Murder in Print
May 30, 2012
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!