Saturday, August 31, 2013

Guest Blogger Simon Wood: A question of violence

I’d like to welcome back to Type M this weekend’s guest blogger, Simon Wood, whom many of you will know – and if you don’t, you should!

Simon Wood is a California transplant from England. He’s a former competitive racecar driver, a licensed pilot, an endurance cyclist and an occasional PI. He shares his world with his American wife, Julie. Their lives are dominated by a longhaired dachshund and four cats. He’s the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper, Terminated, Asking For Trouble, We All Fall Down and the Aidy Westlake series. His latest thriller is No Show, the first in the Terry Sheffield mysteries. He also writes horror under the pen name Simon Janus. Curious people can learn more at

By Simon Wood

From time to time someone at a book signing or conference or something will bring up violence and the writer. Someone will say, “Aren’t you glorifying violence?” or some such. It’s usually at this point I have to take down my banner that says “Violence is fun! Try it!!”

When the movie version of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins took a bit of a battering in the media. The gist of the various articles and forum conversations I came across harped on the following topics the books and movie is violent and violence involving children seems tacky. This reaction kind of baffled me because no one hid the plot from anyone so what were you expecting. Some people may be genuinely offended and that’s okay, but at the same time, they outcry didn’t ring true in most cases. It felt like an excuse to fill column inches.

I get quite het up over complaints over violence in fiction. If a story deals with a violent act, then it needs show it because violence is ugly and it hurts. Pretending it doesn’t exist or dumbing it down is a worse crime because it’s a lie and fiction works because it might be make-believe, but it’s honest. I think it would be wrong of me to make light of someone’s murder (even in a fictional setting) by having it take place off page or between chapters. Crime isn’t a joke or venue for living vicariously as a detective and the icky bits don’t matter. I find a book that underplays or scurries by a character’s death just as an offensive as a book filled with gratuitous violence. Neither do the subject acceptable.

The reason I write crime fiction isn't because mysteries are fun or I want to invent a cool detective. I write crime fiction because I’m fascinated by the human condition and all its frailties. When someone dies on the page, I want the reader to mourn their passing as if they were a real person. That means I’m going show things none of us comfortable seeing from time to time.

This isn't to say violence has to be displayed in all its gory detail. If you’re just going to get anatomical about killing someone, it doesn’t work because the emotional element is missing. Chopping up bodies all day in a book might seem shocking, but it gets old real fast. However, kill a character the reader is emotionally vested in, the violence doesn’t have to be overt for the reader to feel it all that hard.

I will say I have a responsibility when it comes to depicting violence. I won’t shy away from it, but at the same time, I don’t believe anything goes. With my new book, No Show, my editor and I had a bit over a chat over the ending as it’s devastating to the major characters. I was going through a little bit of a crisis of faith. The violence isn't seen but its effects are witnessed. I knew it was bound to upset some readers and to be frank, it was upsetting me. I asked my editor should I change the climax. She said no. this one act was vital to the character who he would become for the rest of the series depended on it and the scene stood—warts and all. When it comes to anything in a story, it has to be warranted, regardless of whether it’s violent or not.

At the end of the day, violence exists in our culture. We may not like it, but we can’t pretend it doesn’t. That applies to real life and fiction.


Simon Wood said...

Thanks for having my by.


Donis Casey said...

I'm in the middle of a WIP and have been having the same thoughts, Simon, only my worry is about showing the true ugliness of human nature, especially societal ugliness of the time period I write about. I usually end up wimping out because I don't want to offend my readers. Some day I'm going to screw up my courage and go for it, but my guess it'll be the last book of that particular series.

Simon Wood said...

It's a fine line, Donis.

I knew I was taking a risk and I know I may alienate some reader who may not stick the series, but I was glad to see someone say they would have liked a happy ending but got that the trauma was the fuel to keep the series motoring. :)

Amy Marbach said...

I just finished No Show- and I was aghast at the ending (I don't want to spoil it just in case). Why? Because I was vested in the characters- so the impact was what you intended. I agree though- that I see it as a life altering trauma that not only changed Terry- but I have a feeling will make him who he eventually becomes.

Simon Wood said...

Amy: This is only the beginning for Terry. He has a long way to go. :-)