Another thread started talking about a book called Hunger Games. I hadn't heard of the book so I looked it up in Wikipedia. I noticed the following quote:
quote:Reviewers praised the action, characters and violence
Violence? It gets praised for violence? Is that a category worthy of praise now? "Thank you for submitting to the Magazine of Fantasy and Fairy Lights. I loved the story, the characterisation really got to me, the idea behind it was brilliant and you excelled in action. But I'll have to reject you story because it doesn't have any violence."
(Having not read the story, and it may be that the theme was anti-violence, but wouldn't wiki have made that distinction.)
Are we contributing to this by what we now expect in the story? Advice like "torture your character", does that heighten expectation towards violence? (Yes, I know, it's alogorical, but even the types of metaphores we use contribution to expectations.)
I walked into a store in the middle of a shopping mall this week - a type of store that wouldn't have existed twenty years ago when I was in the target agegroup. (Ok, it was a computer games store and its intended audience is teenagers.) About 80% was dedicated to violence, a lot of it explicit. If you had told me 20 years ago that we would have stores that encourage and demonstrate interactive violence, I'm not sure I would have believed you.
Now I have done my share of violence in stories, and have played more than my share of computer games, so this isn't simply a rant. Rather, it is a challenge I am challenging myself with. Is violence becoming such a norm that we are praising it as a separate category in books now? Has it become so ingrained that we expect it in the idea of story? If so, where is this expectation for violence headed?
I have observed something related to this. I travel abroad regularly, and have found that by far the country that has the most depiction of violence in all forms of entertainment (print, audio, television, film, video games) is the United States.
So, yes, violence in media is more so the norm in America than any other country I've been to. We are a country that often glorifies warfare and those involved in it to the extent that those who question it are labeled 'unpatriotic'. War is seems to be a necessary evil sometimes, but I think certain attitudes in America cast it in an inappropriate light.
When I write violence into my fiction, I try to make sure it serves a purpose, that it isn't just gratuitous. I agree, it shouldn't be treated as something different from action, it should be just one type of action a writer can use in his/her scenes. It is in some ways one of the easiest forms of conflict to write about, and we all know the importance of conflict in writing.
I read an interesting Times/CNN review (link below). In a nutshell, it seems like the Hunger Games scenario is the logical conclusion to reality TV, where kids are the stars in a spectacle of violence. The reviewer effusively praises the book, despite the violence, seeing it as a work of art, and mentions other admirers, Stephen King and Stephanie Meyers (who don't necessarily admire each other).
The reviewer used a scene where a character is stung to death by hornets. Somehow, the writing transcended the violence, according to the reviewer, in so many words.
I've read elsewhere that dystopian novels are in with the YA crowd, now. However, I have little interest and writing such stories if the focus is on violence. In historical settings, such as war, some violence is appropriate, even if only done by inference. Otherwise, you leave the impression (as many video games give) that violence has no consequences.
That said, I am presently reading Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, and quite enjoying it (about halfway through). It's an alt-history WWI steampunk story. There are deaths in this war story, which are described obliquely, so far. My motivation for reading it is that I'm considering doing a steampunk-ish story in an entirely different setting.
Beowulf was fairly violent and that was written around 700 A.D.
I don't see violence as something new. I believe as we become more civilized as a society, we become more aware and more disconcerted by violence. However, I suspect there's still a little jungle left in the animal.
Also, be aware that the wiki pages are written by "regular" people. It's possible that the meaning was muddled.
It may be worth noting, though, that the Final Destination movies were generally reviewed not so much for story and character, but whether the causes of death were inventive enough. Unfortunately, that seems to be enough to get someone to pay for a ticket.
(Disclaimer: A LOT of my stories are violent so this may be hypocritical on my part. I'll leave that for the reader to decide.)
Violence in media isn't just the US. Watch more French, Russian, Japanese, etc... cinema if you don't believe me. (I recommend starting with Irreversible if you really want an example of a movie US cinema would probably have never touched). There's all sorts of violence around. I don't think it's societal, more that it's just a human thing and we're fixated on risk (conflict of the physical sort does make for good story often).
I think Hunger Games gets praise for not pulling punches. It's definitely on the grittier side of YA.
