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Should Violence Be Allowed In Books? - an analysis
I will be the first to admit that our soon-to-be-released novel probably deserves a warning label. It is graphic and portrays realistically the trauma endured by our protagonist when she is taken captive by violent men. However, it also chronicles her escape and the subsequent transformation of her life as a result of what she experienced.
Recently, my co-writer and I sent a query letter to a publisher outlining the plot of our new book. Every writer knows that he or she will receive rejection letters. Therefore, we anticipated a possible rejection, but were rather surprised at the elitist tone with which it was delivered.
Here is what the publisher said: “Thank you for your proposal. We publish books for intelligent readers world wide, who regard depravity and violence as disgusting and abhorrent. I can't say that we disagree with them.”
To that insulting little missive, my reaction is thus: “Thank you for your quick response. We, too, abhor violence. But violence is, unfortunately, a part of reality. It is, unfortunately, what some people, through no fault of their own, are forced to encounter and overcome.
We did not realize your readership was so delicate. It’s good you are there to protect them from books like Roots, The Color Purple, The Kite Runner, Catcher in the Rye and their ilk. We are not saying our book rises to the literary excellence of any of those works; we merely illustrate a point.
We will seek a publisher who caters to more educated, realistic, and mature readers; readers who are able to discern between stories that relate an account of violence and those that condone it. It sounds like you believe your readers lack the ability to distinguish between the two. We feel sorry for them and for you, and hope you never encounter anything in your world of lollipops, unicorns and rainbows that will disturb your serenity or provoke actual thought processes which might lead to any deep insights about the human condition.”
I don’t know if I will ever mail this response to the publisher in question, but it felt good to vent. You might at first interpret my reaction as sour grapes, but I assure you it is not. It is not the rejection that bothers me. It is the sniping way it was delivered.
I realize, as does my co-writer, that a novel describing violent acts is not everyone’s cup of tea. It was actually difficult to write at times. We did not go into it lightly and every step of the way questioned exactly how detailed the scenes should be. Ultimately, we determined the scenes required realism to better contrast with the rest of the book and to explain our character’s fear of, and reluctance to trust, her rescuer.
In looking over various submission guidelines, many specifically say they will not accept “rape intended to titillate”. My co-writer said, “Well, duh! If any of the scenes in our book titillate anyone, then that is one sick puppy!” True. The scenes are shocking and horrifying, not in the least erotic or sensual. But, there is a point well taken here. The world does happen to include a rare few individuals who might find scenes of violence personally stimulating. Are authors responsible for guarding against these sick few and making certain we don’t provide fodder for their twisted fantasies?
Readers and authors, what are your thoughts? Should violence and rape never be part of a story? Should it be mentioned only in passing, without description? What if it is an integral part of the plot? I welcome and look forward to your opinions!