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ink wench
04-13-2007, 04:53 PM
Hi everyone. I know children and cute, furry animals often have some sort of sacred status in books, movies, etc. You can brutally kill all the adults you want and no one thinks twice, but the antagonist is really evil if he kills a cat.

So, here's my question: Is murdering children not ok in a story? Even if they're murdered "off screen"? Is that going to kill a novel's chance of finding an agent or publisher? Will it turn off most readers?

And here's my dilemma. My story takes place in a fantasy world. The intended victims are the head of a city-state and his two children. All three of them are dead before the story starts, and they're deaths are believed to be caused by a curse from the gods. When my MC shows up in chapter 1 and is recognized as a blood relative, the belief that the deaths were a curse against all blood relations in this family gets shattered. This is why it's really important that all other blood relations, including children, die.

But now I'm starting to wonder if this is going to be too unpalatable to readers, even though the kids are dead pre-story. I could, maybe, make them just get really ill but recover, but that's going to remove a lot of the tension and make the whole curse thing harder to believe for my characters. (Another reason it would be convenient for the kids to die is that the murderer, while she has poltical reasons for what she does, also would enjoy getting revenge on this family, and killing two young kids would do that in an especially cruel way.)

Thoughts and comments most appreciated. I can't recall ever reading a mystery where children have died.

kikazaru
04-13-2007, 05:27 PM
I have read lots of mystery/suspense where children were killed (as well as animals) and their deaths provided the motivation for the main character in the plot - ie bereft mother seeking justice, nurse trying to find out why babies are dying in the maternity ward, detective trying to stop a serial killer etc. I don't think that you would put people off from reading.

Jamesaritchie
04-13-2007, 05:48 PM
I once had a mystery editor reject a story because a dog got killed. She said I could kill all the adults and all the kids I wanted, but if I killed a dog, her readers would kill her.

ink wench
04-13-2007, 06:44 PM
I have read lots of mystery/suspense where children were killed (as well as animals) and their deaths provided the motivation for the main character in the plot - ie bereft mother seeking justice, nurse trying to find out why babies are dying in the maternity ward, detective trying to stop a serial killer etc. I don't think that you would put people off from reading.

Good to know. Maybe I haven't read it because I mostly read cozies?


I once had a mystery editor reject a story because a dog got killed. She said I could kill all the adults and all the kids I wanted, but if I killed a dog, her readers would kill her.

Yikes! That's the reaction that worries me. I'm pretty sure I've read Miss Snark say something similar.

Soccer Mom
04-13-2007, 06:49 PM
There are editors/agents who will reject anything with dead kids and animals, but there are others who won't. It's not absolutely taboo.

FYI: I've read many books where kids and animals die. James Patterson does it and he sells darn well. Elizabeth George and Anne Perry also spring to mind as having written books where kids get murdered.

BardSkye
04-13-2007, 06:51 PM
**Looks at manuscript where 3 horses die in a fire**

Oh. Um...

:gone:

Petroglyph
04-13-2007, 07:23 PM
JA Jance's first mystery begins with the detective thinking, "She might've been a pretty girl once...it's hard to tell now." (paraphrase) re: a child being murdered. In one of her later books, a handful of cats die (along with several people)...she said she got more disapproving letters for killing off the cats and there was never any mention re: killing off innocent people.

I think it would be a turnoff to some people, but not to others. If it is what your story needs, then do it, and send it around enough that you find a connection with someone who can sell it for you.

WildScribe
04-13-2007, 07:34 PM
As long as you don't kill any cats. :D

Claudia Gray
04-13-2007, 07:42 PM
As others have said, you can kill kids/animals/etc. in a murder mystery, but accept that your book is automatically skewed 'darker' than it might be if the victims died the same way but were adults. I'd say that as long as the tone of your writing matches that darker cast, you'll be fine. Not every agent represents such intense material, but some research on books like those cited above should turn up the names of agents who do. Good luck!

Kate Thornton
04-13-2007, 08:14 PM
In a good mystery or thriller novel, there is nothing taboo. I think you run into difficulties with child/animal murders in short stories, mainstream fiction and perhaps other genres.

Short story markets are so specific in their needs (and so few!) that even the more hard-boiled venues steer clear of child and animal murders or mutilations.

But I have read quite a few popular mysteries lately where the victims have been children and/or animals. I would stay away from grisly detail in these disturbing scenes, but especially if the action takes place before the story or off-screen, then I don't see a problem.

Peter Straub killed the kids off in Lost Boy, Lost Girl and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon opens with a murdered dog in grisly detail.

