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Thread: Cruelty to animals [trigger warning]

  1. #1
    Back in the black, & staying there! Marian Perera's Avatar
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    Cruelty to animals [trigger warning]

    How do you feel about scenes or incidents where the antagonist harms an animal? Can be done well? Has been done so often it's best avoided? Or best avoided for other reasons?

    I was thinking about this because I'm planning to have pirates board the protagonist's ship in the WIP, and one of them will either kill an injured man in sickbay or toss the ship's cat overboard. I don't plan to dwell overlong on either, or describe the poor cat being eaten by a shark, but I was wondering if this would be too tired a trope. On the other hand, cruelty to animals is a supposedly a precursor of sociopathic behavior, and the pirates' leader definitely qualifies for that.

    Anyway, it reminded me of Stephen King's The Dead Zone, with that scene at the start where Stillson sprays ammonia into a dog's eyes and then kicks it to death. He did some heinous things later on as well, but his viciousness towards the dog is what I remember best.
    Last edited by Marian Perera; 07-26-2013 at 07:37 AM.


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    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    Off the guy.

    I think it is a trope I suppose, in that it's such simple shorthand for 'lookit how evil this character is!!!' It irks both in that it seems designed to make me hate the character in a totally unnuanced way and that it works. If someone is chucking an animal overboard to the sharks, I don't want or expect him to be redeemed. I haaates him.

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    I was reading a book where a father killed his son's cat then lied to the boy about how the cat died. The book was recycled instantly.

    Does that answer your question?

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    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    I stop reading. That's it. I stop reading. And you go on my "never buy again" list.

    Vivisection innocent girls. Decapitate babies. Blow up cities. Destroy civilizations. I'm OK. Hurt an animal, and I stop reading. It's just a line that I can't forgive being crossed by any storyteller (all media).

    Could be just me, but I do wonder since there's a website specifically for that (http://www.doesthedogdie.com/) in movies.
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    Back in the black, & staying there! Marian Perera's Avatar
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    That website said in Apt Pupil "A pet is injured or appears dead but ultimately lives." The book makes it clear that Todd repeatedly rides his bike wheel over the injured bird until it stops twitching, and in the film, although it doesn't show him bouncing a basketball off the bird, I don't think the bird could have survived that.

    ETA : Oh wait, it specifically said "a pet" and that was a wild bird. My bad.


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    What type of book is it?

    If I was reading a romance, I would probably stop reading, although I have read scenes involving horses being brutally treated.

  7. #7
    Back in the black, & staying there! Marian Perera's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cranky1 View Post
    What type of book is it?

    If I was reading a romance, I would probably stop reading, although I have read scenes involving horses being brutally treated.
    It's a romance.

    I did have the heroine's shark being seriously injured in the previous book, though I have a feeling most readers won't be as sympathetic towards a great white shark as they would be towards a small orange tabby. Plus, sharky didn't die.


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    If hurting/killing an animal does what you want it to; use it, it's fair game.

    Stephen King got a lot of flack for that character's action. But guess what? It did exactly what he wished for, and as a fiction writer he fulfilled his job to evoke the reader's emotions.
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    The novel gets thrown across the room, and I boycott the author after that. It's one of the many reasons I refuse to read American Psycho, and it's also why I stopped reading anything by Augusten Burroughs (this is referencing the rat scene in Magical Thinking.)

    I can take dismemberment, I don't bat an eye when a kid bites the dust or a little old lady, and Nabokov even got me on Humbert's side, but animal cruelty crosses the line for me. In fact, it goes beyond the line.
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    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Queen of Swords View Post


    That website said in Apt Pupil "A pet is injured or appears dead but ultimately lives." The book makes it clear that Todd repeatedly rides his bike wheel over the injured bird until it stops twitching, and in the film, although it doesn't show him bouncing a basketball off the bird, I don't think the bird could have survived that.
    Never saw the movie (or read the book), but movies can be different from the book. And I'm not advocating the site--I thought it was interesting, but I have friends who takes the site very seriously. Though I've notice that site will give the benefit of the doubt if the animal was not shown dead or disposed of.

