The Paradox of Violence in Fiction
By Steven James
Some people have asked if my novels, which contain violence, aren’t exacerbating the problem of violence in the world. If they’re not desensitizing people even more to violence and perhaps even inciting it as people imitate what I write about.
First of all, I agree that our world is desensitized to violence. I believe this happens when evil is muted and sanitized (TV shows where people get shot, fall over, there is no blood, no grief, no mourning), glamorized, or ignored. I think we become more sensitized to violence when it is portrayed with honesty.
So first, muting evil. Some books and television shows do so by diminishing the value of human life. A person will be killed and no one grieves. Cut to commercial. Come back and solve the crime. This is not real life. Death hurts because we are people of dignity and worth. Death matters because life matters. Unfortunately, this muting of violence often happens in books that are labeled “religious fiction.”
This also frequently happens in the news media. Think of a news program: “A suicide bomber killed 62 in Iraq.”
When you hear that do you weep? Do you mourn? Most people do not. Only when we see the screaming three-year-old children with shrapnel in their face, the desperate widows, the bodies in the street do we feel, do we truly recognize the impact of the violent, evil act.
Movies such as the Saw or Friday the 13th films glamorize violence. The most interesting person is the serial killer. This desensitizes people to violence. And since we tend to emulate those we admire, I believe movies or books that glamorize or celebrate violence draw people toward it. Whenever the antagonist is more intriguing, more empathetic than the protagonist, the author is running the risk that readers will care more for evil to be accomplished than for justice to be done.
In my books I want people to look honestly at what our world is like, both the good and the evil. The evil in my books is not senseless; people’s lives are treated as precious and I want my readers to hurt when an innocent life is taken. The only way to do that is to let them see it on the page and then reflect on its meaning.
I think that an effective way of dissuading someone from doing something is to make them see it as deeply disturbing. And the only way to make people disturbed by evil is to show it to them for what it really is. I like celebrating life by letting readers ache for what is right rather than cheer for what is wrong.
Steven James is the bestselling, award-winning author of four thrillers, including The Knight, which Suspense Magazine named one of the top ten books of 2009. Armed with a Master’s Degree in Storytelling, James is a popular conference speaker and has taught writing and storytelling throughout North America, as well as in India and South Africa.
Read reviews of Steven James novels HERE.