Today on the blog, I host the kind of writer that is truly metal. No, really—he is metal. He’s a musician. He’s a security expert. He’s a health professional. AND…he’s a writer. If you’re a listener to The Shared Desk, you recognize the name: Nick Kelly. Fellow comic book geek. Fellow movie buff. Fellow cybersecurity believer. As he and I have shared opinions on just how far to go in your writing, I encouraged him to share his thoughts with you on the boundaries and just how far you can push them.
Nick, welcome to my blog. The stage is yours.
Words of wisdom from my blushing bride and co-author, Stacia D. Kelly. I don’t remember the first time she told me this, but she’s repeated that comment several times while we were writing Ichi together. Our shared story is an urban fantasy featuring a 1,000 year old samurai demon hunter and a D.C. homicide cop.
When I’m not collaborating with her, I write a series of dystopian cyberpunk featuring a hitman and lots and lots of psychotic robots. I may have a contest among my readers to see who can most accurately report the body count.
That raises the ultimate question – How much is too much?
Without Stacia to reign me in, where exactly would I draw the line in the sand? I wanted to split this into a couple of categories, because I think the line is different when you’re talking about different aspects of story telling. I decided on three: violence, sex, and gore.
When we were ramping up to release Catwalk: Messiah last summer, I chose a cross section of readers and asked ten or so to beta read the book for me. The results were completely not what I expected. I found many of them didn’t care at all about any sex in the book, but they wanted more violence…and fewer survivors. Once the book went public, I got more of the reaction I expected. Some readers loved it (including a bunch I would never have thought), some found it a tough read, and a couple never got through Chapter One.
To me, that meant I was right in the bull’s eye for violence. Not everyone is going to dig this genre or my style. In the modern era, we’ve seen almost all of our super heroes written to a model of mainstream success. Iron Man and Batman are decidedly PG-13, and the Amazing Spider-Man series went full on Emo in its reboot.
That’s not the direction I went with Catwalk. I like to explain him as a killer version of Spider-Man, mixed with Akira, dropped into the heart of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. I read a lot of Heavy Metal magazines growing up, what can I say? Where the beta readers all knew me and knew my style, the broader audience contained folks who definitely didn’t know what they were in for.
As for sex, I toned things down for a few reasons. First, my readers got the characters’ infatuation without needing the action. (I have to ramp it up moving forward, since a prostitute becomes a major part of the series.) In this instance, sex is like anything else in a story. If it doesn’t drive character development or the story, it’s non-essential, and in Messiah, it wasn’t essential.
Now, to the gore.
I have reviewed dozens and dozens of horror movies and books for www.Horrorview.com. I’ve probably watched ten times that amount over the course of my life. Gore has its place, but it has to be done right. I’m not into the gore-no subgenre (Hostel and the like). If you want gore done correctly, it has to scare you or creep you out. The best example I can share is Lucio Fulci’s Zombie.
(Fulci’s film is the only zombie you’ll ever need, I don’t care how many more zombie movies are made throughout history. First of all, there’s a scene where a zombie fights a shark. No lie. A zombie fights a fucking shark. I rest my case, your honor.)
The real payoff is an agonizingly slow moment involving a zombie, a female victim, her eyeball, and a sharpened piece of wood. It takes FOREVER, and just makes you cringe the whole time. (You can watch both the shark and the eye scenes in this gorey greatest hits video. It’s out of context so it’s not as good as the real film, but if you’re reading this on a coffee break, click HERE.)
Having a universe where cybernetic implants are commonplace, it’s easy to blow off an arm or a leg. It’s tough to keep things human. The most important thing is to tell a good story. That’s where all the lines are drawn. Sex, gore, violence, suspense, humor, drama, you name it. These are the writer’s tools. How you use them will change with each story, whether you write alone or with a co-author.
What about you? Where do you draw the line as a reader?
Where do you draw the line as a writer? How close are those lines?
Nick Kelly is a veteran musician, trainer and speaker.
His musical travels have taken him all over the United States, singing with the band Division, or entertaining local DC-MD-VA crowds with the energetic cover band, Just Wanna Play. He has played everywhere from the Virginia Wine and Garlic Festival to Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
Nick’s public speaking engagements have helped hundreds of business owners to understand the necessity of “Communicating Effectively with Purpose” and “Developing and Understanding Your Vision.” He presents to coaches and parents on the importance of health, understanding of the glycemic index, and the massive energy drink market.
Nick is an Internet Safety advocate, and an ambassador for Enough is Enough online safety. He has written on the subject for Prince William Living and Fredericksburg Parent magazines.
He is the author of the Leon “Catwalk” Caliber cyberpunk series, which debuted in the 2001 comic, Independent Voices 3 and continues in novels with 2013′s Catwalk: Messiah. He co-authors the Urban Samurai series, beginning with 2013′s Ichi.