At Kill Zone Blog, a post by PJ Parrish: Is anything really taboo in today’s crime fiction?
Which is, of course, a question that applies equally to all fiction.
We often hear there are some things you should never do in mysteries and thrillers. … Here’s just a few of the no-no’s I know:
- Don’t deal with abused children because readers can’t take it.
- Don’t write about religion because it’s too personal.
- Don’t write about politics because it’s too divisive and partisan.
- Steer clear of graphic violence and sex.
- And never, ever, kill an animal.
I still remember how amused I was in the movie “Up” when all the dogs got parachutes — something that the human bad guy did not get. Mind you, I agree with this taboo, basically. If an author kills a dog or other pet, I’m not likely to become a big fan, even if I finish that book.
However, the conclusion Parrish comes to is this: there are no taboos, but for heaven’s sake do not let your Message overwhelm your story. Parrish says:
I read a crime novel recently by an Edgar-winning writer. The writing was elegant, the plot set-up tantalyzing. I really liked the protag. But about halfway through, I found myself getting irritated. Why? Because the writer started shouting about the devastation of the environment and it was drowning out the story. … you have to deal with a touchy subject always with the idea that it must organically support the story. [emphasis mine].
Yes yes yes! That’s the important thing.
But even though I agree there’s no absolute taboos in fiction, including no absolute taboo against killing pets … honestly. Don’t do that.
Out of curiosity, is there death-of-a-pet in fiction that worked for you and did not turn you off? I can’t think of any examples for me.
When the pet dies, but not really, that’s different. When Kathleen thinks Sirius is dead in Dogsbody, that’s sad, but Sirius was never actually a dog and does not actually die. Personally, that’s the closest I can come.