Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How Much Sex and Violence is Acceptable?

I don't write porn...never will.  In fact, I'm not an advocate of using foul language either.  But in the world of detective mystery/thrillers there are sick, demented characters who do bad things.  One of the things I have learned about the craft of writing is that the author is supposed to show, not tell the reader what is going on in the story.  In my book, "Dangerous DNA," there is a scene that is (for the lack of any other word) HOT!  The bad guy has his way with a woman who thinks he is her fiance'.  The prose is explicit and accurate, but I agonized over my choice of words so that scene would be done as tastfully as possible.  When I finished the book, I had several people read it.  I then asked readers about the sexually explicit scene, and there were no complaints, except for one guy, who asked me if I had to go to confession after writing it.  Yup, there's always one.  But how much sex or violence is enough... and when does an author cross the line?  Do you know what I was told more than once?  That I needed to inject more profanity into the story!  "Detectives use more explatives than regular people.  You need more 'f-bombs' in the dialog.  Hmm.  Well, I had four or five f-bombs in the story to begin with, but since so many people made the comment, I took the advice and I added more. 

One of my writer friends is perplexed about a scene in his new book when a seven-year old girl is abducted and killed.  The scene is short, but after reading the excerpt, I understand why he is struggling to be so cautious.  Talk about a sensitive subject.  So do modern detective mystery/thrillers require a healthy dose of sex and/or violence?  Maybe a better question would be: does the detective mystery/thriller genre excuse the use of explicit sex and violence?  Interesting questions.  I'd love to get feedback on this.  -- Dan


  1. my only thought about the scene in the book to which you refer is that the relationship between the real fiance and the girl could have been more a part of the introduction to the girl to make a reader more angry with the bad guy in what he was doing. - honestly.. take that for what it is worth, the opinion of one guy and really, the only thing that came to mind as far as what might be called criticism out of the whole of the book. I am not a user of foul language or an advocate of pornography, and the use of the language did not make my eyes bleed, nor did the scene in question.

  2. Great point, Patrick. The minute I read your comment, I shrugged my shoulders and thought, "Yup, the reader didn't get enough face time with Anne to establish a bond with her before the incident." I think it's likely that I only saw Anne as a mere a tool to upset Braxton and make him hate Fulton. It's definately a sign that an author is in a hurry to get to a scene he deems more important or more fun to write. I find myself fighting that urge all the time. I'll keep this comment in my pocket for future use. Thanks. -- Dan

  3. Dan,

    "Dangerous DNA" was passed to me by another native Omahan who is admirer of yours...and I am impressed.

    Will you please forward me the contact info for your business manager/entertainment attorney? We'd like to discuss a few ideas with your representative. In this business, protocol is boss...

    Please forward that info to