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Two Types of Violence We Encounter As Readers

Faceless, nameless men and women die in droves in film, television and yes, many novels.

Death often becomes grist to show the intelligence, cool and wizened squint of our hero. And the armored yet open heart. It’s always good to show a humane pause in the face of a grizzly scene, before flipping open a handy notebook.

It is an easy cliché to criticize violence as a part of our collective storytelling—but that is a gross over-simplification. I believe that there are two types of violence we encounter as readers, as audience members.

One exists for the purpose of moving the plot of the story along, whatever the chosen genre, to direct the audience to the next highlighted point. It can be told in flashes of brilliant red, midnight horror and slow graying death. It can be called gratuitous—I call it paint.

Is it a Jackson Pollock? Wild splashes bursting across the page or screen? Is it a Warhol? Is it Abstract Expressionism? Constructivism? Baroque? Folk art? Death becomes a color on a pallet. What hues does the storyteller choose? It can be riveting and fascinating. This is the type of violence, I believe, we are more comfortable with. This is what we know.

The second type of violence is a kind of documentation. It comes with the belief that some stories cannot be told without walking through a doorway, without witnessing the horror, without breathing in the pain.

The woman attacked on the street was someone we knew—not just the fact that she wore red biker shorts, but that she had won a girl’s softball tournament at twelve, and loved listening to the frogs at sunset near her hometown lake. We are not watching her—we are inside of her, and when she is killed, we feel the violence in our own bodies.

The Lovely Bones would not have impacted the reader so thoroughly had we not crawled down into the earthen grave with Susie Salmon. We didn’t see her draped in a sheet while men discussed the crime…we saw the crime . . . more, the crime was committed against us—from the inside out.

While one is not better than the other—it must be said (perhaps with personal bias) that the second asks more of my heart. I can say as a writer, that entering a room in a child’s brothel, sitting with a young girl as she waits for her first john . . . are all incredibly difficult, all impossible to bear.

But to truly tell a story that nearly two million children live through many times a day, we have to—enter the story. To not do so is like writing about the depths of the ocean, while standing on the shore.

Congrats to Diana K., Jackie W., Karen G., Sarah L., Heidi S., and 195 other members of the Read It Forward community! Their entries were selected at random to win an Advance Reader’s Copy of Ruby by Cynthia Bond.

Make sure you’re subscribed at the top of this page. You’ll get an exclusive email from us every week with info on how to enter our members-only Read It First giveaways.

RIFers: what do you think of violence in books and film? Do you agree with Cynthia Bond that sometimes we have to portray violence in order to truly tell a story? Let’s talk in the comments.

About the Author

CYNTHIA BOND has taught writing to homeless and at-risk youth throughout Los Angeles for more than fifteen years. She attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, then moved to New York and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. A PEN/Rosenthal Fellow, Bond founded the Blackbird Writing Collective in 2011. At present, Bond works as a writing consultant, and teaches therapeutic writing at Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Center. A native of East Texas, she lives in Los Angeles with her daughter.
  • Bryan Murray

    Thank you so much

  • Donna T

    Thank you, I am so excited to win and can’t wait to start reading it!

  • Cheryle

    Thank you so much! Can’t wait to read this book!

  • Lady_D

    Yes, sometimes a certain amount of violence is necessary to tell a particular story. I find that remotely acceptable. The gratuitous violence that doesn’t do much, if anything to further the story is the type I find less acceptable; too much gratuitous violence can and does cause me to lay a book aside, never to finish. like paint, the gratuitous violence can easily be over done. I find this is often the case with inexperienced writers.

    • http://www.readitforward.com/ Kira, editor @ Read It Forward

      “like paint, the gratuitous violence can easily be over done” … nicely put, Lady D!

  • Tina

    I think that it is necessary sometimes to include violence to have a full understanding and vision of the story. Thank you for the book. I can’t wait to read it.

  • Susan

    Thank you so much for the book!
    I agree with Lady D’s comments about violence.

  • Sande

    Thank you for selecting me as a winner. I can’t wait to receive your book. My view on violence is that it is something that happens every day and people need to realize this even though they don’t want to–and it is only going to get worse and needs to be put out in the media for people to understand that this is what is happening or will be in the future. I will be passing this book on after I read it.

    • http://www.readitforward.com/ Kira, editor @ Read It Forward

      Thank you for reading it forward, Sande!

  • Zupamum

    I think adding violence heightens one’s experience when reading a book

  • Karen

    Looking forward to this read-thank you. I don’t like violence in movies but sometimes it’s necessary for the plot-gratuitous violence is unnecessary

  • techeditor

    Yes, I agree, although I don’t always like it, e.g., Cormac Mcarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

  • Bonnie Johnson

    In reading older biographies you find death a lot. Many were started before someone actually died. Now they write them about themselves way before their deaths. The other type of violence I do not like to read as much. It goes with the circle of life and life as we know it.

  • Carol

    So excited about winning a copy of Ruby! Thank you!

  • Ariel

    Today I received my ARC copy of Ruby. I can’t wait to read it. Thank you for selecting me as a winner. I will post more after I have read it.

  • Elizabeth Michael Grabow

    Having just received my copy, can I stop work and start reading. ;) Thanks so much for choosing me.

  • Nadia McDonald

    Wow! I love to read, but this is deep and penetrating stuff!

  • judy o

    thank you for this amazing poetical novel. every time i picked it up to read i wasn’t sue if i would cry or laugh. it is a love story that alternates between joyous and as heart-wrenching as i have ever read… and the characters will stay with me for a very long time, especially ruby and ephram. cynthia bond is definitely an author to watch.