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Friday, 31 August 2012

Blood and Guts in Short Stories: What does it tell us about the author?

Horror, zombies, blood, guns - a quick look at Amazon's lists shows that there's a 
market for short stories in this (pun alert) vein. So what does such content reveal 
about the author and, indeed, the reader?
DBduo Photography
One approach is to look at the motivation behind this choice of material. First, the writers - why do they write about violence? 

1  The glib answer, pseudo-psychogically, is they are freeing repressed urges to commit
          violence. I don't hold with that, except maybe occasionally it might be a socially
          acceptable and safer outlet. We'd rather they wrote about it than did it.

2  Versatile and savvy writers may have realised that bloodshed sells. It's a sound business
          approach to identify a market and buy into it.

3  It can be a way of slipping outside the usual comfort zone of safe writing, to be tried as an
          experiment. They may then enjoy it, maybe not.

4  This is my view of the prime motivation. Violence seems rarely to be the chosen genre of
          the rookie writer. Rather, as time goes on and authors develop experience and
          confidence, they may start to write crime, horror, violence just because they realise
          that they can. I base this on personal experience and it seems valid for us all. Earlier
          this year I worked through an online short story course, and came to realise that the
          standard of successful stories was vastly higher than I'd been producing. Without
          noticing what was going on, I found myself producing two dark stories, both
          involving death - one accidental, one deliberate. Both have since been published by
          others. I've since continued with dark and sometimes creepy themes, and find that I'm 
          ready to attack them head-on. Again, that is just because I can.
Brenda Clarke

And now a brief word about the readers of gory material. I believe it's for the same reason that people watch fictional violence on television. It's chilling, which may mean thrilling, but at the same time safe because it's fiction and anyway, you can close the book just as you can switch off the television. 

And here's where my personal psychology collapses. I can write (and read) about a bit of gore, but I'm behind a cushion when the TV villain aims a gun close to the victim's head. This is because my brain seems determined to bank such visual images and keep them for ever, and I really don't want them. Oh no. I'm barking after all!

One last confession - I can never watch animal cruelty or slaughter on television, and will never put it into any of my writing. As Aunty Joan (in Doc Martin) reaches for one of her hens, the nice old lady in Midsomer Murders prepares to put a pet rabbit out of its misery, or a lion is seen about to pounce on its prey, I'm out of the room p.d.q. Animal stuff seems more real to me, probably because I know it goes on all the time in the real world and I can't bear that. 

I was going to end by saying that violence towards animals (even from other animals) is the only area I won't tackle. But wait. I haven't started on erotic fiction - and probably won't, because I really am a prude. Shame - there's obviously a good market for it!

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