Both were interesting and effective books (and both best-sellers, too!)

MidnightMuse
04-13-2007, 08:47 PM
Killing animals and children will turn off some agents. It will turn off some editors. Some publishers won't touch you. Some readers will hate you or figure it out and never read you.

But not all.

Tell your story in the best way possible, then find someone who will buy it.

ink wench
04-13-2007, 08:50 PM
You've all made me feel so much better. Thank you! (And no, no pets die. Certainly not a cat!) I guess I've just never had the luck(?) to encounter this before. I'll definitely check out some of the authors mentioned here. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is already in my to-read list.

narnia
04-13-2007, 09:09 PM
I have also read books where children die (probably the same books by James Patterson, Elizabeth George and Anne Perry that Soccer Mom read :) ), but I always accepted it as part of the plot, not a turn-off. My WIP also involves the (possible and 'real') death of children, and is based on actual events. In my case only one child was confirmed dead under suspicious circumstances, and I am providing the circumstances as part of my recreation/interpretation of what happened to her. The other 'real child-person' I am baselining my characters on disappeared on her way home from summer camp, and while her body was never found she is now presumed dead. I do intend to handle the relevant parts tastefully as their deaths/disappearances are integral to the plot. In the case of the death (which happens long in the past), it provoked another act which set in motion a major event in the story, as noted by kikazaru. In the case of the disappearance(s), which happen in the present, the death of the first child is one of the catalysts behind the disappearances.

I hope my WIP is more understandable than my explanations... :Huh:

As for killing cats, that is sooo a no-no! :e2cat: :e2cat: (This comment is being passed along by my two lovelies, Xena and Hercules.)

Jamesaritchie
04-14-2007, 03:28 AM
The only reason something turns off an agent is because she knows it turns off editors, and the only reason something turns off editors is because it turns off too many readers.

You can find examples of animals being killed, but they're darned rare, and usually off stage.

OmenSpirits.com
05-04-2007, 08:47 AM
Hi everyone. I know children and cute, furry animals often have some sort of sacred status in books, movies, etc. You can brutally kill all the adults you want and no one thinks twice, but the antagonist is really evil if he kills a cat.

So, here's my question: Is murdering children not ok in a story? Even if they're murdered "off screen"? Is that going to kill a novel's chance of finding an agent or publisher? Will it turn off most readers?

And here's my dilemma. My story takes place in a fantasy world. The intended victims are the head of a city-state and his two children. All three of them are dead before the story starts, and they're deaths are believed to be caused by a curse from the gods. When my MC shows up in chapter 1 and is recognized as a blood relative, the belief that the deaths were a curse against all blood relations in this family gets shattered. This is why it's really important that all other blood relations, including children, die.

But now I'm starting to wonder if this is going to be too unpalatable to readers, even though the kids are dead pre-story. I could, maybe, make them just get really ill but recover, but that's going to remove a lot of the tension and make the whole curse thing harder to believe for my characters. (Another reason it would be convenient for the kids to die is that the murderer, while she has poltical reasons for what she does, also would enjoy getting revenge on this family, and killing two young kids would do that in an especially cruel way.)

Thoughts and comments most appreciated. I can't recall ever reading a mystery where children have died.


Anyone that would make the distinction of pointing that out and rejecting it due to the fact a child was murdered should not be considered much of an editor.

Anne Lyle
05-27-2007, 01:45 PM
If they're dead before the story opens, you might get a few agents and editors who don't like it, but that's true of anything you put in a novel. One of my favourite fantasy novels, "The Bone Doll's Twin" by Lynn Flewelling, hinges on infanticide and necromancy which happens on-screen, and although I am squeamish and generally have a low threshold for violence, the whole thing is so tastefully handled (IMHO) that I had no problem with it at all. Other people really can't handle the subject in any form and think the book is irredeemably dark and nasty...

I think you'd lose yourself a lot of fantasy readers by killing a cat, but killing people is a staple of the genre :)

VeggieChick
05-27-2007, 07:27 PM
It drives me crazy when writers kill animals in their books. Kill as many adults as you want, but use a dog or a cat as a victim and my sympathy goes away pretty quickly. I know I'm not alone in this.

