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The Responsibility of Fiction Writers in Today’s Society

The Responsibility of Fiction Writers in Today’s Society, guest post by Lauren Carr


Recent events at a high school in Florida have caused many in our nation to hit the pause button and take a long hard look at current culture and how we, as individuals, are contributing to the direction our society is headed. As always, there are conflicting claims. Many are pointing fingers of blame at guns, politicians, law enforcement, mental health care, and today’s violent culture. Not being a politician, social worker, or lobbyist, I’m unqualified to speak to any of those issues.

The Responsibility of Fiction Writers in Today’s Society, guest post by Lauren Carr
https://amzn.to/2IuDt92
However, as someone who makes her living planning and killing make-believe people for the entertainment of others, I do feel qualified to put in my two-cents on the matter of violence in art and entertainment.

First, let me start with a word about murder mysteries—that genre in which the primary plot revolves around the taking of someone’s life. Not all murder mysteries are created equal. Some murder mysteries focus on the puzzle of solving the murder case (cozies is one subgenre that does) while others focus on the violence of the murder or murders (serial killer mysteries). For that reason, it is incorrect to assume that all fans of murder mysteries love graphic violence or that murder mystery writers promote violence.

For example, ICE is my twenty-first murder mystery. I have been a fan of mysteries since childhood. I cut my teeth on the Bobbsey Twins and Hardy Boys. I was reading Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner murder mysteries by the time I was teenager. Yet I can’t be in the same room when my husband is watching a horror movie. Ironically, while I make my living orchestrating murders for novels, I can’t stomach watching a werewolf stalking and killing his prey during a full moon. I cannot stand gore.

Some subgenres under the mystery genre focus on the puzzle of solving the murder while others emphasize the violence of the crime. Some detectives, whether they be amateur or professional, seek justice for the victim by having the perpetrator pay for his or her crimes. Yet, some authors will allow the killer to escape justice for whatever reason, whether it be in the name of a political or social statement, art, or in order to provide a follow-up book.

Maybe it’s my own sense of justice that makes me angry when I read a murder mystery only to have the killer walk away free at the end. Many writers and readers declare such endings as realistic because all too often the murderer does escape justice—to which I declare, “If I wanted reality, I’d watch the news. I read to escape reality.”

That’s me. Not all readers are me. Remember, I’m the murder mystery writer who can’t be in the same room where a werewolf is decapitating a couple of college students who got lost in the countryside during a full moon.

There are a lot of readers who love books where the killer escapes … or where the focus is not so much on the puzzle of solving the murder but on the violence of the crime—the more graphic the better. The excitement of the brutality of the crime gives these readers a rush. Are all those readers psychopaths who need to have their Second Amendment right stripped away? I don’t think so. (Some people would argue that since I write murder mysteries that I’m a psychopath.) If there wasn’t an audience for such books, then authors who pen such mysteries wouldn’t be on the best-sellers lists because there wouldn’t be a market for their books.

The wonderful thing about living in the United States of America is that our First Amendment gives each citizen the freedom to read—and authors the privilege to write—books where the killer not only gets away with his crimes, but is even portrayed in a favorable light. Believe me, if anyone tried to take that freedom away from any author, I would be the first one in line to challenge them.

The problem with censorship is determining where to draw the line. Everyone has a different threshold beyond which he/she declares a book too violent. As someone once said in regards to censorship, “Pornography is in the eyes of the beholder.”

For this very reason, artistic censorship is not the answer to curbing violence in books, movies, or television.

In reality, the answer lies with the creators of such works taking on the moral responsibility toward their audience by not encouraging or endorsing senseless violence for the sake of art, fame, or money. In general, writers started out as readers and having been readers, they are fully aware that their work can potentially influence people.

Just because writers have the freedom to write books where the protagonist, not antagonist, but protagonist is a homicidal maniac or psychopath, does that mean they should? For any author to assume that what his or her work doesn’t have the power to influence the audience, whether it be in a positive or negative fashion, is not only naïve, but irresponsible.

As a child, I wanted to be Nancy Drew. Then, I wanted to be a female Perry Mason. In recent years, the television show CSI made science cool. According to various sources, there was over a ten percent increase in students majoring in science, particularly forensics, due to the popularity of CSI, Bones, and other crime programs.

It goes without saying that any sane reader, movie goer, or television viewer knows that violence and murder is wrong. But, as we have all sadly learned, there are mentally unstable people out there who idolize the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

The best example is Dexter, the television series in which the protagonist was a serial killer. But he was a good serial killer because he only killed bad people. Even so, around the globe, innocent people died violent deaths in the hands of Dexter fans as a result of the popularity of this fictional show. Among the victims – a boy strangled his ten-year-old brother because he reportedly wanted to know what it felt like to kill. 

Now, I can hear many writers arguing that mentally or emotionally disturbed readers would have committed their acts of violence eventually even if they hadn’t been exposed to books glorifying a psychopathic maniac. They would claim, “If it wasn’t Dexter who inspired these crimes, it would have been another character in another author’s book.”

Maybe.

Even so, writers do have a moral responsibility to their audience and our culture as a whole to not encourage violence and murder by depicting spree killers, mass murderers, serial killers as positive role models and their violent acts as cool.

As an author, I want to be able to look in the mirror and know that I am not sending the wrong message to my readers by glorifying senseless violence and the bad guys as heroes. By doing that, I’m doing my little piece in making the world a better place for everyone. I encourage other writers to do the same.

The Responsibility of Fiction Writers in Today’s Society, guest post by Lauren Carr
Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns! 

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter Facebook ~ Instagram

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4 comments:

  1. Very interesting read. I hadn't ever considered murder mystery books as part of the "too much violence on the media problem." Thanks for opening my eyes to this ethical issue.

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  2. Thank you for your comment, Sharon. This is an issue that honestly most writers would not consider too important. After all, as the artists, we do know the line between fiction and reality. Most of us know how fragile life truly is. Tragically, not everyone is aware of that fragility, and it is those we need to keep in mind when writing our books.

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  3. Thank you for your piece on the responsibility of fiction writers to society. I, too, recognize the responsibility of writers as I am one. But your take on violence in fiction and its effect on society is worth more discussion. We talk about the effect of television and film all the time. But not books. Yet, a well-written book is as vivid as a story seen on a screen.

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