What Murder Can Teach Us
By Elena Hartwell
As a mystery writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about some of the worst crimes one human being can do to another. And yet, my series is funny. That’s something I also think about from time to time. Is it okay to write about murder and make people laugh at the same time? Or the flip side, is it okay to write graphic descriptions of violence for the purpose of entertainment?
I think the answer is yes to both, because writing about murder can teach us something valuable in our own lives. We just have to know as readers what we can handle.
First off, the human mind loves a puzzle. A great deal of the pleasure we derive from reading mysteries, is to figure out the “whodunit” alongside the protagonist. We love to discover how the pieces fit together, the tidbits strung out in a series of clues we find along the way. Reading mysteries keeps our minds active and engaged.
Second, awful things do happen to people. Violence is a part of the human experience and to ignore it wouldn’t make it go away. In fact, there’s something to be said for experiencing the damage a violent crime does to people within the context of fiction, because it may create empathy for us when those events happen in the real world.
Third, laughter really is the best medicine. That cliché exists because it’s true. We know that laughing lowers stress, has been proven to boost your immune system, and might even make us live longer. Regardless of the genre a reader enjoys, humor can improve the reading experience, and perhaps even the reader’s health.
Most importantly, reading can open our minds. It allows us access to places we’ve never been. The location of a story can show a reader a part of the country or the world they have never visited. Characters from different ethnicities, races, and backgrounds can help us expand our appreciation for people who look different than us. Relating to a character and then facing danger with them, can make us more thoughtful and compassionate in our daily lives.
Murder mysteries, indeed, any genre, are about more than just the primary storyline. The best mysteries are written with complex characters involved in complicated personal lives, which are entwined with their sleuthing. Whether a character grapples with an aging parent or their own aging, a messy love life or the terror of starting a new relationship, readers can find themselves reflected in those challenges.
Mysteries are never solely about a crime. They are about the intricacies of living, something that everyone experiences. Botched relationships, troubled teenagers, drug addictions, poverty, all of these and more are explored by the mystery writer. The whys behind acts of violence might be demystified, giving us insight into bad behavior and acknowledging humanity in those who break the law.
We are also able to see justice work as it should. One of the lovely things we experience reading about crime and criminals is to know the bad guy is going to get caught, whether at the end of a book or the end of a series. A crime in the real world doesn’t always get solved. There’s something intensely satisfying about knowing that for the length of one book, everything will work out in the end. It can give us a renewed sense of balance in the world.
That isn’t to say there aren’t certain writers whose books are too graphic for me. Even some authors I admire tremendously, I have to be careful when I read their work. For example, I might not read them when I’m home alone or if I’ve had a bad day. It’s good to know how much you can handle with regards to graphic sex and violence. The good news is, the mystery genre is filled with writers across the spectrum. From the sweet, light cozy, with no graphic sex or violence, to the dark and twisted accounts of serial killers, with detailed descriptions of their acts, there’s a little something for everyone. The rise in popularity with psychological suspense is adding a new twist on the mystery genre. A number of those books may not have a murder at all, but be fraught with the psychological damage one person can do to another. Often equally chilling.
I think most of us have a sense of what we do and do not like. Personally, I don’t care who gets killed as long as the dog lives. I know a number of readers who won’t read about violence to children. The beautiful part about a book is you can always put it down and pick up another one.
And the good news is, there are plenty of us out there who want to take you through the puzzle and at the same time make you laugh. Perfect for those nights you want to be able to go to sleep without leaving the lights on.
About the Author
After twenty years in the theater, Elena Hartwell turned her dramatic skills to fiction. Her first novel, One Dead, Two to Go introduces Eddie Shoes, private eye. Called “the most fun detective since Richard Castle stumbled into the 12th precinct,” by author Peter Clines. I’DTale Magazine stated, “this quirky combination of a mother-daughter reunion turned crime-fighting duo will captivate readers.”
In addition to her work as a novelist, Elena teaches playwriting at Bellevue College and tours the country to lead writing workshops.
When she’s not writing or teaching, her favorite place to be is at the farm with her horses, Jasper and Radar, or at her home, on the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, their dog, Polar, and their trio of cats, Jackson, Coal Train, and Luna, aka, “the other cat upstairs.” Elena holds a B.A. from the University of San Diego, a M.Ed. from the University of Washington, Tacoma, and a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia.
Website – http://www.elenahartwell.com
Twitter – https://twitter.com/Elena_Hartwell
Blog – http://www.arcofawriter.com
Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/emhartwell/
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