Mod35tBabe
05-28-2007, 02:21 PM
I've read both where adults, children and animals are killed. Animals dying are always especially hard for me to read, and I will sometimes have to battle to finish the sentence - but as long as its integral to the story then I tell myself it's just a story, this didn't really happen, and try not to think about stories I've heard that were real life. Of course the ones where I can figure out by myself what happened without all the grisly details are best - since I get what happened and why, without the sickening feeling in my stomach. I know one I read had a cat die in and the description of it (as the cat didn't die instantly) really upset me, as did the description of rabid dogs attacking a little girl and those dogs being killed to stop the attack - but I finished the book. The story apart from that was a good story that I enjoyed - but I would've preferred it didn't have those scenes, but it did help give the book the horror elements it needed.

Lindo
05-30-2007, 01:07 AM
In the book version of the Denzel Washington "Man On Fire" (set in Italy, not Mexico, by the way) the girl he's bodyguarding is established as a wonderful, sensitive, loving kid. Who is then kidnapped, raped repeatedly over several days out of boredom, then left to choke to death in her own vomit.

In the movie she turns out (rather ridiculously, I thought) to be alive after all, so he didn't really need to go slaughter all those people to avenge her.

This brings up a side issue to "taboo", by the way: catharsis. Killing these guys is not good enough to make up for what happened to the girl. Her death lingers and taints the happy ending for the main couple. If you bring up strong emotions but don't work them through enough to "ground" them, what you have really created is a sort of pornography. "Death Wish 2" was very much like that: left you wanting to walk out of the theater and go kill some creeps.

Lindo
05-30-2007, 01:09 AM
BTW, a really nice book in the ELmore Leonard mode called "Thick as Theives" was made into a flick with Alec Baldwin. In the book he's out to kill the baddie because they murdered a woman he'd just started falling in love with.

In the movie (which is also very good) they substituted his dog for his girlfriend.

Gillhoughly
05-30-2007, 08:46 AM
All three of them are dead before the story starts, and they're their deaths are believed to be caused by a curse from the gods.

It's backstory and not something you may need in a query. The story itself begins with your protag, and then you can drop in backstory to catch us up.

What turns me off as a reader and editor is a book that opens with wholesale slaughter of (fill in this blank) and THEN the book starts.

I have been turned off by child and animal deaths in published books but bulled ahead and finished the story to get to the payoff. The writer had me hooked.

But I hate being manipulated. Mr. S. King had his bad guy in The Stand kicking a dog to death. By the time the scene was finished I hated the character, but soon came to see King had manipulated me into that reaction by killing a dog in a most awful and graphic manner. It ticked me off, and I stopped reading him for good. I don't need that kind of bleep in my head, and there are far, far better writers for me to read.

I'm thinking you'll do all right with the premise you have worked up. Off stage is good for that kind of thing. Write what you are comfortable with; a good reader can tell when the writer chokes.

What I have learned as a writer is to never waste a character and be slow to kill off anyone, even the baddie. I'd delivered a just and fatal revenge to one of them in a book when my various beta readers begged me to let 'em get away. The person was insane, but strangely likeable, and now available for a future story if it ever happens. Go figure.

Good luck!

ink wench
05-30-2007, 09:07 PM
Thanks for all the opinions!



One of my favourite fantasy novels, "The Bone Doll's Twin" by Lynn Flewelling, hinges on infanticide and necromancy which happens on-screen, and although I am squeamish and generally have a low threshold for violence, the whole thing is so tastefully handled (IMHO) that I had no problem with it at all.

I love Lynn Flewelling. Good point.




All three of them are dead before the story starts, and they're their deaths are believed to be caused by a curse from the gods.

Ha! I just read my original post again and caught that. I suppose that would be why I only edit on hardcopy.


It's backstory and not something you may need in a query. The story itself begins with your protag, and then you can drop in backstory to catch us up.

I have been turned off by child and animal deaths in published books but bulled ahead and finished the story to get to the payoff. The writer had me hooked.

I'm thinking you'll do all right with the premise you have worked up. Off stage is good for that kind of thing. Write what you are comfortable with; a good reader can tell when the writer chokes.

What I have learned as a writer is to never waste a character and be slow to kill off anyone, even the baddie. I'd delivered a just and fatal revenge to one of them in a book when my various beta readers begged me to let 'em get away. The person was insane, but strangely likeable, and now available for a future story if it ever happens. Go figure.

Good luck!

Thanks. It is basically backstory, very recent backstory that spurs my MC to action, but backstory nonetheless.

I can't stand when kids, animals, the very ill or frail, or anyone somewhat helpless gets hurt in stories. It makes me sick, which is probably one of the reasons I was concerned. I'm about 8-9000 words into the story now though, and I have a feeling it's going to be pretty non-violent overall.