The Complicated Ethics of Writing Violence in Fiction

From Time magazine:

There are some hard ethical questions in the writing of crime fiction.

For me, the most difficult one is how to portray violence.

For one thing, should you depict it all?

And if so, how do you do it with some sense of morality?

I wrestle with this issue all the time. It’s a fine line to walk. On the one hand I don’t want to sanitize violence—I don’t like presenting murder as a parlor game, or worse, a video game in which there are no real consequences. On the other hand, I don’t want to cross that thin line into what might be called the pornography of violence, a means to merely titillate the worst angels of our nature.

But we have to deal with it.

After all, we write crime fiction, and crime often involves violence. So either we choose crimes that don’t—the slick, bloodless heist, the clever con game—or we write scenes that involve shootings, stabbings and various kinds of murder.

And maybe that’s the answer—maybe we have come to a time when we should stop writing violent crime altogether. But if we make that choice, we say goodbye to the murder mystery, the procedural, the forensic novel.

And maybe I’m wrong about not sanitizing the violence. There is, after all, a place for the cleverly plotted, suspenseful whodunit with its witty dialogue, exotic locales, and intriguing characters. (Who am I to judge?) It’s fine, as long as we know it’s a game and we play by its rules and know its conventions. So if Colonel Someone kills Lord Someone Else in the study with a monkey wrench, we don’t expect to see the blood and brains and we don’t feel much from the grieving family except anticipation of the will.

Fair enough, I suppose.

But I write realistic crime fiction.

For twenty-three years, I wrote close-to-the-bone novels about the Mexican drug cartels. The actual violence was horrific, and I was faced with a stark choice: Do I back away from the violence, soften it, mute it, make it less terrible than it was, or do I bring it to the reader in realistic, graphic language that showed it the way it was?

For the most part, I chose the latter option.

It was hard choice.

Link to the rest at Time magazine

When PG found the OP, he realized that, after a significant number of years as a subscriber to Time and reading almost every issue cover-to-cover, he had allowed his subscription to lapse.

And he hadn’t thought about Time for a long, long time.

Things change.