Killer Voices: Violence and Danger in Writing

I am back on a Round Robin post today, and we have been set the following topic:

How do you handle/use violence, or any type of danger, in your stories?

This is a fascinating topic for me because my most recent novel, which is currently going out on submissions via my agent, is about a serial killer. Not only that, it is definitely NOT a crime story!

But thereby lies the dilemma – I have written a literary fiction book that focuses on the internal world of someone who kills, and the friendship he forms with a woman who was born profoundly deaf. They share a very internalized sense of the world and a common love of the Lincolnshire fenland landscape where the book is set. The writing is descriptive, but the subject matter is harder hitting than is normal in ‘literary’ work.

This is a book that I am proud of. I believe I have written something with integrity and I want it to find an audience. Its origins stem from the well-loved Quaker phrase: ‘that of God in everyone’. It got me thinking: as we can find ‘that of God’ in all people, what is it in some people that allows them to kill or to commit awful crimes?

This is the question that the book tries to answer in some way.

So: I did my research. I read about ‘types’ of sexual offenders and serial killers and the different ways and means that aggression is expressed. In rape, for instance, patterns of behaviour may be based on anger (sexuality becomes a hostile act), power (an expression of conquest) and sadism (where anger and power become eroticized). I probably ducked the difficult options in choosing that Michael, my character, would be an anger killer – it’s easier to see the humanity in someone who loses control without pre-planning anything, and where there are trigger events to explain it. It also meant introducing backstory to show how he came to be the person he was – and I based this on research and reading interviews with real rapists and killers.

The other thing I decided with this novel was to let the reader know from page one that Michael had killed in the past. This brought in a sense of jeopardy for the other characters that he met and it meant that his own journey was about trying to control his anger and not to kill again. His crimes involve sexual violence, and I did write the scenes fairly factually – the reader sees what happened and it’s hard to tell how an individual reader feels in reading these scenes. Each crime shows the lead up and what triggered Michael’s loss of control – and the randomness of who becomes the victim. Because the land and cycles of nature are central to the book, I also show how the bodies of Michael’s victims decay and become a rich source of nourishment to the landscape – a sense of the earth reclaiming its own.

All this is brilliant, except…. I appear to have shot myself in the foot by crossing traditional genre divides. This is literary fiction but it features a serial killer. Crimes are committed but the focus is on the reaction of the community and the characters involved, not police involvement or solving of the crimes. Feedback from publishers has been extremely positive but the book does not ‘fit’ their normal categories and it is hard to find it a home. One editor put it this way: ‘having a serial killer as a main character [in a novel that is clearly literary in nature] will put it into a certain category that will alienate some readers and potentially appeal to the ‘wrong’ readers in other cases, who will expect something more narrative’.

Another dilemma posed by writing storylines that involve violence from both a perpetrator’s and a person-centred perspective is that people are not always comfortable with being asked to treat a serial killer as a human being. One editor expressed discomfort at the feeling that they were being asked to sympathise with a serial killer – not my intention, but perhaps it shows that I did manage to get across my character’s humanity despite his capacity to kill.

I have dealt with violence in other novels – self-harm and domestic abuse, an overheated argument leading to death by dangerous driving – but Out of Silence retains a very special place in my heart, and will continue to do so whether it finds a publishing deal or not.

See how other writers deal with danger and violence in their work:

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

© Anne de Gruchy

8 thoughts on “Killer Voices: Violence and Danger in Writing

  1. Ha! Found how to comment on your post.
    That sounds like a fascinating book. I am always more interested in the why than the what, and emotions are what fiction is about.
    You know, in today’s world, you could self-publish?
    Would you like an advance review? That may help your agent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comments, Bob. I’ve got a phone call with my agent booked for next week so can discuss things with her further then. Nearly everyone who’s read it and fed back seems to like the theme and writing and several film scouts took a brief interest. Self-publishing remains an option but I have an agent who really believes in it so will see where it goes – it could be a ‘second’ book if someone picks up my new offering which is nearly finished.


  2. Hello Anne
    I hope that all is well. I enjoyed reading your blog but wondered what started you going down that particular track.
    I hope this book is published very soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sometimes we just have to write the book of our heart even if we fear it might never have a market. I wish you well with this story that I’m sure delves more deeply into the violence that our world is plagued with than so-called Action-Adventure does.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Anne, An intriguing take on our theme. Would comparison with Jodi Piccoult be a help, although I’m sure your agent has thought of her sometimes ‘devil’s advocate’ stance? Good luck with it whatever happens. Anne

    Liked by 1 person

    • You have an agent?? Wow! I’m bowing to you, though you can’t see me.

      I bumble along, trying to find a publisher who will take an interest in my stories, which never seem to fit anyone’s idea of a good example of a fit into a genre. Sigh.

      The son who has read all of my books tells me that I write in a literary style with tasteful sex scenes. He may just be being kind to his mom.

      Good luck with your book…hope it gets published somehow!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Fiona , for reminding me how lucky I am and how far I’ve come even if book hasn’t sold yet! And my agent is absolutely lovely and inspiring. I have a critique group of writers i work with and I use a mix of reading friends and writer contacts as readers when I have a first draft. I find family very risky for feedback!


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