Please join in the discussion with my guest, Author, Patti Larsen.
Violence in Literature—When is Enough, Enough?
This is such a huge subject because in encompasses such a large range of topics. Like what, you ask? The obvious, of course—blood, gore, mayhem. Physical violence. But there are so many more aspects to it, in my opinion. Emotional violence. Verbal. The subtle kinds. Simple terror, even. Fear of the Boogeyman that makes it hard to sleep with the lights out. And swearing. Yes, just words. But when written with certain intent, they are a form of violence.
So, the question Soooz put to us was, when is enough, enough? That’s really hard to say. We’re surrounded by it every day, not just in our literature, but in films, television, the news. Video games and threats passed back and forth on social media. Cutting, anorexia, drug abuse. I think the more important question here is, how close are we to crossing the line of reality and fiction?
Because that’s what makes people uncomfortable. Not the actual violence itself, but that the make-believe is supposed to entertain, to take us as readers to a new and exciting place, to lose ourselves in a fresh world full of interesting characters we want to care about.
And when we as writers flip the switch and begin to follow the way of the real world, suddenly those violent things can’t be ignored quite so easily.
I recently submitted a Young Adult manuscript to my publisher. I’m mainly a YA author and while the book I send in, Best Friends Forever, is in that age group, I was keenly aware of how dark and horrible the content is. It is choc-o-bloc with red flags I knew could keep my publisher from accepting it.
And fair enough. It’s full of violence. Three girls die in a tragic accident, a young boy is kidnapped by a serial killer. The main character abuses herself with drugs and alcohol while being haunted by the ghosts of her dead friends. I make no apologies for the content. None. Like most writers, I type out what the voices tell me to. And while I know it’s not a book for everyone, I couldn’t abandon Emily or her story or even consider altering it to satisfy someone else’s sensibilities.
Am I crossing the reality barrier? Absolutely. Am I influenced by violence I witness when I’m not writing? Of course I am. Does it shape me as a writer. Probably it does. But I’m not doing it on purpose. I’m not choosing to be violent. I’m simply allowing the characters who form in my head to say what they need to say, to share their hope and horror.
I heard back from my publisher. She loved it. Said it reminded her of the Grand Master Mr. King himself. And while I have no illusions nor delusions of grandeur when I hear such praise, I’m very grateful I allowed Emily to speak the way she wanted to without censorship. Mind you, said publisher decided she wants to market it to adults instead of teens, worried about the impact it might have and whether teenagers are a good audience for this book.
I actually had to think about it for a bit before deciding to move ahead. Is it too dark for the market I normally write in? I’m not sure. Everything I pen these days seems to be going down that road. Will my teen readers like it? I know they’ll find it, so changing the market won’t make much of a difference. And I really think they will like it. But not because of the violence. In spite of it. Because of the connections I hope they make with Emily. And the understanding that despite the violence, in the end… well I can’t tell you the ending. That would spoil it, right?
We can’t shelter ourselves from the world around us. Trying to is futile and foolish. But we can decide how we process the violence we see, how we channel it. Maybe that means writing a dark book as catharsis. Or as a tool to heal others who may have gone through exactly that scenario and draws parallels, enough to salvage a part of their soul.
As a society, as human beings, violence is an unfortunate way of life. And it’s a natural progression to have it enter the way we communicate with each other. But I can say, for me, while I think it’s inevitable, violence isn’t the point.
When it becomes the only thing literature is about, that’s where the problems start.
Patti Larsen is a 39-year-old novelist and independent filmmaker. A writer of fiction and screenplays, she began her writing career at a tender age and had her first typewriter by the time she was twelve. Choosing to develop her skills in journalism, her passion for storytelling eventually led her back to fiction. She found filmmaking and screenwriting and fell in love with telling stories all over again. She sees all types of fiction as wonderful forms of expression. Her original passion, however, is writing novels, and she is very happy to be doing so.
Her young adult novel Fresco (Etopia Press) is due for publication in July of 2011. The sequels are pending. The Hunted series will be released this fall. Her middle grade novel, The Ghost Boy of MacKenzie House (Acorn Press) is also scheduled for release, in the spring of 2012.
Patti lives on the East Coast of Canada, with her very patient husband Scott, and four massive cats.
You can find her all over the web (at least it feels that way to her):