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Thread: Have crime books gotten gorier?

  1. #1
    Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. kaitie's Avatar
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    Have crime books gotten gorier?

    I grew up on horror, and I've always read suspense, mystery, and thrillers. For the past probably three or four years, a lot of what I've read has been fantasy or other genres that have been recommended to me, with the exception of a couple of authors I really like. I have, however, picked up crime books during that time and have bought quite a few for my to-be-read pile.

    It seems, though, that the ones I've read have all been really graphic. I just started a new one and that one, too, has the goriest murder scene I've ever come across described in the first ten pages.

    It seems like there has been a trend toward more gore in the past few years. It strikes me as shock value most of the time (I've rarely read one that seemed necessary), and I'm not sure I like it. It's also possible, though, that it's just been an unlucky few books that I've picked up. I can think of one of the most graphic scenes I've read from fifteen years ago, and these new ones all seem to be as bad or worse than that--and that was in a horror novel.

    Is it just the books I'm reading, or is it really a trend? And if it is, how do you feel about that as a reader and/or writer? Are we expected now to have this level of graphic detail in our books?
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  2. #2
    POP$ AW benefactor Chase's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kaitie View Post
    It seems like there has been a trend toward more gore in the past few years.
    I've noticed the same in TV crime shows. Lots of actors are making good money playing bodies undergoing dissection. I think the new books I read are either leading or following the same trend.

    .
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    practical experience, FTW Ken's Avatar
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    ... never read books pub'd after 1951, or thereabouts . . . except for those pub'd by AW authors! That's my tactic. No graphic gore or anything else of the sort and that doesn't diminish the impact of the scenes at all. (See Spillane.)

    I'm not saying that gore is bad. It's a fine and praise-worthy thing, but just not for me.

    As a writer, I don't include it either. Doesn't suit my stuff or characters.

    Plus, if you leave out the gore you can get away with so much more ;-)

  4. #4
    ideas are floating where they will Stlight's Avatar
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    I enjoy many mysteries, but I don't care for the gore, or the forensics. I usually skip those parts. I'm not interested in the how of a murder, but in the why. Clues don't matter to me as much as the explanation of what made the murderer do it.

    So I don't CSI, or P. Cromwell (well, certainly not after that JRT mess. Because as much as I don't care about gore and forensics, the murder has to at least have had access to the victim. end of mini-rant.)

  5. #5
    Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. kaitie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chase View Post
    I've noticed the same in TV crime shows. Lots of actors are making good money playing bodies undergoing dissection. I think the new books I read are either leading or following the same trend.

    .
    I've definitely noticed it in crime shows. I'm pretty shocked sometimes by what they'll actually show. It would make sense if books are following the same trends. I hadn't really thought of it.

    Do people think they sell better? I'm not quite sure where the competition to be the most graphic started, but I know for me it isn't a selling point. I just wonder how many other people watch/read in spite of those things rather than because of them? I don't think I've ever read a book or seen a show and thought "this could really benefit by being more graphic." I'm not a Pollyanna that needs everything to be g-rated by any means, but it does feel (to me) like things have started to become graphic for the sake of shocking, which to me is a lazy way of writing.

    Here's a good example. I won't name names (unless you want me to lol), but I recently read a book in a series that I love. This book, though, I wasn't nearly as impressed with. There were several instances when the book got very graphic in various ways, and I felt like the author was doing it to get an emotional, gut reaction from the reader. It did, in making me want to skim over those parts, but not the way I think he'd wanted.

    At the same time, there was a huge arc of the story that involved a love interest being put in danger and the end was less than happily ever after. The thing is, there was so little actually showing of the two of them having feelings for each other beyond sex that it just wasn't very powerful. I just never really got a good sense that the main character really loved her aside from the parts of the book that basically said that.

    I think the book would have been much stronger if rather than focusing on the graphic details, there had been more focus on the emotional connection between those two people.
    Last edited by kaitie; 01-16-2013 at 09:23 PM.
    "You will experience a tingling sensation and then death."