While I am not against depictions of violence in fiction, sometimes I do feel that its inclusion is often gratuitous. I only read an excerpt of Hunger Games and when the protagonist talks about how she tried to drown a cat that was enough for me. If you browse through Amazon reviews some criticized the book for ripping-off Battle Royale by Koushun Takami.
Unlike video games, whose target audience is the 35 year old male with expendable cash, Hunger Games is marketed as a Young Adult book. I have seen a trend in YA books to depict "tough as nails" girls who don't shy away from killing. Graceling is another book that comes to mind. The protagonist in that book was a rather angry and violent individual.
If you watch Youtube reviews of YA books often the teen reviewers praise the violence. They perceive it as some sort of neo-feminist empowerment, like Rapunzel and her frying pan in the latest Disney movie Tangled.
Hunger Games is a dark, dark YA movie. It's premise is built on violence. The second in the series, Catching Fire is even more bleak. The beginning was such a downer that I put it away. I don't read to feel dismal and depressed.
But remember that fiction without conflict of some sort is boring. There are different ways to present it. Post-Apocalyptic is always dark and dreary.
Well, let me give you my take on this. As an author, what you produce has value beyond entertainment to the degree you are truthful. Of course I don't mean *factual*, especially in the case of fantasy or science fiction; I refer to a kind of truth peculiar to story telling: the truth that actions have consequences.
There's lots of entertaining escapist fiction in which characters engage in violence, sexual promiscuity and risk taking and are only rewarded for that behavior. This is not a new development, or a sign of declining moral values. It's always been that way. Humanity has always dreamed of an ice cream sundae with whipped cream on top, without the bother of feeding the cows, mucking out the stables, and birthing the calves.
That's one kind of fantasy, and I think it is more or less harmless as long as we don't confuse it with reality. But that's not the kind of fantasy story that sticks with you. The ones that stick with you are the ones that tell you life is about making choices that matter. If choices are to matter, they must have consequences both good and bad. So it's not that depicting, say, inconsequential sexual promiscuity in fiction is bad morality. It's bad storytelling, or at the very least inefficient. If a piece of a story doesn't accomplish something, it's wasted space.
I think Ender's Game is an interesting boundary case. Some have said it is a story about violence without negative consequences. I think that criticism misses the point. Even without taking later Ender stories into account, Ender's Game is not a story that glorifies violence; it is a thought experiment about the nature of moral accountability. We can take the elaborate ruses which rob Ender of moral agency in his actions at face value, but that misses the very real point that this *was* a kind of robbery.
In any case there is a certain joylessness in producing trivial fantasy for the market that buys it. I have a friend whose novel was picked up, but it was on the fence between "Urban Fantasy" and "Paranormal Romance". The editors decided they needed another PNR, and they had very specific guidelines, e.g. there must be so many explicit sex scenes, with the first occurring before page 50. Now my friend says she's OK with this, but frequently complains how tedio0us these scenes are for her to write. I'll have to withhold judgment until its published; the early drafts of that book were thought provoking, so we'll have to see whether that comes out in the wash. I'm dubious about the whole exercise, which robs the writer of creative freedom.
I think sanderson (mistborn) was asked about violence and morality in his books. His response was that for him, a violent story where the violence and immoral acts have consequences is not one that glorifies it. A story that has no consequences but less violence though does glorify it (think old A-Team were the fire thousands of bullets and no on dies or is even injured).
Posts: 232 | Registered: Apr 2010
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If you want to sell in YA today, you should read Hunger Games (all three books) to understand what is selling in YA today.
It's much more bleak, depressing, and psychological than I expected.
They are all fantastic books. However, having read them, I'm now a passionate advocate AGAINST reading them for younger kids. A lot of times a popular book (Twilight, for ex) will pop and many younger will want to read it even though it's written with an older audience in mind. Younger people will read the book and either not get it, or get bored, or otherwise find that it's not for them. The problem with Hunger Games is that the first book might be okay for many younger readers (violence notwithstanding, since there is a fair amount of it), but the series goes on to get progressively dark, the main characters suffer extreme psychological damage at the hands of others (adults) and I find that to be a bit hard for younger kids (my personal recommendation is for 13 and up, but only those mature readers who are really comfortable with dark themes and content.)
Another reason you should read the book is because I see a pretty big misconception in this thread. The entire book is an indictment AGAINST violence, war, fighting, conflict, strife, particularly the contrived sort. While the author doesn't draw specific parallels to today's political environment, it's there underneath for those who look for it.
