Walking Gore

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I’ve been up to my eyeballs in boxes over the last two weeks as we unpack and settle into our new house in Colorado. In the weeks before the move, however, I confess to becoming a reluctant fan of The Walking Dead. Reluctant because at first I couldn’t watch beyond about ten minutes before I had to switch off. Gore, you see, isn’t my thing. And The Walking Dead is full of gore…

But then I tried again (fast forwarding through the truly stomach churning bits) and I became hooked. Despite the copious amounts of blood, guts and brains, I found myself invested in the characters and the story and, though I still couldn’t stomach the amount of gore, I had to keep watching. Story had triumphed over queasy stomach. 

When it comes to thrillers and mysteries, I usually draw the line at unnecessary violence and gore. I’ve never been one to go to horror movies and I don’t enjoy flinching at detailed, bloodied, descriptions of death or mutilation. But the key for me is the term ‘unnecessary’. Sometimes the story requires a degree of explicitness for it to remain authentic – and in this case, sometimes (only sometimes) I will forgo my usual sensibilities and keep reading. 

For me there are three critical elements needed for me to suspend my natural gag reflex and read on:

  • Firstly I must totally trust the writer – I need to feel assured that the violence/gore is both necessary and sufficient and that my trust in the writer won’t be destroyed. I don’t want to suddenly face a completely gratuitous scene which makes me doubt the authenticity of the experience the writer has provided.
  • Secondly, the context of the story must demand the level of explicitness/violence/horror or gore provided. I don’t pick up a cozy mystery expecting to find a hacked corpse oozing bodily fluids and explicit description on page 100…
  • Thirdly, the explicit descriptions must be compelling and accurate. I don’t want to find my stomach churning with a mishmash of innards only to suddenly think ‘whoa, that doesn’t sound right’. I’m no forensic pathologist or anatomy expert but sometimes explicit descriptions can easily veer into the realm of farce.  A good rule of thumb is probably not to involve too many body parts…

Still, there are lines that I am reluctant to cross. These include scenes involving children and animals. The story had better be the most compelling, viscerally affecting, and most brilliantly written piece of all time for me to cross over those lines.

So what about you? Any Walking Dead fans out there? How do you feel about gore in thrillers and mysteries? Are there lines you won’t cross (as either a writer or a reader?)