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Matters of  the flesh
Writing Magazine

Matters of the flesh

Posted Friday, December 4, 2015   |   3560 views   |   General Interest   |   Comments (0) How much sex and violence should feature in your crime novel? Author and tutor Claire McGowan tests the limits

Sex and violence. What do they have in common? Aside from possibly earning a film an 18 certificate, they are both topics you should handle with care in your novel. There are two main things to think about here. One is the possible reaction these topics will draw from the reader. The other is the impact they will have on your book. I’ll deal with the former first, as I think it’s actually less of an issue.

Many new writers worry about what they are ‘allowed’ to include in their book. Is anything taboo nowadays? Even in crime writing, which often features the goriest and most chilling murders? Amazingly, the most avid and bloodthirsty crime readers can still be upset by surprising things. Cruelty to animals, for example, often gets a big thumbs down. Killing off a dog or cat may inflame even the most mild-mannered bookworm. It’s fine to kill off vast swathes of human characters by the most horrible methods, but leave that pooch alone.

Swearing can also be a surprising flashpoint, especially with American readers. One of the characters in my first novel, The Fall, is a young inner-city woman who swears like a trooper. I’ve had some comments about it, but I honestly believed that was the way she would speak, and so I left it in. I don’t have as much swearing in other novels, as they are more plot-driven. It’s an issue of voice – if you are confident your character would curse, then I’d say leave it in. Just be aware that you may get some Amazon comments attacking your questionable vocabulary, and make sure you are very clear on why it’s there.


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