The fact is, to criticize war and killing and violence, the author had to dramatize it. Or more accurately, THIS author must have felt she had to dramatize it.
It makes for an extremely compelling story, one that is hard to put down. It's worth your time, particularly if you plan to try to market a novel in children's lit anytime soon, as this is what all the editors are talking about.
You have to wonder if the violence in what you read (or watch) is there for valid artistic reasons, or just there to titillate the reader. (Or perhaps the work in question does both?)
Hunger Games? Doesn't strike a bell with me, so I can't discuss it with any authority. But I've seen some movies where the violence seemed utterly gratuitous...but I also remember seeing reviews of some movies where the reviewer accused the movie makers of putting gratuitous violence in them, when in fact the movie dramatized was a true story and the violence in question was something that actually happened in the course of it. (The Passion of the Christ comes to mind here.)
Violence has always been apart of entertainment which I think is the point Suzanne Collins is trying to make when she marries our modern reality TV shows with the Roman empire's gladiators in Hunger Games.
The violence in the books is not gratuitous nor is it as excessive as many movies. I didn't think it was done irresponsibly, but as Kayti said, it is not for a younger audience.
I have read more violent stories where the violence does seem excessive and even glorified like Terry Goodkinds Sword of Truth series and the Eragon Inheritance series.
So I don't know why Hunger Games gets so much criticism for being violent. Is it because it is more marketed to girls instead of boys?
[This message has been edited by MAP (edited December 07, 2010).]
I've read HUNGER GAMES and agree that it is a story against violence, but it is also very violent. I have heard enough about the sequels, however, that I don't know if I want to read them. HUNGER GAMES was gut-wrenching enough, thank you very much.
Edited to add:
I have also read GRACELING, and I submit that it is not as violent as HUNGER GAMES. It's a book about someone who believes her "talent" is to kill people, but she doesn't enjoy having to do that, and she learns, in the course of the story, that killing people is not her "talent," but something else, something misunderstood. And when she learns that, her whole approach to things changes. I'd read a sequel to GRACELING gladly (and in fact, I have read one, sort of--though it's set in a different part of the world and only has a tiny bit of overlap).
[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited December 07, 2010).]
Going back to Brendan's point, it is rather troubling that certain books, movies and video games actually get praised for their violence. Lately, it does appear to be a selling point and desired by consumers.
So, like Brendan asked, is violence a prerequisite for books now? Are a good story, good characterization, and good prose no longer enough? Must a writer include violence to a story in order to get noticed?
I read Hunger Games. The books are great but I honestly can't say I enjoyed them. Does that make any sense? The ammount of abuse the characters are put through simply makes the whole thing non-enjoyable. Yes, the story is about how war can devastate human lives and it does the job well. When I read all three books I was utterly ehxausted from the sheer brutality of it. I felt that in the end the writer didn't took enough time to reward the characters for all the hardships they endured (those that survived, at least). It's simply one torment after another without any pause and with so little reward.
[This message has been edited by MartinV (edited December 07, 2010).]
I read HUNGER GAMES, and I thought it was one of the best books I've read in a very long time, YA or not. That said, I had no interest in reading on in the series; I felt the author said everything I wanted to hear in the first installment. I found it to be anti-violence and anti the social conditions that foster violence.
There is a new YA "It Book" out called Matched, by Ally Condie, which is another dystopian story about genetic/people manipulation and control. It is also supposed to be tapping into similar feelings of "teen-angst" - code word for violence.
Posts: 2003 | Registered: Jul 2008
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I would like to see some data. One stray comment about one book doesn't mean very much.
1) Any more people dying today in movies and TV than in the golden age westerns and pulp mags?
2) If there is more in media, does it raise the sum total of societal violence? For example, is there more real violence now than when boxing was something church groups practiced and everyone tuned into the championship bouts?
3) What are the violence ratings of a wide array of YA books? It seems to me that what we have today that we didn't even a decade or two ago is a wild multiplication of market segments. I expect that to continue. A few decades ago we had relatively fewer gate keepers. A few movie and TV studios with strict FCC controls. Then came cable and sattelite. Now the erevolution. I'm confident some of these markets will become incredibly violent. But will the violence dominate all segments or just a minority?
