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Old 01-16-2013, 12:23 AM   #1
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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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Old 01-16-2013, 01:06 AM   #2
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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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Old 01-16-2013, 01:32 AM   #3
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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 ;-)
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Old 01-16-2013, 03:09 AM   #4
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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.)
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Old 01-16-2013, 08:17 PM   #5
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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.
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Old 01-17-2013, 11:41 PM   #6
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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.
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Old 01-18-2013, 12:24 AM   #7
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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-}

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Old 01-19-2013, 12:49 AM   #8
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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.
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Old 01-19-2013, 02:50 AM   #9
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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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Old 01-19-2013, 05:31 AM   #10
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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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Old 01-19-2013, 10:22 AM   #11
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Me too.
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Old 01-19-2013, 03:18 PM   #12
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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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Old 01-20-2013, 03:43 AM   #13
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Oops!
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Old 01-20-2013, 02:27 PM   #14
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Darn it!
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Old 01-21-2013, 10:24 PM   #15
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Hey, you're 1212. That's pretty cool in it's own right.
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Old 01-21-2013, 11:05 PM   #16
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Cool, lemme see - oh, wait -

Bugger.
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Old 01-25-2013, 07:14 PM   #17
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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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Old 01-31-2013, 03:19 AM   #18
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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.
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Old 02-01-2013, 05:58 PM   #19
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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.
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