Newcomer Steven Max Russo on Character Assassination

Well, I’ve finally gotten a book published and now I fancy myself a bona fide thriller writer.

So what does a novice author pontificate upon?

How about a pet peeve?

I have been told by several agents, editors, even a few close friends, that my writing is sometimes too graphic.

To be more precise, the violent scenes in my books are often described in much more detail than is necessary. I have been informed that in some instances, these scenes take away from the story instead of add to it.

I have also been told that really good writing doesn’t need that level of detail. Really good writing leaves more to the imagination of the reader, allowing him or her to fill in the gory details for themselves.

I was never sure how to respond to these criticisms. On the one hand, I did not want to dismiss what others had to say simply because it’s not how I’ve been doing it. I haven’t been writing novels all that long, but I have spent most of my adult life in advertising and I’ve seen creative teams take ownership of ads that aren’t necessarily on strategy (or even all that good) and then die on the sword refusing to change a visual or even a single word of copy because they felt it would violate the integrity of the idea.

I didn’t want to be one of those people. I wanted to be open-minded.

On the other hand, what if I found that I simply didn’t agree with others’ assessment?

For a while, I must admit, it was a conundrum.

So I took a step back and tried to look at it objectively.

The writing in question all took place in crime novels. I have always felt that the violence involved was central to the story. It helped the reader to understand the character’s motivation and his or her feelings – or lack of feelings.

Also, I should note that I am not a seasoned writer like so many of the other talented authors you’ll find in this website. I am a novice. I’m not sure how others do it, but I see a story take shape in my mind. I imagine that I am right there, in the scene, a silent observer, writing what I am seeing as if I was standing in the same space with my characters. When someone gets dispatched, I try to describe it exactly as it happens in my imagination and then deliver that experience to the reader.

Like an eyewitness account.

What would you have seen had you actually been there? What did it feel like to you? What did it sound like? What did it smell like?

For me, those details make it more real.

I can certainly understand someone reading one of these scenes and finding it a bit disturbing. But I actually think that is a healthy reaction.

Violence, to the degree that takes place in some of my novels, is not pretty. It is, in fact, rather gruesome.

And you know what? That should be disturbing.

Also, I believe that my core audience, fans of a more noir style of gritty crime fiction are not afraid of violence in their novels; they expect it. And that is the audience I write for.

Maybe once I become more seasoned and a better writer, I’ll tone it down and leave more to the reader’s imagination.

But probably not.

Steven Max Russo has spent most of his professional career as an advertising copywriter and agency owner. He got interested in writing fiction after one of his short stories was accepted by an online literary journal in 2013. After that, he caught the bug and began writing seriously. Steve’s debut novel, Thieves, comes out on November 12, 2018. His second thriller, The Dead Don’t Sleep, is slated for mid-2019. Steve is proud to call New Jersey his home.