that is part of the story. But to add too much detail turns some people off, and doesn't allow the reader to use their imagination.


I think the amount of violence in a book should be determined by the audience you want reading the book. Of course, if your audience is YA, maybe don't make it so graphic. But if you want mature adults reading your books, then I think descriptive violence is fine. A reader would choose YA over adult genre if they can't handle violence, anyway. So up to you!


BloodIn my opinion the amount of violence in a book would depend on if it is needed for the story that author has written.  The book must make sense without going over board with gory details.


Is graphic violence ok in books?  HELL YES!!!!  That's what makes that type of genres so appealing.  In my opinion, anyway.  Does it harm anyone? No !  Kind of like pornography, just by reading it or looking at it doesn't make you (me) want to go and do it.  Some people's minds are just warped, does that mean everyone should be banned from it???  No.


I’m okay with all the violence that fits. And when you want to lighten it up a little, you can always describe the impacts of the bloodspatter, like slippery floors or a face shield or goggles that need to be wiped clean before proceeding!


Hi. Graphic violence isn’t necessary, the imagination works well. At least, with book descriptions, I have the choice to buy or not. The problem isn’t the description, it’s the people’s who read it.


As a former prosecutor and defence counsel, I have seen enough violence to last me the rest of my days. Most often when it appears in a book I am reading I move past the section and then begin to question whether or not to continue with the story. About half the time I just close the book and delete it.


It’s easy to enjoy when a bad guy gets it but more often than not by that time I have already deleted the book.

I’ll be interested to read any responses that endorse violence as a contribution to any book.


Well, I think it has a lot to do with the reasons why the violence being there. One thing is when a violent scene is there because the plot requires it (to showcase the heroe's past, the true colours of the antagonist, the reason for a phobia/fear/nightmare) and another very different one is violence porn (‘A Servian Film' comes to mind). I have no problem with them when they are an integral part of the story, but not everybody is the same.

Because, of course, there is the matter of readership. A lot of people doesn't like to read graphic violent scenes, which means you can either avoid them by their sake, or mark them clearly to help them to avoid them.


For good or ill, violence is part of life, and not just physical, it's emotional, spiritual, directed and not directed, spontaneous and planned… you cannot exist without having some form of violence, large or small, acknowledged or  unnoticed affect your world somehow…to exclude it entirely from your writing would be to falsify your story


Violence, real or in fiction, in the news, on the war front, at home or on the street, IS NEVER JUSTIFIED.  The writers, the film and TV producers, and the war mongers may try to justify their work by saying that people (the consumers) like to see violence.  Yes, people like to see gladiators killing each other, boxers hurting and knocking each other out.  But that is just like saying that depicting porn and pedophilia is justified because there are so many of those sex maniacs and pedophiles out there enjoying the act so displayed.
I know that fiction works on the paradigm that stories need to have conflict, just like real life does.  But we must accept the fact that there exists a natural biofeedback mechanism that violence in fiction and in real life feed on each other in a synergistic vicious cycle.  Art is not only an expression of the self, but a showcase of beauty, not of pain or of destructive ugliness. Writers need to be more like artists than businessmen.  Money nowadays seems to be extremely important (yes, more and more people now believe they can survive without God but not without money), but there is no need for writers as artists to help contribute to the downward spiral of mankind just for the sake of getting hits on Amazon and the Facebook.
I understand it's very hard to fight off base human nature and go for the more sublime aspirations.  But that is what artists are here for.  A lot of us can be writers — mere word craftsmen.  Let us try to be artists instead.


Violence exists. To exclude it from literature moves us into Disney territory.


With respect to violence in books, I find that my imagination provides a richer immersion than graphic violence. That may only be my preference as many in today‘s world seek works that are gory beyond my understanding. I'm an old guy, I'll be 72 this year and have seen way too much violence and gore in my life. I am a Vietnam Vet, 1968-69, worked as a Deputy Sheriff at one point in my life.  My history enables me to plot some very graphic visions in my mind, probably more so than what an Author would normally write.  The mind is a marvelous thing in the pictures it paints from the printed word.


I think so violence is needed in some books. All depends on how it is written. I have an author that used to work as a CSI person, his books gets pretty intense in violence and graphics. But that is the way he writes because he writes what he knows. I don't think it is totally necessary to get really graphic about the violence like some do. They were shot and died. Or they got shot and blood was dripping from the wound. That pretty much sums it up for me.


I am sick of seeing violence against women and girls being used as entertainment or as motivation for the male protoganist's actions.  Between rapists, batterers, mass shooters, stalkers, murder/suicides, and the normalizing of violence and degradation of women and girls in porn (who are real women and girls, BTW) by men and boys who watch it and expect it from women and girls, men abuse and kill women in real life so constantly that women and girls cannot escape from it (although men don't want to hear about it, and the media always seems to ignore the pervasive misogyny of it all).  So, consider that, when you are writing, women are reading your stuff, and men who abuse women are, too.  Try to show that things can be different.


Is graphic violence ever justified in a book or should it be left to the imagination?

