Thursday, May 17, 2012

Murder in Print

A writer friend of mine and I were discussing a mutual friend of ours, also a writer, who would, when the action began to wane in his stories, just kill off a character.  As it turns out, this writer friend of ours likes to put a lot of characters in his books, so when he kills one off, that person isn’t often missed -- but it adds drama and, of course, action to the story.  Often times, writers do kill characters off to build interest or create a crime for someone to solve.

After that discussion, the question crossed my mind, “How does the murder rate in real life compare to that in fiction?”

According to WikiPedia, “The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) monitors both the number and type of books published per country per year as an important index of standard of living and education, and of a country's self-awareness.” That report indicates that for the last few years, the United States has produced over 250,000 books per year.  To be conservative, let’s say that in just 100,000 of those books, someone is murdered. Heck, even the Holy Bible has a significant number of murders.  And to continue with our conservatism, let’s say that in those 100,000 books, only one person gets murdered.  That’s still 100,000 murders per year.

The most recent data available from the U.S. government, (the FBI) is from 2008.  Their report published online by The Guardian, reveals over 14,100 homicides that year.  Add to that, over 300 “justifiable homicides” committed by law enforcement officials, and we have almost 14,500 deaths per year (I doubt that they are going down.).  Again, being conservative, let’s round that number down -- way down -- to 10,000 per year.

These numbers can be interpreted into an annual “Murder in Print” rate that is ten times the actual (real live) rate.   

What does all this mean?

Should we be concerned?

If the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, should supporters of the Second Amendment be concerned?  Should authors be wary of how many characters they kill off?

Does the N.R.A. have a position on this alarming statistic?

What about our liberal progressive friends on the left?  Are they concerned that the plethora of murders in novels have an impact on the real life murder rate?  Should they be?

Or is the First Amendment the one that’s more at risk?

In my first novel, The Tourist Killer, (to be released later this year by VentureGalleries) my main character is an elite professional assassin that has dispatched (that sounds so much better than “killed” or “murdered”) thirty-seven people in an incredible career that spanned thirty years. My low profile character would never be suspected of such a career in real life.  

But let a team of Navy S.E.A.L.’s take out a high profile target, and they not only get fame, but glory, too!  

Where do we draw the line?  Who decides who lives and who dies?  Are some targets of either private or government assassins deprived of a fair trial in exchange for expediency?  Are the answers to these questions easy to answer? Are they all black and white -- or does a gray scale exist?

One thing is for sure. If the murder rate in real life was the same as that in fiction, we’d be at risk of extinction a lot sooner than if we wait on global warming!


  1. LOVE this post! I'd also add movies in on the bargain too. How many people would it leave on the planet if we factor in the amount of people murdered in the movies every year.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and for commenting!

  2. Great questions, my friend!

    In our culture, death is not regarded as an integral part of life. It is hidden from us. We do not wash corpses, we are not allowed to view torn-up bodies, someone else does the digging and the burial. We are not taught the factual details of the dying process, nor what happens to the body afterward. Like human waste and slums, society makes every attempt to conceal the realities. Thus, it has become our greatest fear.

    We will always be attracted to books that highlight murder and death because it is the unknown. We go through a temporary catharsis from fear when we experience it through literature or movies. It will always return, however, because there has been no change in our basic belief system. We have no spiritual anchor that tells us death is as natural as a sunset, spring rain, or birth.

  3. Chip,
    My ears are burning. I started a book in the last few days. So far, only one bad guy has been dispatched to the next world. But I'm just getting warmed up. Like so many things in novels, killing people off is a technique that serves many purposes. I don't read the Bible and decide I will mount a campaign to exterminate my neighbors.
    I wonder how many bad guys Matt Dillon killed in his decades on Gunsmoke?
    Anyway, I've got to get back to the killing fields.



  4. Stephen,
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting! You've always got a great attitude about writing!
    According to Wikipedia, Gunsmoke "was the United States' longest-running prime time, live-action drama with 635 episodes."
    If Matt zapped one bad guy per episode, that would be only 635 dead. You can match that in one chapter! LOL

    Write on, brother!