Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Considering the aftermath of murder

by Rick Blechta

My post this week sort of riffs off Vicki’s post from yesterday.

Every crime writing author has to face how they deal with violence and death, because let’s face it, that’s what our books are about at their roots. I won’t go over the same ground that Vicki has already covered so ably about her personal choices as a writer when her stories face and describe violent death.

I want to cover how we writers deal with something further down the line: the effects of violence and death on those unfortunate souls who are the “collateral damage” when someone’s life is taken: the families, the loved ones, friends, colleagues. Those effects can be horrible and long-lasting as well as wide-ranging. They can completely ruin lives. It takes a very strong person to put it all behind them and carry on.

In a previous post here on Type M, I touched on this. It must be pretty far back because I can’t find it in the past 4 years of our little blog. (Sorry!)

I have some personal experience with this. A high school friend had to face something beyond comprehension when his son was tried and convicted because of his involvement in the brutal death of a woman in her home. I’m not going to go into any detail about the actual crime, but instead how the son’s actions affected his parents.

Their support for him was unwavering, and since this was a crime that garnered national attention, the media presence was intense. All they said (stripped down) was that they loved their son and felt horrible about the death of the woman. I cannot imagine having to run the gauntlet of reporters shouting questions at them as they arrived at and left the courthouse every day of the trial. Knowing my friend (a kind and gentle person), it must have been unbearable. (I’m sure equally so for his wife.) I was so heartbroken for them. They didn’t deserve any of this.

A lot of crime novels can get pretty violent descriptively. These are ones I usually put down. I’m not squeamish, but I just feel that violence can be done in the setting of a novel without choreographing it exhaustively. It’s the difference between seeing the “results” of an attack as Hitchcock did in Psycho or actually watching each knife stroke in full gory detail — as it most likely would be shot in today’s world. Which is better? Which is stronger? I think you know where my choice lies. Knowing about murder is bad enough. My imagination is very good and I don’t appreciate having my face rubbed in it.

But we writers don’t often delve into the aftermath of violence such as I described in my personal example above, primarily because our plots are focused on the catching of the criminal(s) responsible, but we should at least think about the personal aftermath as we work through our plots, even if we don’t describe it. It can only make our other writing stronger.

Deliberate murder is an ultra-violent act, and we should be very respectful in our treatment of it. It’s not a plaything for us to use in a careless or frivolous manner. It is a tool, certainly, that must be used for us to tell our story, but we need to be mindful of its potency as a depraved human act.

We owe that to the dead — but also to those unfortunate souls left behind, sucked into a vortex not of their own making.


Donna S said...

I am a real fan of murder mystery books and considering I am in my 70's and worked in a library for over 20 years, I have had my share of books. But running into murder in real life is something else altogether. Had to do jury duty and the crime was murder. Seeing that person standing up there in the box while the jury was vetted was absolutely awful. He was young, he was white as a sheet (which they tell me is from being in jail for a long period) and I prayed I never had to sit and judge him. Fortunately, altho I made it to the last 24, I was never picked. But the experience shook me all the same.
The other experience I had was when a friend, a close friend, got drunk, got mad and walked up to a cop in a bar and shot him dead. The cop should not have been in the bar granted but why Al decided to do it that way is beyond me. He had been to my house for dinner and we had socialized with him. The whole thing was very scary and it made me sick to my stomach. other people's reactions to me and my hubby was frightening as well. They looked at us as if we had committed the crime and you could see what they were thinking "How could you be friends with a person like that?" And being interviewed by the police, well that is a whole different story. So even though I like mysteries, I tend to read British writers where their crimes happen in a place I have never been or never likely to go. Much safer that way.

Rick Blechta said...

Donna, I hear what you're saying, and sympathize with the way you feel. My experience, third-hand as it was, filled me with incredible anxiety and it was heartbreaking to watch two good people I know get embroiled in something not of their own making -- they were wonderful parents to an obviously very troubled son -- and have to ride it out because they wouldn't abandon their child no matter what he did.

But what you've related is exactly what I was talking about in my post: the damage from the act of murder is widespread, indiscriminate and long-lasting. You've felt that sting.

Thank you for commenting and sharing your story with all of us.

Anonymous said...

Rick's post and Donna's comment make me realize how glad I am to be writing what I call "quazi-cozies" -- no graphic violence, but also less humor. In some ways I enjoy the straight-up cozy genre, but I always feel a little uncomfortable with how cavalierly the murders are often treated. I realize they're for enjoyment, but they leave me unsettled. So when I started my series, I headed for the middle ground, and it seems to be hitting the spot with readers.

Thanks so much for posting this. We need to always be thinking about how far we as writers want to go in using murder as a form of entertainment (which it is, in a novel).

Rick Blechta said...

"...but I always feel a little uncomfortable with how cavalierly the murders are often treated."

I feel the same way. Murder is a serious business and shouldn't be treated lightly as it is in some cozies. ("Oh! I found a dead body in the parlour. How inconvenient.") I don't know about you but it would take me a long time to recover if I ever found the body of someone how had been murdered.

Many thanks for the comment!