Southern City Mysteries: Crime in Literature

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...January 17, 1775: Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals premiered. Sheridan was just twenty-three years old, this was his first play,

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Crime in Literature

Celebrity Apprentice.  The Biggest Loser.  Law&Order SVU.

Is anything off limits?

How about in writing?  Are there any crimes you won't write about?  Will you include child abuse, child murder, elder abuse, dog fights, or torture in your writing?

Is there anything you won't read?  Any of the subjects above?  If so, why?  Do certain subjects just bother you?  Or do you think there are some crimes that should just be left untouched in literature?

Is art supposed to reflect life in every way?  (I am not saying realtiy TV shows are art!)

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19 comments:

  1. Great post, interesting questions. I have in fact written rape, torture, scenes of same in a genocidal setting. I have killed babies and the occasional entire world. I've written these in the belief that they were necessary and served the story I was telling. I loathe gratuitous violence and sex. And I truly believe that all crimes, at least in their fundamental forms, have been written about in literature.

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  2. No subject I won't touch. Not that there any subjects that make me uncomfortable, because that would be untrue. Anything to do with pedophilia fills with a sort of anger I never knew existed, but I still watch the shows (SVU) and read the novels. I recently read a book that dealt with heroin junkies, how the the boys turned tricks to score some, and such. It was repulsive. But informative, and yet another tad of information I can hold on to. Art IS supposed to reflect life in every single way. If it doesn't, it's hypocritical and pointless. Sometimes people simply need to have their reflection thrown back at them before they see the wrong they are doing, and decide to make a change for the better. And literature is one way to do just that.

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  3. Rape is about the only crime I won't actively have my POV character witness. Torture, yes. Murder, yes. Poisoning, yes. Dashing a baby against the stones, yes.

    Part of my reason behind that is that I've personally known too many rape victims to be entirely comfortable with writing it in graphic detail. I could write such a scene if I truly felt it served the story, but I've found describing the associated sounds serves to craft better tension than showing it does. Because then you don't KNOW what's going on, but you can assume what's going on.

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  4. Matthew is quite right... the assumption, the implicit action, is much more powerful than the description.

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  5. I find it all uncomfortable, but that does not mean I won't read a book because of it. The one topic I do avoid is the dark arts. I am a bit on the superstitious side.

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  6. Very interesting questions. I don't deal with a lot of crime in my writing, but would probably stay away from crimes against children. Those tend to be the most horrific.

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  7. There's things I won't watch, and even more I won't write about. If it goes against my moral standards, I skip it.

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  8. I tend to like to stick my head in the sand when it comes to certain things, so, yes, there are plenty of things I don't write about or read. I would never be interested in anything related to crimes against children for sure. BUT that doesn't mean I don't think it would be very meaningful for someone else to write about them or shed light on the important realities of those awful situations. I just tend to be too light hearted to do it myself. :-)

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  9. Art usually does...
    There's so much I just could never write about and I left a lot out of my own books. But art doesn't have to always reflect the darkest aspects of life, either!

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  10. So far...nothings out of bounds for me. Doesn't mean I ever will, or that I'll feel 100% comfortable if I do, but I don't want to limit myself.

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  11. This is a question I've been trying to answer. I have a book idea that has been pestering me for a while, but it involves rape and torture and I just don't know if I can write it. Two reasons: It is too real for too many people, and my husband would have a cow.

    He freaked out about my totally innocent kissing scene. It sounded like this, "What would you say if one of the young women from church read your book? You need to take that out." I didn't btw. It was a good steamy kiss, and it showed growth in my MC.

    So, I don't know. I don't like to read about crimes against children if they are too descriptive. If it is a one line statement of what happened I might keep reading, but I don't want to watch heinous crimes against children.

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  12. With adult characters, anything goes. With younger characters? I start drawing lines. There are certain things I wouldn't do to a younger character, at least not "on-screen," so to speak. I'd prefer to deal with those kinds of things obliquely, should they crop up in my work.

    Wait. I deal with almost everything obliquely. Oh, well...

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  13. I can't bring myself to think about (much less write about) children being hurt/killed/etc.

    This stems from personal issues.

    As far as adult characters go, all bets are off when I start typing. Hey, they're grown-ups, they can handle anything life throws at them and still come back swinging.

    I personally love delving deep into my devilish mind and writing about torture....

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  14. I absolutely cannot deal with child abuse in any form -either when I'm reading or writing. Can't handle it at all. Even thinking about it throws my stomach into knots. I've worked with too many students who've survived too much. Won't do it.

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  15. I won't write about child abuse. Just won't tocuh it. I don't see any reason too.

    Stephen Tremp

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  16. Good questions. I think some taboo subjects can be done if they're handled well and not just used to shock. If something written about child abuse raises people's awareness, or talks about something important, it's a good thing. I'm not sure I could write or even read about it though: I put down "The Lovely Bones" just before the girl is murdered because I knew where it was going, and I was too icked out to keep reading.

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  17. WONDERFUL responses! I will base Thursday's post on your responses...as follow-up.

    Thank you!

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  18. I thought alot of those subjects were kind of bad taste - but then when I read the Stieg Larsson books, I saw that they could be done in a way that wasn't gratuitous, but just added to the story in a poignant way.

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  19. Even though late, I'll add my 2 cents -- although I would never interfere with another writer's right to choose, I personally have stopped reading any book that contains graphic descriptions of sex crimes, especially those against children. The images are upsetting -- I have trouble dealing with reports of missing kids and children's bodies that we read about in real news, so why would I want to bring these horribly sad things to mind through fiction? I don't mind reading and writing about murder, but I don't care for the graphic gory stuff.

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