At first I thought this was a little insensitive to the dead person’s surviving family. Do the grandsons really need to read about grandma getting run over by a reindeer? Then I thought: lighten up, these truths are supposed be light-hearted fun.
With the last truth I discussed how much detail to put into a scene/chapter/book. This truth deals with how much graphic detail does one want to include.
Old war movies almost never showed blood. A guy gets shot, he puts his hand over the wound, arches his back, cries out in pain and drops dead. Even films with mass slaughter, i.e. Sergeant York, showed only a lot of men getting shot, but no blood. As the years passed, it became more ‘entertaining’ to be more realistic and show more detail. Horror movies constantly try to outdo one another with how much gore is displayed on screen. Every new concept seems to add a little different twist on what can be done to humans and what is shown. From Friday the 13th, to Halloween, to the Saw flicks.
I enjoy horror movies but I’ll admit there is a limit to what is ‘entertaining’ and not just blood for blood’s sake. Specifically, the Hostel movies. If you haven’t seen them, you aren’t missing quality. The basic premise is: A secret organization kidnaps young travelers and allows others to torture and kill them. I watched all three flicks and was disgusted and regretted the waste of time. Yes, I probably should have learned after the first not to see the other two.
So, what about books? At the time of this writing, I just finished a book by Robert Pobi called Bloodman. It’s about an FBI agent trying to solve a series of murders on Long Island. Without going into too much detail, the killer skins his victims. This book hooked me from the beginning. There was mucho graphic detail, mucho profanity, and Pobi didn’t hold back. Still, this was a book I wanted to read. I wanted to solve the case before the detective did. I wanted to figure out who the killer was and by the time the solution was given I had narrowed it down two people.
I’ll read murder mystery books. I like the puzzle. I like the clues given. I don’t enjoy, for the most part, the blood and the gore. In many books, they really aren’t necessary or add anything to the story. Bloodman was a rare exception. I don’t think this book could have been as powerful without the details of the murders. Everything the author did, especially in the presentation worked together to make a creepy, almost surreal story. It definitely couldn’t have worked as a cozy.
I struggle sometimes on how much graphic detail to include in my books. With the first Mallory Petersen story concerning the kidnapping and subsequent rape of a eight year old girl, I kept the heinous details out of the story. Yes, I described the setting and the people involved, but I knew the readers would understand what was happening and I did not want to turn them off and have them put down the book refusing to read further. I also added humorous scenes to break up the seriousness of the subject matter.
In Mallory’s second mystery, she herself, is almost raped. The particular scene went through a couple changes. My first draft was fine, but I didn’t think the intensity was high enough so I included a few more graphic descriptions. My editor, when she reached this point in the story, asked me to back off. It was too much. I didn’t need to take things as far as I did to still get the emotions and the drama. I went with her suggestions, but I don’t think I went as far as I could. I think the scene still could have worked.
With detail, as discussed in the last Truth, the question is: is it relevant to the story? The same holds true for graphic detail, blood, guts, and gore. If the spilling of blood is necessary to deepen the story either for plot or for a specific character, then it’s okay to add a little more detail. So often however, I think authors put it in because they think it will sell. Same with movies. Film makers want that ‘R’ rating to sell tickets and the younger crowd wants the guts and the beheadings and the speargun in the eyes, so these are depicted.
The best movies, though, are the ones where you DON’T see the monster. Well, some of the best movies. There are exceptions (ahem, Cloverfield). Books are the same way. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness is a prime example. I’ve read this story a number of times and even though I ache to know what the guy saw as his buddy flew away from the ancient city, I know this book is so much better for NOT showing me. My imagination runs wild trying to fill in the blanks.
For me, I think of my mother. I want to write something my mother will read. Yes, she may come back and tell me the scene was gross, but she didn’t put down the book completely repulsed. I watch the amount of blood and the number of times I use profanity because my mom has walked out of the room when a movie starts with excessive foul language. (Therefore, I can safely assume she hasn’t watched Pacino’s Scarface all the way through.)
You want to engage your readers, not repulse them. You want to grab them and shake them up, make them quiver and get them feeling uneasy. You want to scare them a little. If you constantly go all Carrie on them (and those of you who’ve seen this movie know what I mean), then they’re not going enjoy the book.
So have a bloody good time, just clean up after yourself, okay?