Violence in fiction.

Categoricals are meant to be broken

My novel Schism takes a look at violence and its consequences. Whether it be in the form of warfare or genocide, my novel does everything possible to show violence as something grotesque and that can only lead to more violence. Think Orestes. Blood only brings more blood, creating a pattern of brutality that, like a ripple in a pond, only grows. Yet, I can’t deny that watching something like Terminator 2 isn’t fun or watching District 9 where people get turned into so much soup (trust me if you haven’t seen it, people get liquified a lot! Gooey-gooey!) doesn’t give me a rush. Now, with the idea I have for my next writing project, my anit-violence stance has gotten switched right around. If I’m going to do right by this new idea, set in a far-future earth, I’m going to have to have violence, brutality, and some plain old crazy stuff. Yet, realizing this makes both my stance against against violence and my new very violent novel sit uneasily in my mind. So I wonder, as a writer, as a creator of art, what is my responsibility?

I don’t think I can abide by Oscar Wilde’s stance that we make, “art for art’s sake.” Art, because of its ability to interact with us on the symbolic level, carries ethical weight that we can’t just drop off or deny. It goes back to the Plato’s debate of how art affects us. Actually, Plato didn’t really like art all that much but never mind him. I feel that art can have a profound affect on the way people see and interpret the world. If this is the case, then we as writers should try to be a positive force. “But isn’t some reading just for entertainment?” ABSOLUTELY YES! In fact, I think first and foremost, we’re here to entertain you however, by entertaining you with characters you like and plots you get hooked into, we’re sort creating material that can influence your thoughts. Humans are excellent copiers. We learn many things through mimicry and if there’s a character you really like who shoots first and then asks how many more people need killing later, that sets up a model that validates the violence since the character is just so darn charismatic. Case in point: Hannibal Lecter. He’s urbane, witty, brilliant, and a psychopathic killer. However, he commands our attention and to a degree earns our admiration. Do a single one of us feel such things for Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacey? No, but through the medium of art, with just the right character traits, someone who we would usually scream to be executed becomes a character we love to watch every time he’s on screen.

So, the question is, how do we balance being entertaining while still trying to do something positive? I think that this comes in the themes we choose to incorporate in our stories. If we have a book with tons of violence with a theme that says violence is always the best option, then we are getting a double dose message. Violence is both at the surface and below, reinforcing itself as it goes. However, one could have plenty of violence and still have a humanist message beneath it while using violence and action as a way to entertain and grip the reader in suspense. I think that it comes down to rejecting categorical ways of thinking. Violence can serve a purpose in literature. In a story that calls for action, it must be delivered. This doesn’t mean that the story endorses violence, only that the plot is about a violent scenario. Depending on how it’s used and portrayed, a violent story be a wonderful demonstration and defense of more useful, less destructive ways of dealing with each other.

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2 Comments on “Violence in fiction.”

  1. mbd Says:

    you might like reading the pillowman. its a play by Martin McDonagh about a writer who is imprisoned and tortured for writing violent stories, and alot of those age-old questions are revisited in a very compelling way.

    • That sounds very interesting. Does the writer play a part in his own demise by creating violent works or does real-world violence simply find its way into fiction thus making the writer just an observer of a violence world? Just the premise has me pondering. Now I know another book to pick up over Spring break. Thanks for the suggestion!

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