    And just because it's still awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSgiXGELjbc

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  6. #6
    for certain qualities of "sane" tarak's Avatar
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    I've noticed that trend in urban fantasy. One series in particular, which I adore. But there have been times I thought the graphic details were there to shock, not to move the plot forward. There is very little that turns my stomach (chalking that up to having four kids - if it exists, I've had to clean it up). I love the Walking Dead, even though the gore is gratuitous at times (one of the writers freely admitted they're pushing to see what they can get away with). But I also feel its less of a challenge to write a few sentences describing smashed body parts than to describe someone's reaction to seeing them.

  7. #7
    Travelling around the sun cbenoi1's Avatar
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    I think the trend is about having a villain who's sicker than the last one. Serial killing, twisted minds, torture, and gore are mere side-effects of that. That's why I avoid them in my stories. I can create a bad guy that's still human and well-developed without the need of gimmicks. Well, at least I think I can... |8-}

    -cb

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    Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. kaitie's Avatar
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    I definitely think it's easier to describe smashed body parts than reactions. Interestingly, I'd rather have the reaction and feel a strong connection to the character, that way I feel what the character is feeling, not just my own gut reaction.

    And it makes sense that people want to out-do their old villains. The current book I just started (I don't like it much right now, but I'll stick with it) is by a very famous author I don't think I've read before, but apparently it's one of several books with this set of characters. I definitely think there's a sense of having to have a villain that's worse than the last time.

    But, again, I'd say this is a flaw in the writing. I think about the advice we often give new writers--don't start a book with shock value violence because without a connection to the characters it doesn't mean much. I feel sort of like these writers are forgetting that.

    I was discussing this with my boyfriend the other day, who read a book in which hundreds were just killed in a massive battle, and he said that he knew he was supposed to really care and be horrified by the battle, but that he just didn't feel connected to any of them, so it didn't really mean much. One character we know and love facing a difficult situation is going to mean more than a character we don't know facing horrific torture beyond imagination.

    Maybe it's because I picked this one up in the middle of a series. Maybe there'd be more characterization if I'd read the first books. Sort of like how watching Serenity before Firefly totally ruins the emotional meaning behind certain character deaths.
    "You will experience a tingling sensation and then death."

    And just because it's still awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSgiXGELjbc

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  9. #9
    pretending to be awake onesecondglance's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kaitie View Post
    Sort of like how watching Serenity before Firefly totally ruins the emotional meaning behind certain character deaths.
    I dunno. Serenity's very well written. Even if you haven't watched Firefly, the deaths in Serenity still hit hard (particularly the one in the finale - you know which one I mean).

    Maybe that's the point. Even in a series, you still have to work hard to make your readers connect with your characters. There are no free passes for "oh, they know who I mean from the previous instalment".
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  10. #10
    for certain qualities of "sane" tarak's Avatar
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    This has nothing to do with the original post - just chiming in with how much I loved Firefly.

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    Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. kaitie's Avatar
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    Me too.
    "You will experience a tingling sensation and then death."

    And just because it's still awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSgiXGELjbc

    Take two: 90,008
    Current: 7,680



  12. #12
    pretending to be awake onesecondglance's Avatar
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    kaitie, I would just like to say that you shouldn't post for a little while. Only because 8,888 posts is damn cool.
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  13. #13
    Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. kaitie's Avatar
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    Oops!
    "You will experience a tingling sensation and then death."

    And just because it's still awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSgiXGELjbc

    Take two: 90,008
    Current: 7,680



  14. #14
    pretending to be awake onesecondglance's Avatar
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    Darn it!
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  15. #15
    Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. kaitie's Avatar
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    Hey, you're 1212. That's pretty cool in it's own right.
    "You will experience a tingling sensation and then death."