    Another example: My housemate enjoys the HBO series Game of Thrones. She had no problems watching the Red Wedding. But when they were about to kill the wolf, she shut off the episode so she didn't see it. In her mind, the wolf is still alive because she didn't have to see it die and she's happy.

    Some people just react very badly to pets being harmed, even if there's a good story purpose for it.
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  11. #11
    Back in the black, & staying there! Marian Perera's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeleyanLee View Post
    Though I've notice that site will give the benefit of the doubt if the animal was not shown dead or disposed of.
    Hm. No one actually sees what happens to the cat after it goes over the side. I'll probably write the scene anyway and maybe it can be assumed the cat landed on a piece of driftwood which floated to an island.

    Some people just react very badly to pets being harmed, even if there's a good story purpose for it.
    No kidding. I don't like animals being harmed (pets or wild creatures), but that doesn't in and of itself turn me off a novel, so it's good to hear how other people might react.

    Actually, now that I come to think of it, that's one reason I'll never reread Tarka the Otter. The description of Tarquol's death at the end was heartbreaking.


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    I don't read paranormal romance novels, but I know that shapeshifters are quite popular. I'm going to guess that readers are okay when the characters in animal form are harmed.

    Fascinating.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DeleyanLee View Post
    I stop reading. That's it. I stop reading. And you go on my "never buy again" list.

    Vivisection innocent girls. Decapitate babies. Blow up cities. Destroy civilizations. I'm OK. Hurt an animal, and I stop reading. It's just a line that I can't forgive being crossed by any storyteller (all media).
    I'm with DeleyanLee

  14. #14
    Back in the black, & staying there! Marian Perera's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cranky1 View Post
    I don't read paranormal romance novels, but I know that shapeshifters are quite popular. I'm going to guess that readers are okay when the characters in animal form are harmed.
    It makes me wonder, too, where the line is drawn. Does motivation matter, such as if a person is hungry and has no option other than to kill an animal, like the scene in Jean Auel's The Valley of Horses where Ayla takes down a mare?


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    Any hint of animal harm and I quit whatever media I'm involved in. Movies get turned off, books get hurled across the room.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cranky1 View Post
    I don't read paranormal romance novels, but I know that shapeshifters are quite popular. I'm going to guess that readers are okay when the characters in animal form are harmed.

    Fascinating.
    That's a simple explanation.

    Shapeshifters are people who don't always look like people. They're sentient, have free choice & intelligence (generally) and can decide if they're going to put themselves in danger, take a risk, or whatever. They're just another kind of person, not an animal.

    Pets aren't seen as having that free choice, that intelligence, they can't decide if they're going to take a risk or be in danger--they react according to training or breeding, but such sacrifice isn't seen as a conscious choice for the pet.

    Many readers will emotionally "own" a story pet, feel like it needs to be protected and cared for. So if something bad happens to them, that reader gets hit hard with "Something should have been done to save it" and "Why did it have to die? It's so unfair!" It's all a gut reaction that some people can't avoid. (Thus, Housemate refusing to watch the wolf be killed--it would've been like having one of her own dogs killed to her, emotionally.)

    Wild animals that the characters and readers don't have that relationship with don't have the same emotional impact.

    It is a valid choice for a writer to choose, but it's one of those choices that could have a big negative for a section of the readership, and that's something the writer should be aware of as well.
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    Moar Whine Little Anonymous Me's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Queen of Swords View Post
    if a person is hungry and has no option other than to kill an animal, like the scene in Jean Auel's The Valley of Horses where Ayla takes down a mare?

    I could deal with a dead horse killed when the MC would've starved otherwise. I can't forgive you eating your dog or cat, because I love my pets. I would rather starve than eat them. I simply cannot do it. Matters of survival tend to make readers more lenient, in my experience.



