Re: RARA-AVIS: Bruen and the Tinkers

From: Al Guthrie (
Date: 18 Mar 2005

----- Original Message ----- From: "Karin Montin" <>

Thanks for your thoughts, Karin. Intriguing subject.

<<What do you expect from hardboiled writing? I expect tough characters and fast action.

Agreed. But wouldn't you also agree that one method of establishing a character's toughness is by demonstrating how he responds to physical pain
(mental pain will do it, too, but I'd associate that with noir rather than hardboiled). If, after removing somebody's teeth with pliers, they turn round and say, "Thath the beth you can do?" you'd have to consider them pretty tough.

<<A sock in the old kisser is one thing; intentional removal of someone's teeth as a means of torture and/or for sexual gratification is another. (I admit that gratuitousness is subjective.)>>

Why is a 'sock in the kisser' acceptable? I know some people who claim that all fictional violence is gratuitous. It's certainly unnecessary, because even a sock in the kisser can be implied. The level at which people are comfortable with violence in fiction is largely arbitrary. You don't like teeth violence, I don't like fingernail removal and the sandpapering of the exposed pulp underneath. There's no logic to that. But given the context, I'd say that if rapists are want to indulge in the kind of pre-oral sex tooth removal you mentioned, and Karin Slaughter writes about it, I personally don't see how it can labelled gratuitous. Gratuitous would be if she'd just made it up for the hell of it. No, sorry, that would be sensational. Gratuitous would be if she made it up *and* it wasn't necessary to the story.

>> Some books are more violent than others, yet have redeeming qualities.
Some writers imply violence very well without leaving horrific images seared in your >brain for life.

Real violence is pretty horrific, so it depends how real you want to make the book. You could describe the severe bruising on someone's face and it might be effective. But it can never be immediate. It's a question of detachment. Some readers want it, others don't. My own method of writing is to try to make everything as immediate as possible. But that's certainly not the only way. I read a Sue Grafton book where I thought the off-stage violence was very effective.

Incidentally, aren't a lot of the books people remember the ones that leave images seared on their brains?

>I think the issue of how much violence (or what kind) is too much is a very
interesting one and I would like to hear from some of you writers on the subject. Is there a line you won't cross?

Violence against hamsters. I'd draw the line there. Dogs, I can just about cope with, although it's incredibly distressing to write (apart from when my schizophrenia's in check, at which point I remember it's not real, I'm making it all up and nobody's getting hurt apart from inside my head). Cats I have no problem with.

Seriously, I don't like gratuitous anything in a book, whether it be violence or scenery or adjectives. Other than that, if it's a necessary component of the story, the story wouldn't work without it (by definition), so I'd have to write it, whether I wanted to or not. Or chuck the story.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 18 Mar 2005 EST