Is writing about homicidal maniacs bad for you?


Like most people who aren’t psychopaths, I have problems with killing other living creatures. As I grow older and the Grim Reaper creeps closer and closer, I’ve become a real wuss regarding death. Even squashing an insect makes me feel guilty.

So why am I so viciously homicidal in my writing?

Let’s begin with the fact that authors need to torment our characters in order to create a good story. And, of course, a mystery novel usually has at least one murder, and a horror story usually involves some death, because, you know, death is scary.

But how is it that I can write a chapter in which I use authentic emotion and empathy when a character deals with the death of a loved one, and, in the same book, describe in minute detail another character getting his head torn off?

Yes, it’s fiction. It’s not real. But what the hell is wrong with me?

I’m not asking why I’m guilty of using violence as a tool for instilling fear in the reader. I’m asking, why am I writing about killing at all?

Am I making the world a worse place? Seriously, is some demented person going to be influenced by the mayhem in my books? Am I contributing to the general desensitizing of killing that is so common today in movies, video games, and other entertainment?

I don’t know. I can’t reach an answer in a brief post. But maybe I’m simply doing what humans have always done: exorcise our fear of death by examining it, playing with it, rehearsing it, demystifying it. Trying to come to grips with our mortality. Maybe it’s relatively harmless and kind of therapeutic.

And if I had to choose between writing a novel that’s about solipsistic navel-gazing and one that has some killing going on, I’ll pick the latter. It’ll be thrilling and cathartic.

And as I write this, I hear the footsteps coming up the stairs in my supposedly empty house, the barely suppressed heavy breathing, and the metallic click of a safety shut off.

But at least I can guess what’s going to happen next.

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