    In regards to why I don't bat an eyelash at shapeshifters getting hurt in animal form: They have human intelligence, they have the choice of form, they can go from being a mouse to a lion in two seconds and eat face. A puppy or kitten is completely at human mercy, has no logic or reasoning, and no capacity to understand why the human they trusted is hurting them. I'm sensitive about this because my dog was badly abused before we adopted him. My parents once rescued a dog some asshat shot. And I can't forgive that.


    ETA: Cross posted with DeleyanLee! My bad!
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    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Little Anonymous Me View Post
    ETA: Cross posted with DeleyanLee! My bad!
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    Last edited by DeleyanLee; 07-26-2013 at 08:16 AM. Reason: GMTABSTF=Great minds think alike but some type faster
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    Back in the black, & staying there! Marian Perera's Avatar
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    But (human) babies don't have a free choice either, or much intelligence. They can't decide if they're going to take a risk or be in danger. They need to be protected... yet I get the impression from some posts that killing a baby would be easier to read about than killing a cat.

    Which I completely understand, because most cats are adorable.

    It is a valid choice for a writer to choose, but it's one of those choices that could have a big negative for a section of the readership, and that's something the writer should be aware of as well.
    Very true. I'm going ahead with that choice, because I feel it's right for the character and because I know it'll come as a shock to the heroine. Thanks for your input.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Queen of Swords View Post
    But (human) babies don't have a free choice either, or much intelligence. They can't decide if they're going to take a risk or be in danger. They need to be protected... yet I get the impression from some posts that killing a baby would be easier to read about than killing a cat.

    Which I completely understand, because most cats are adorable.



    Very true. I'm going ahead with that choice, because I feel it's right for the character and because I know it'll come as a shock to the heroine. Thanks for your input.
    Well, if you are going to kill the kitty, you should impale it with a sword!

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    Quote Originally Posted by DeleyanLee View Post
    GMTABSTF!*

    (and that is the most adorable bunny avvie EVAH!)


    Hell yeah we do! And thanks! I lurve bunnies.




    On the baby thing: I'm going to be honest. I hate kids. Hate them. So I'm not going to freak out as much. Don't get me wrong, I cried my eyes out on the series finale of M*A*S*H, but I like pets over people, especially annoying tiny ones that scream constantly and pull my hair.
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    Back in the black, & staying there! Marian Perera's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cranky1 View Post
    Well, if you are going to kill the kitty, you should impale it with a sword!
    I didn't say I was going to kill the kitty.

    I said the pirate leader was going to toss over the side of the ship. Readers can decide whether goes or not.


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    Back in the black, & staying there! Marian Perera's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Little Anonymous Me View Post
    On the baby thing: I'm going to be honest. I hate kids. Hate them. So I'm not going to freak out as much.
    Ah, I see. I'm not crazy about kids, but if I had to choose which I'd rather see tossed overboard, a baby or a cat, I'm afraid kitty would be out of luck. Plus there's a good reason for a cat to be aboard a warship. Baby, not so much.


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    An animal death is not enough to make me stop reading a book (especially in the context of hunting for food. Not really the same thing as gratuitous harm or cruelty, I don't feel).

    I think how the author handles the material is important. Sometimes Bad Guys do Bad Things, and sometimes those Bad Things are to animals. I think it's shirking, a bit, to avoid subject matter if it seems as though it would make sense for the story you are writing.

    I like the ambiguity of the cat going overboard without further explanation. I in fact have a mental image of an unhappy but not-dead waterlogged cat clinging to the side of (perhaps an entirely different) vessel.
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    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GingerGunlock View Post
    I like the ambiguity of the cat going overboard without further explanation. I in fact have a mental image of an unhappy but not-dead waterlogged cat clinging to the side of (perhaps an entirely different) vessel.
    If the kitty is named "Indiana", then you KNOW when the pirates get where they're going, it's gonna be right there with 'em, y'know?
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