Friday, August 17, 2012

Crying for mercy

by Meredith Cole

We live in a country which has too much of almost everything.  Giant cars. Huge houses. Binge eating. We rent storage containers to stick all our extra stuff. We clearly don't know how much is too much on almost anything in our lives. So perhaps any advice I could give on "too much" might be pretty useless for most of us. But I'll try.

How do you know when you've got too much sex or violence in your book? I wish I had a formula or a recipe for it. Like mix two parts sex, four parts violence and one part romance and bake at 500 degrees = thriller.

But I don't have a secret formula. The mix definitely depends on the book. An erotic romance certainly would need a lot more sex and probably less violence to satisfy a reader of that genre. A techno thriller would need less sex and more violence to satisfy that audience. And the confusing part is the same person could enjoy both. They just have expectations when they pick up a certain book, and they want to be entertained in a certain way. So...

You know it when you read it.

Sounds so simple. Perhaps it's not.

Here's an example: you pick up a book and it is page after page of non-stop action, with violence oozing from every page. Perhaps you like the pace and get sucked into the plot. Or perhaps you quickly become confused about who is who, and find yourself unable to care when someone is blown sky high. So for one reader it's too much violence (and not enough back story) and for another it's just right.

Genre fiction is perhaps less complicated than literary fiction. You can even read on some publisher's websites how much is too much and what you're allowed to say. I know my limits. Violence that has no purpose in the story is often too much for me. Especially if it requires lots of bone crunching/blood gushing detail. And I don't mind f-bombs dropping all the time--if it fits with the character. But that's just me and my personal tastes. If a story is written well, I usually don't notice one way or another. The book just gels and I reach the last page way too soon.

What do you think?



6 comments:

Chris said...

Your example describes every reaction, good and bad, I've gotten for DEAD HARVEST since release. Some folks love it. Some folks not so much. And they're responding to the very same material.

Meredith Cole said...

When I started writing, someone very helpfully informed me that not everyone was going to love what I wrote--and that was okay. I love that there are so many books and readers out there, and there's something for everyone.

Jennie Bentley said...

I'm all for more sex and violence!

Seriously, though, I write cozies (among other things), and the rule is there can be neither sex nor excessive violence, blood, guts or gore on the page. And it's hard to write a murder mystery without showing violence - you can only neatly poison so many people, you know what I mean? - and since there's also a relationship in the books, between two single, consenting adults who - yes - do have sex, it feels a bit disingenuous to leave all references to it out.

It depends on the genre, of course. And too much is too much. But sometimes, a little more might be nice, too.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jennie! Cozies have a lot of rules, and authors seem to hear back from readers when they push the envelope. I've heard that sex and bad language is more of a no-no then violence--but you're right that having no violence in a murder mystery is pretty impossible!

Reece said...

You're absolutely right, Meredith, there is really only one rule -- write a good book that works on its own terms. If I see a review from a reader who didn't like my book, I'm just glad they gave it a shot.

Meredith Cole said...

That's a great attitude, Reece! Trying to please everyone will drive you crazy...