When is it too much?

I just emailed the most graphic scene in my work-in-progress to a couple of pre-book reviewers. Friends I trust to point me in the right direction, who see things (mostly) the way I do, but who stand as the voice of reason. Because anyone who’s written a book, especially a fiction novel, knows that it can get away from you. That reason and creativity aren’t the closest companions.

I sent these friends the first draft of what has to be the most horrific event in the book, the event around which seventy-five percent of the story spirals. So this event, this scene should be disturbing, right? But I have to ask myself (and them) when is it too much? I posed to them the question: is this scene too graphic for my style of writing?

I usually don’t have a problem with graphic scenes, where warranted. I love detective novels and TV shows. I’m sad to say it, but I enjoy stories about serial killers. I enjoy the psychological part of the story. But there are also instances of books, TV shows, etc. that are overly graphic for no reason.

I’ve put down several books (and decided to never buy from that author again) because of gratuitous violence, violence that doesn’t add anything to the story other than shock value.

There’s a big difference between alluding to what’s behind the curtain and ripping the curtain down and shoving my face in it.

For a long time, I would buy Minette Walters’ books as soon as they came out. But I almost stopped following her completely after reading the animal abuse scenes in one of her books. I can’t deal with violence against animals. It’s another sad to say situation that I can deal with violence against humans, that it’s become not so shocking for me. But, to me, people who abuse animals or children deserve an especially hot place in hell. And I don’t want to think/read about the things those people do, or why. There’s no valid reason to harm something that vulnerable.

And I know it all a matter of what you enjoy. I’m not judging. Really. But I also know that I have certain expectations of the genre and the author. I don’t like it when I’m disturbed enough by what I’ve read that I have to put a book down. That’s what I’m trying to avoid. I don’t want to turn off my readers by making them think I’m including things just for shock value.

Getting to the middle of what starts out to be a good book and then not wanting to finish it is like finding that half-eaten worm in your apple. Like having the friendly-looking bee buzzing around that beautiful flower sting you on your nose.

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