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Should Violence Be Allowed In Books? - an analysis

Updated on July 2, 2011

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!


Should violence be allowed in books? Choose the answer that best describes your opinion.

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    • Karen Wodke profile image

      Karen Wodke 6 years ago from Midwest

      Good points, J.

    • J Burgraff profile image

      J Burgraff 6 years ago

      One should be "allowed" to write about everything. As a reader, I'm not concerned with the violence, I'm concerned with whether or not the violence being written about is necessary or unnecessary. Is a graphic description of a rape necessary or is it gratuitous? Does it further the understanding of what really happened? Will I abhor her captors more, if you include it? Will I understand her experience and recovery less if you don't? To me, those are the important questions.

    • blake4d profile image

      Blake Ford Hall 7 years ago from Now Rising Out of Phoenix Arizona Earthlings

      Violence is the expression of repression for the mind. Just as sex is often the expression of intimacy for the body. Evil is good for the soul. Good is evil in the mirror. Everything is violent if ignored long enough.

      Indifference is more dangerous than violence.

      Killing is not the worst product of violence.

      Nor is violence the worst of lifes consequences.

      Keep on Hubbing. Blake4d

    • alternate poet profile image

      alternate poet 7 years ago

      Everything must be written - the publisher you describe is pseudo moralising - which is just what has half the public (and the publisher probably) running round in ignorance.

    • kookoo88 profile image

      kookoo88 7 years ago from Cripple Creek

      Very interesting article. I understand writing the email and I understand not being sure whether or not to send it.

      I believe in having violence where it fits in a story. However, it's not about the violence for me. I try to keep my stories so that all of the content is relevent to the story, whether it be violence, mystery or humor . . . actually, I'll use any excuse to add humor even if it doesn't relate to the story. :D

      That aside, write what you like writing. Publishers are people in suits who try to sell stuff. ;)

    • Karen Wodke profile image

      Karen Wodke 7 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks, Scarlett. I agree with you about children's books, however.

    • Scarlett My Dear profile image

      Scarlett My Dear 7 years ago from Missouri

      Regarding the subject of censorship ~ Knowledge is power, or perhaps only our perception of power. Those who are afraid of losing that power invoke censorship. I believe our children need protecting from the 'evils' of the world, but to treat adults as though they need or should be protected from themselves, is in my mind, criminal. Censorship accomplishes nothing more than hijacking our freedom of choice.

      It is disappointing to hear that a publisher would send out such a patronizing and arrogant slap on the hand. All I can say is, better to know their true grit now than later.

    • Karen Wodke profile image

      Karen Wodke 7 years ago from Midwest

      I know what you mean, Turtle. Just because something is explained or reported doesn't mean it is approved of. That said, I do understand why people elect not to read certain types of material. There are books out there that were too disturbing for me to read. Still I would be reluctant to entertain the notion of censorship.

    • TurtleDog profile image

      TurtleDog 7 years ago

      Well said! Movies fall victim to the same ignorance. For example, I loved the movie Sideways. One of the characters has an affair with a woman during the movie. An acquaintance of mine hated the movie because she felt the film was in support of adultery. She also accused me of being 'OK' with extra-marital affairs as well because I watched the film. Needless to say, we agreed to disagree.

      Your article hits it right on the nose. Thanks. Voted UP!