I'm reading Velocity by Dean Koontz right now. (Watch Deb Markanton's blog for a full commentary /review soon in the comments of an upcoming What Are You Reading Wednesday!) Part of the reason I wanted to read Koontz was to see how my writing fits in with the suspense/horror mix he is famous for.
At the risk of sounding like I'm comparing myself to a best-selling and world famous author, it's been an interesting experience reading his work for the first time because there are some striking similarities between his writing and my own. There are probably more differences than there are similarities, but the its the latter which are most interesting to me.
One of the things which has struck me as I'm reading is the way Koontz uses stark jump-cuts between banal and horrific. There's not a slow acceleration from ordinary life to intense, disturbing violence -- there's just an on-switch. As I'm reading, I haven't been entirely comfortable with that, because it feels like a simplistic shock device.
Amidst my discomfort, however, came the realization that I do almost the exact same thing in much of writing. While I pride myself on not being sensationalist, on using violence and gore as necessary to tell a story, I suspect Koontz himself would rankle at the suggestion that he's doing any less himself.
Now I'm thinking extra hard about how I'm using these things in my writing. I think it can be okay -- good -- even essential -- to shock readers. It can help create the necessary atmosphere, define character, build suspense, and more. The same goes for portrayals of graphic or disturbing violence. It can legitimate and important. But I don't ever want to just include horror for its own sake. I am far too convicted on far too many levels about the reality of evil to find it entertaining per se.
I think in a lot of cases (including, "The Best Medicine" and "Death, Be Not Me") I've used such elements appropriately. In fact, I think from my writer's perspective I've managed that feat in virtually every case. What I'm learning from reading Koontz is that it may not be so apparent from the client's perspective.
Just what I needed. More to think about!