Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What can YOU tolerate in a book?

Some people and I have been having a debate lately about what sort of things, if any, will cause people to immediately put down a book and say something like, "Oh, I just can't read that!" Now, obviously really poor writing will cause this... but wait, what about Dan Brown? Oh, never mind that example. Let's just say what sort of scene or occurence in the story will cause the reader to stop reading.
I had a survey up for a couple of days, and I was pretty amazed that it took such a short time to gather over 100 respondents. But based on feedback from the respondents, I revamped the survey and re-ran it. I didn't get as many respondents this time, but I thought the results were still interesting.

It seems that a great number of people really could not care less if a member of the clergy is killed in a story, as long as it's "off camera". But the killing of a pet cat or pet dog raised hackles all down the line!

And a great number of people objected to the killing of a small child, or the molestation of a small child. The majority of people said they would not buy and/or finish reading such a book, even if it is one they had previously decided to buy and/or read. (The scenario was that they were standing in a bookstore or library and had already decided to get this book because they had previously read one book by the author and enjoyed it. They then flipped through the book and saw the scene described in the survey question.)

Now, because my publishing company publishes short stories and novels that are about crime, I guess it's sort of incongruous that I should even worry about these things. But I really do. I believe there are ways you can write a story about a crime, be it a murder, robbery, kidnapping or even a rape, that can make the book interesting and compelling without wallowing in the gutter. And I also believe that there are some crimes that are, at least by conventional American moral standards, so heinous and horrific that the majority of people don't want to read about them.

Sure, we KNOW that pedophiles are out there, and we KNOW that people kill their own children or other people's children, and we KNOW that people torture animals in horrible ways... but do we want to read about these things? I can't answer that question for you, I can only answer it for myself.

My answer is "no".

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