    And just because it's still awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSgiXGELjbc

    Take two: 90,008
    Current: 7,680



  16. #16
    pretending to be awake onesecondglance's Avatar
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    Cool, lemme see - oh, wait -

    Bugger.
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  17. #17
    Fix it in the Rewrite Shara's Avatar
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    I was a horror fan before I was a crime fiction fan, and I have to say I quite like the gore. But that's by the by.

    In the early 1990 - in the UK, anyway - there seemed to be a shift away from horror. Not only did it become unpopular, a lot of book shops stopped having a horror section. The only horror writers they still stocked were people like James Herbert, Stephen King and Clive Barker, who ended up in general fiction or 'bestsellers'.

    At the same time, it seemed the horror moved into crime. Crime books became gorier, all about serial killers and graphic descriptions of horrendous methods of killing.

    I think in reflected a shift in society's mindset. People were no longer afraid of supernatural beasties and things that go bump in the night. They were afraid of the real terrors in our world. Rapists. Serial killers. Murderous psychopaths.

    The rise of independent presses who publish horror is giving horror writers a market again, but most of the big publishers still don't admit to publishing horror - if they do they label it 'dark fantasy' or some such.

    However, the horror in gory crime thrillers is still strong. I don't think it ever went away, it just moved around. Bad news for both horror readers, who now have to hunt for it, and for crime readers who don't particularly want horror in their fiction.

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    Miserable and magical, oh yeah Vito's Avatar
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    Have crime books gotten gorier?
    My answer is "yes", but I don't think it's happened in only the past few years. I think it's been a steady development since the late 1970s or so. As evidence, I would put forth Lawrence Block's catalog of published crime fiction. Block's 1960s novels (The Girl With the Long Green Heart, Lucky At Cards, etc.) had plots built around con artists, with very little graphic violence. Block's long-running "Matthew Scudder" detective series, which commenced in the mid-1970s, regularly features graphic scenes of unbelievably brutal and gory violence.

    I think Block is a truly gifted writer but I'd be the first to admit that his body of work has become increasingly violent as the years go by. Since he's a major influence on many younger mystery novelists, his focus on gruesome and disturbing criminal behavior probably guarantees that gore and violence will continue to be a major element of crime fiction for years to come.

  19. #19
    Scared and loving it... Cappy1's Avatar
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    I think they have, which is both a good and a bad thing.

    I think if it's approached honestly by the author, it can be the only way of portraying the true horror of some events.

    But, on the other, it can also be a cheap trick to try and hide deficiencies elsewhere in the writing.

  20. #20
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    It isn't just books. It's also TV and films. All of them reflecting society in general.

    Society in general has been on a downward spiral since WWII.

    Every year we claim to be shocked by new fads or trends, until the next years fads/trends outdo them and we are shocked anew.

    I remember when Ozzie and Harriet were not allowed to sit on the same bed 'fully clothed'. Now any number of TV series are likely to open with a ringing phone interupting a soft-porn sex scene.

    There was a time when a book with the 'F' word in it wouldn't even be considered for publication, and Rhet Butler's: "I really don't giva damn, my dear." was threatened by the movie censors.

    Someone is always pushing the envelope of what is considered acceptable and what is overkill. The line between entertainment and pronography no longer exists. We have now reached the point where 'ANYTHING' is acceptable, as long as it is 'WELL WRITTEN', or artfully framed in HD. :-(

  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW Ken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by knestle View Post
    Society in general has been on a downward spiral since WWII.
    So true.

  22. #22
    possibly lost; not sure yet lizmonster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by knestle View Post
    Society in general has been on a downward spiral since WWII.
    I believe there are large segments of society that would disagree with you.

    Quote Originally Posted by knestle View Post
    Someone is always pushing the envelope of what is considered acceptable and what is overkill. The line between entertainment and pronography no longer exists. We have now reached the point where 'ANYTHING' is acceptable, as long as it is 'WELL WRITTEN', or artfully framed in HD. :-(
    Literature has always courted the fringe, and that includes the lurid and the shocking. One of my favorite books is The Scarlet Letter, which features a heroine who commits adultery, has a child out of wedlock, and ends up a celebrated member of the community. Books are often about people and situations on the edge of what is considered normal or socially acceptable; this isn't new.

