Saturday, July 21, 2018

Violence in the News. Violence on the Page.

We live in a violent world.  I don't need to tell you this.  As a writer of mysteries and suspense, I incorporate violence into my stories.  By far, my most violent novel is World of Mirrors.

World of Mirrors has a cast of bad characters:  Americans, Brits, and Germans.  The setting is East Germany the year after the Berlin Wall came down. The country has voted to reunite with West Germany, but none of this has happened.  It is "the time of the turn."

 The main characters, a man and a woman, are morally compromised.  Lots of bad stuff happens, but there is not a lot of on scene graphic violence.  I never write anything stomach churning.  Enough of that in the daily paper.  The book begins with a murder. The hero and heroine are both attacked.  A small boat is crushed by a freighter. A man is thrown off a cliff.  The violence never stops.  And World of Mirrors is romantic suspense.  Go figure.

One of the characters in the book is a dog whose former occupation was "Wall Dog."  This means he guarded the border of East Germany.  When the Berlin Wall fell, these dogs became unemployed, so to speak, and there was a hue and cry about what to do with them.  Mine ended up guarding the property of one of the bad guys.  And when intruders arrived, he apprehended them and guarded them until his master appeared, as he had been trained to do.  And then one of the bad guys, ostensibly on our heros' side, showed up  before the master and shsot the dog.  Told TK and Zara (the morally compromised hero and heroine) to dump the dog's body in the harbor.

My writing group was outraged.  You cannot kill a dog in a book.  You cannot.  "But he was a bad dog."   Doesn't matter,  you cannot.   So a little change of plot.  This was never a problem in that book because I wrote it from the seat of my pants with no concrete idea of where the plot would actually take me.  Except I knew there would be a fingernail-biting adventure in the shipping lanes of the Baltic.   In the fog.

Meanwhile, the dog.  It is the middle of the night. TK and Zara argued en route to the harbor.    She is upset.  "I did not come over here to kill animals."  They get to the land bridge across the island to the mainland.  Nobody coming.  Park. Open the trunk.  Open the tarp to put the paving stones in with the dog's body.

But wait! The dog whines. He is injured, not dead. Zara absolutely refuses to dump the wounded animal into the water.  TK has no stomach for it either.  A car approaches from the other direction.  Stops.

"Is there any trouble?"  In German of course.
"Our dog is sick.  Do you know of a vet?"
The driver calls out a vet clinic and an address.
"Danke schoen."

The sun is rising. They drop off the dog at the door of the vet. Ring the bell.  Zara leaves a big wad of West Marks for the dog's care.   And runs like hell.
This will come back to haunt them, as we know that no good deed goes unpublished.  At least not in crime fiction.

Other violence comes.  There is another murder. Our heroes are kidnapped.  They escape. They play cat and mouse in the Baltic fog.  The frieghter comes.  The KGB arrives. More tension.  Always the threat of violence.  They survive.  The dog survives.

You can have a body count that never stops, but you cannot kill a dog.    Just not done. 

These writers will tell you how they handle violence. 

 Dr. Bob Rich
Victoria Chatham
Connie Vines
Anne Stenhouse
A.J. Maguire
Marci Baun
Skye Taylor
Fiona McGier
Anne de Gruchy
Rhobin L Courtright


  1. It's a bit sad that you can have murder in a book but people are outraged by the danger you put an animal in. I mean, let's just peer at the psychology behind that for a minute.

  2. Hi Judith, I was at the RNA conference over last w/e and there was a lot of discussion about the fictional killing of dogs. I didn't pay that much heed, but perhaps it's an area I need to look into. anne stenhouse

  3. Well, hmmm, there are good dogs and then their are dogs trained to be bad, and unfortunately, for dogs, there are still animal shelters where thousands of very good dogs are 'put down' every year. I won't go further with that line as it angers me. (I worked in an animal shelter.) But yes, caring, ethical characters take good care of the animals that come into their care.

  4. What a brilliant post, Judith! It is something I think about - how we are often more sentimental about the fate of animals than human beings. I did an almost reverse thing in my novel - my serial killer is a very isolated and internalised man so how could I demonstrate his humanity? So I made him a beekeeper - he could not relate well to other humans but his bees are where he goes for solace and connection. It also allowed the device of a swarm to flag up increased tension for my character at one point in the book. Glad your dog survived!!!!

  5. Although this is a serious subject, I just had to laugh at your line - you cannot kill a dog. One of the first unwritten rules of writing I ever heard in class was pretty much that - never kill pets or children.

  6. I hear that adage about killing the dog all the time, but never really thought much about it until I read your original plot and cringed. I'm not squeamish and I read books with a lot of murder and mayhem in them, but still I cringed. Guess it's true - you can't kill the dog. I like the way you dealt with it. And also the hook about leaving the dog at the vet coming back to haunt them.

  7. Hi Judy, I did comment yesterday, but in the way of the e-world, I don't see that. I was at the RNA conference last w/e and the inclusion of dogs, particularly if you intended them any plot type harm, was much debated. Clearly a hot topic. Anne Stenhouse

  8. LOL! You just can't kill a dog? What does that say about our society, where violence kills off characters in books. TV and movies all of the time, but you can't kill a dog? I guess that's because your book is romantic suspense? And not a Stephen King scare-fest?

    I've killed off characters in my books. I've had them killed by the hero/heroine...but they really deserved it! I'm graphic, but I try not to be gory. I hope I succeed.

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