It seems the violence has become even more graphic in movies. I am thinking of the 2 John Wick movies with Keanu Reeves, but even the super hero movies can be unusually violent. Still, it can be integral to the plot and may have the intended effect, as with John Wick. I guess I have read books with what seemed to be somewhat overblown violence, and it never bothered me, unless the violence was accompanied by needless suffering or torture of people integral to the plot. The messy elimination of bit actors in a movie can be violent but seems of little overall consequence as the plot usually moves past them quickly. I suppose the same can be true in books.

I think the justification depends on how the extreme violence is handled, and how much blood detail is given of the acts themselves, which I can imagine might lean an action book more toward the horror genre in that aspect of the action. So, how violence is described in the context of the narrative will go a long way toward determining if it is presented graphically in a successful and “acceptable” manner. I think that, handled well, the graphic violence can be fine and contribute to the impact of the writing.  If gratuitous and included for apparently simple shock value in gory detail, it would have been better left to the imagination.If left to the imagination, one would expect the writing to have a larger target audience, of course, but perhaps have less impact upon the more restricted range of readers.


It depends on the violence for me. Shootings or a stabbing doesn't bother me. However, someone being skinned alive or cut into pieces turns me off and I delete the book.


Stalker

I think some violence is necessary in fiction writing but I don’t want details of the guts spilling out, eyeballs being plucked out or anything like that


There is never a justification for violence..of any kind. There is already so much in real life. But, it's there. No getting past that fact. At least with a book, I can, and often do, skip over the majority of the details without losing track of a plotline.

Some people have no problem with fictionalized versions of violence. I do. I seem to sink into a story line and sort of internalize details as they are depicted. That fictional pain gets wrapped up into my own pain and it becomes intensely unpleasant for me. I guess maybe I emotionally relate too closely to characters' experiences? In any case, I've long learned to just not read (or watch) some material.


Maybe I'm just warped, but I like my books to contain violence. After all, just watch the news on TV or read your local newspaper. Our world is full of violence. I do like some humor as well. I've known some real BAD people if my life (Hell's Angels that came into my bar and jail buddies of my brother) and most of them have some sort of sense of humor, twisted yes, but still funny. Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen crack me up. I am currently reading Plainclothes Naked by Jerry Stahl. Funny funny stuff from the criminals and the cops. Violent, too.


Hi, if any author uses violence of any kind it needs to have a purpose behind it. Not just gets the hero to fight or a villain who's a hole and should die. Why the violent acts? If used, you don't have to be graphic in describing it- a little goes the distance. If you're describing an actual torture method- well that violence is fair.


I am actually quite ambivalent on this, on the one hand I really don't enjoy reading about too much explicit or graphic violence, and think that in most cases it is far better if it is implicit and left to the reader's imagination. However, I also feel that in certain circumstances it is perfectly valid for graphic violence to be portrayed, but only when it is central to the story. I recently had the pleasure of advance reading an epic series by John Mefford, in which some of the central characters are subjected to various forms of violence (physical and mental torture), which I found quite difficult to read at times, however by the time I reached the end of this series I realised that the impact and the message of redemption (the series is called ‘The Redemption Thriller Series') would have been severely compromised without the portrayal of the violence.


Killer

I personally don't see an issue with in books. Everyone has a choice of whether to read a given book and no one should deprive someone of reading a book that they themselves may not care for. With a little research, an individual can easily determine whether a writer includes graphic descriptions or leaves more to the imagination. There are plenty of “cozy” writers to cater to those readers who dislike graphic violence.


I'm a 78  year old grandma & I don't mind a lot of violence in the books I read. Same with TV & Movies.


My personal preference is “middle of the road” violence.  A description of a fight and its results can describe something relevant to a story.  A detailed description of torture in detail can produce a feeling of unwelcome revulsion.  Alternatively it could produce, in an immature or criminal mind, a desire to reproduce the scene in real life.  The first is just unpleasant, the second is dangerous.  So, my answer is “depends on type and degree of detail in the violence description”.


I believe you do not need graphic violence as long as there is a strong lead and readers can understand what is going to or is happening! Imagination can be far more graphic than anything written on paper, and if some readers are less capable of extreme violence their minds won't take them quite there, but rather to what they can handle.


I'm not generally a reader of blood & thunder & murder & mayhem.
I occasionally read a ghost or vampire story and I'm not averse to a bit of soft sci-fi or horror. Basically, I'm a romantic.
However, that being said, I feel graphic violence is OK in a book so long as it fits the story and is justified.
I don't condone violence and gore for the sake of sensationalism. Just the same as I will read a steamy romance because I want the steam, but endless sex scenes… Page after page is in very bad taste.


I like to read about violence rather than to watch it on TV or in the movies.
By reading about it you can use your imagination to get the drift of the violence.
The gorier the better.
Lots of Authors write Mills and Boon grade violence and it is ok but it isn't as gripping as the real strong stuff
The strong stuff keeps you turning pages to find out what happens. Love it.
So keep up the good stuff.lol.


I don't mind violence in books if it's necessary to the story.  Like sex scenes, some authors put in violence and language because they aren't good enough writers to tell the story in a way that the reader can see what is happening without the blow by blow account.
If the author sets the scene up well, the reader will see all that is necessary to understand what is happening.  Mary Higgins Clark does a great job of doing just that.  You can see what is happening eithout losing your lunch.
Only soldiers, law enforcement, and victims see the real thing and that is good for the rest of us.
So yes a certain level of violence may be necessary, but too much just ruins a book.

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