    I don't like books that are violent for the sake of being violent, but that's something of a subjective measure. If violence is used to inform the characters and the story, I'm fine with it. If it's used throughout as texture, I tend to get desensitized, and I wonder why it's included at all. If it's not intended to have a specific impact, it strikes me as gratuitous.

    And I won't comment on sex, as I write a lot more of that than I do violence, and thus cannot claim objectivity.
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  23. #23
    smut peddler Viridian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by knestle View Post
    It isn't just books. It's also TV and films. All of them reflecting society in general.

    Society in general has been on a downward spiral since WWII.

    Every year we claim to be shocked by new fads or trends, until the next years fads/trends outdo them and we are shocked anew.

    I remember when Ozzie and Harriet were not allowed to sit on the same bed 'fully clothed'. Now any number of TV series are likely to open with a ringing phone interupting a soft-porn sex scene.

    There was a time when a book with the 'F' word in it wouldn't even be considered for publication, and Rhet Butler's: "I really don't giva damn, my dear." was threatened by the movie censors.

    Someone is always pushing the envelope of what is considered acceptable and what is overkill. The line between entertainment and pronography no longer exists.
    I bet during the 1940s, people had the same complaints you do. Only then, they probably complained about women wearing makeup and knee-high skirts, not consenting adults lying together in the same bed.

  24. #24
    pretending to be awake onesecondglance's Avatar
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    120 Days Of Sodom was written in 1785, published in 1905.

    I'm not saying that you should try, but it's quite an achievement to get through the "plot" section on Wikipedia without throwing up in your mouth a little bit.
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  25. #25
    figuring it all out Sticks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by knestle View Post
    It isn't just books. It's also TV and films. All of them reflecting society in general.

    Society in general has been on a downward spiral since WWII.

    Every year we claim to be shocked by new fads or trends, until the next years fads/trends outdo them and we are shocked anew.

    I remember when Ozzie and Harriet were not allowed to sit on the same bed 'fully clothed'. Now any number of TV series are likely to open with a ringing phone interupting a soft-porn sex scene.

    There was a time when a book with the 'F' word in it wouldn't even be considered for publication, and Rhet Butler's: "I really don't giva damn, my dear." was threatened by the movie censors.

    Someone is always pushing the envelope of what is considered acceptable and what is overkill. The line between entertainment and pronography no longer exists. We have now reached the point where 'ANYTHING' is acceptable, as long as it is 'WELL WRITTEN', or artfully framed in HD. :-(
    Personally, I don't consider WWII the apex of moral society. I'm no expert, but I think it's safe to say the first 50 years of the 20th century were the most blood-drenched in all of human history.

    I went to a museum exhibition once that displayed the front pages of Parisian daily illustrated newspapers from the late 19th century. The front page stories often focused on crime, and the illustrations were surprisingly gory- stabbings, beheadings, dismemberment, mutilations, blood everywhere, all in colour, all rendered in loving detail (for an English language example, look at the coverage of the Jack the Ripper murders by the London newspapers in the 1880's- I don't think the illustrations were as extreme, but the coverage was often lurid entertainment disguised as news).

    That same museum exhibition showed vintage posters from the Grand Guignol Theatre- which ran from approx. the turn of the century to the 1960's- maybe not as gory as the newspapers, but still pretty bloody. Of course the Grand Guignol was famous for violent content and gory special effects- and these were plays, not film. People sitting the front rows would sometimes get splattered with fake blood and guts coming from the fake murders that happened on stage.

    There's always been an appetite for sex and violence in entertainment, and such entertainment has always existed in some form or another- in fine art, poetry, novels, plays, graffiti, photography, film, in high brow artsy fartsy stuff and low brow pornography and exploitation, it's always existed. Always.

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