4) As for violence as a editorial mandate, I can certainly see some lines, as they develop for specific market segments, doing just that. Just as some romance lines currently mandate you have sex scenes of a certain type in them.
[This message has been edited by johnbrown (edited December 08, 2010).]
Well, there's a certain descent into destruction (or ascent to truth, depending how it looks to you) in just how movies portray violence. Even fifty years ago, you wouldn't have seen, say, somebody's head cracked open like an egg or an arm being torn off.
(Some of my own exploration into "what went on" suggests the violence in movies mostly doesn't even approach that of real life...I recently read a real-life memoir of what it was like fighting in the Pacific during World War II...and some of the details are enough to put you off your feed---or, they would be if you saw them rather than read them. Which senses are engaged makes a difference, doesn't it?)
This has been a thought provoking thread. I read all three installments of Hunger Games. I thoroughly enjoyed the first one and felt it had a real statement to make. It was an engrossing read. IMO, however, the author lost her way in Catching Fire and failed miserably in Mockingjay.
"Yeah, I remember my pa takin' me to see The Birth of a Nation back in 1915. What an inspirational movie! Boy, they don't make 'em like they used to. Nowadays they make everything look so violent. It's the color I tell ya! It was a lot simpler back when everything was black and white."
You know, WW1 and WW2 involved a huge number of people. We certainly didn't have the graphic representations back then as wide spread as we do today, but I wonder if having so many involved in actual violence changes things a bit.
Posts: 327 | Registered: Jul 2002
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Hello all - been away for a while focusing on finishing a book, but I happened to come back to the ol' forum today and thought I might drop in.
quote: Going back to Brendan's point, it is rather troubling that certain books, movies and video games actually get praised for their violence. Lately, it does appear to be a selling point and desired by consumers.
Is it really troubling, or just the natural extension of relaxed censorship? And is that so awful? There has always been a certain amount of entertainment from the uber-real or the I-can't-believe-they-just-did-that type of explosion, joke, or comment. It doesn't seem all that much different to me than allowing more market-based censorship w.r.t violence, sex, or language.
I recently played Fallout: New Vegas, and absolutely loved it. Part of the enjoyment certainly comes from engaging in acts I would never do in real life (a bigger part comes from the incredible writing and voice-acting), and I don't see that as such a problem. You can even gain a "perk," a special ability, that causes more violent explosions, so that half the time when I shot one of the Ceasar's Legion slavers, their entire body exploded in a shower of gore. It never got old, though sadly I was forced to incinerate Ceasar himself into a pile of ashes b/c I had to use a different weapon to beat all his guards.
The US definitely has some absurd contradictions in what it considers obscene when measuring violence versus other "dirty" things, but I'm not particularly concerned about the proliferation of violence in entertainment. As mentioned earlier in the board, it's quite possible that we simply have more of that in digital form, or are more inclined to put it into stories, than we did in the past. On the other hand, I've never attended a real boxing match, and don't actually know anyone that has. Have we lost violence or just moved it?
quote: So, like Brendan asked, is violence a prerequisite for books now? Are a good story, good characterization, and good prose no longer enough? Must a writer include violence to a story in order to get noticed?
Violence isn't a prerequisite at all, but you have to have conflict. Speculative fiction lends itself to great battles, but there are certainly great stories almost devoid of them. Movies are easier to remember for me, and off the top of my head Philadelphia comes to mind (Tom Hanks as a gay AIDS patient suing his old employer for discrimination). I don't think there was any actual fisticuffs in the film. There are plenty of books that thrill in other ways.
Here is a quote from Characters & Viewpoint, by OSC, that addresses "jeopardy", but also addresses how and why violence is often used to raise the emotional stakes in stories:
quote:“In old-fashioned melodramas, the jeopardy was often grotesque — the hero was tied to a log heading into the sawmill; the heroine was bound to the railroad tracks as the train approached. But the audience eventually realized that there was no chance (in those days) that the storyteller would ever allow the hero to be cut to ribbons by the saw, or the heroine to be spattered along the tracks by the train. Contemporary standards of decorum simply did not allow such things to be shown in a story.”
“Writers of melodrama, aware that grotesque jeopardy had finally become unbelievable — and therefore laughable — switched tactics. Instead of trying to find ever-more-horrible threats, they used very simple threats, but they made them come true.”