Reading an article about the new remake of Robocop today got me thinking about violence in fiction. The gist of the article, which you can read here, is that movies are getting more violent in some ways–there’s higher body-counts–but that violence is getting more sanitized, so audiences have to think less about it. That feels empty to me. It’s desensitizing. (It’s also the reason that the stormtroopers in the original trilogy are faceless and impersonal–the violence in Star Wars would feel a lot worse if the Imperial grunts all had faces.)
In the last book I wrote, only two people died on-screen (as it were), one of them by the hands of a point-of-view character, the other by a nameless soldier. In both cases, though, I tried to be very intentional about those deaths in some way because lives, even the lives of “baddies” have weight: they have some meaning. Every life has value, and in the case of fiction, it is up to us, the authors, to convey that properly. The first death, early in the book, leaves the two characters who survive that scene shaken. Neither of them had ever shot a person before, and although the man who pulled the trigger had seen deaths before, he’d never been so intimately involved with one until then.
I’m not interested in getting (any more) heavy-handed, here, but I think that it’s important, in fiction as in life, to consider the value of the lives around you. Even the people you dislike have lives, families, joys and sorrows. Everybody is the hero of their own story. Honor their lives. Doing anything else cheapens the narrative and may put some readers off. If a character just goes off and shoots someone without giving it a second thought, it will affect how readers see that character from then on, and depending on what emotional role that character is mean to play, it may well hurt your narrative.