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Meditations on the Art of Writing Violence

Avanti Centrae is the author of the VanOps thriller series. You can find out more about her by visiting her website here, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.

“What if a terrorist uses my thriller’s plotline to attack the United States?”

I had that stop-you-in-your-tracks thought after a mock interview with my media coach. He’d been prepping me for upcoming radio shows and asked, “Is the truth in your novel scarier than the fiction?”

I answered, “Yes.”

My debut thriller, VANOPS: THE LOST POWER, deals with Russians who want to get their hands on an ancient source of material that can power e-bombs. Their plan is to use those directed energy weapons to destroy U.S. early-warning systems, and then use a high-atmospheric nuke to further disrupt our electronics. Although the source of the material, an ancient artifact used by Alexander the Great to conquer nations, is fictional, e-bombs are a true threat. In 2003, CBS NEWS reported that the U.S. used an e-bomb against Saddam Hussein to destroy his propaganda producing TV station.

Before embarking on my writing journey, I was a Silicon Valley IT executive, but it doesn’t take a tech degree to realize that our country would be in deep trouble without semiconductor technology. Can you imagine a world in which your cell phone, computer, and TV were melted like a Salvador Dali painting? With an e-bomb blast, it could happen. 

While writing THE LOST POWER, I used this danger to heighten the tension. After that mock interview though, my stomach clenched in a knot as I wondered about the possibility of a villain picking up my book and getting the bright idea to bring the story to life. 

Humans learn through storytelling, but what if our work teaches inappropriate lessons?

In these times of war and horrific mass shootings in synagogues, mosques, churches, and schools, what are our moral obligations as authors? How do we entertain millions of readers using action without encouraging forceful behavior? Is it okay to show violence used in self-defense? Where do we draw the line?

These questions were top of mind as I wrote THE LOST POWER. Ultimately, I decided to make use of the broad social conflict about violence in the novel. As the series opens, Maddy Marshall is a peaceful app designer and aikido instructor. She has strong opinions about using non-violence to solve problems, but as the story progresses and she finds aikido useless against sniper bullets, she is forced to reconsider her views. Eventually, she has to decide if she’s willing to kill when her own life, and the lives of those she loves, is on the line. 

Bear, the combat-trained marine who goes along on the quest with Maddy, grew up in a military family and is familiar with killing. When he’s forced to eliminate an enemy with a vital point strike to the temple, and Maddy judges him for it, he stomps out of the room. He has no qualms about doing what he must to defend his country.

Their different approaches to violence cause sparks to fly between Maddy and Bear while they race to stop the e-bomb threat. 

The pen is mightier than the sword. The story stronger than steel.

I took a calculated risk with this thriller. With the level of information about e-bombs available on the internet, I hope that government agencies have planned ahead for the type of scheme I fictionalize. If not, perhaps the story will encourage them to take extra precautions with our eye-in-the-sky early-warning radar installations.

What are your thoughts about violence in the entertainment industry? Please leave a comment below, or drop me a line.

If you’d like to meet Maddy Marshall and the covert VanOps team, the first six chapters are free on Avanti’s website at and for a limited time, Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read THE LOST POWER for free.

Avanti Centrae

You can find out more about her on her website,, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Margaret Mizushima

    Scary thoughts, right? Soon after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 I heard on the news that members of the newly formed Homeland Security dept. were consulting authors and script writers about possibilities for further attack. I never heard the follow up of that but it made me really think about our creativity when it comes to violence. Even those of us who write cozies do try to come up with creative ways to kill off our victims! Here’s hoping our government is properly prepared when it comes to mass violence!

    1. Avatar
      Avanti Centrae

      Ooh, I hadn’t heard that! Putting imagination to good use, for sure.

  2. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    And while your fictional violence is global, mine is local to the Pacific Northwest. Either way, the ethics of writing violence in fiction is complicated.

    Violence in our world is very real. So to sugarcoat it in our writing worlds would be insulting to readers.

    A writer must be as honest/authentic to their genre as possible. Honest about the crime(s) and the subsequent consequence(s).

    And just like we have hope in real life, we also offer hope in our fictional worlds.

    Great topic. Thank you for addressing it.

    1. Avatar
      Avanit Centrae

      Yes, I agree that offering hope between the pages is something my favorite crime authors do well. Books offer an excellent escape, as well as the opportunity to learn a thing or two along the way.

  3. Avatar
    Jacqueline Vick

    I wouldn’t worry too much about giving people ideas. In an interview, David Balducci asked an FBI friend if his idea was plausible. His friend said, “If you’ve thought of it, we’ve already run into it.” Which is scary in itself. 🙂

    1. Avatar
      Avanti Centrae

      That is scary! But I’m glad our FBI friends are on top of it.

  4. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    I have no doubt the government has many more plans than we can imagine to cover any of the kinds of things we can come up with. My favorite saying: “With great power comes great responsibility.” We are responsible for wielding our words well, but what others do with them is on them.

    1. Avatar
      Avanti Centrae

      I love that saying, and recall it from the Spider Man movies as well. Thanks for the reminder that every person is responsible for their own actions!

  5. Avatar

    There’s a difference between depicting violence committed by evil intentions that meets with poetic justice and violence that glorifies bad actors. P.D. James said it right when she said the mystery is not about murder, but about the restoration of order.

    1. Avatar
      Avanti Centrae

      I like that perspective and knew there was a reason I dug all of her work! Thanks!

  6. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    And then there’s the whole issue of children up to age 12 reading or viewing graphic violence other than in, say, cartoons. For their authors, it’s a writing no-no. Lack of violence is one of the reasons I write for kids: To come right to the edge via a fun, entertaining mystery but not cross the line into the Forbidden Territory is challenging and rewarding for me. Come age 13–whole different ballgame.

    1. Avatar
      Avanti Centrae

      Yes, that’s a different issue. For some reason, I’m drawn to writing about action, so probably a good thing I don’t write kids’ books! 🙂

  7. joyribar

    Your question is provocative, Avanti. The weight of our writing choices should give authors pause, and thankfully, usually does. I always look at the aftermath and outcomes. Bringing about justice matters, too. Sometimes that requires violence. Sometimes, we just make sure the villains get their due in the end.

    1. Avatar
      Avanti Centrae

      Agreed, Joy. Outcomes and cause/effect in fiction can be powerful teaching.

  8. Tracey Phillips
    Tracey Phillips

    Very thoughtful post, Avanti. I agree that writers need to take care and take responsibility when writing crime fiction. It doesn’t matter if it’s plotting world disaster or murders committed at home, like the fiction I write. Our influence is wide spread and we can never know how we touch another soul. I take the Spiderman mantra to heart when I write my endings. And I believe Saralyn (and PD James) said it best: We read Mysteries and Thrillers to see the “restoration of order.”

    1. Avatar
      Avanti Centrae

      Amen, thriller sister! Thanks for weighing in!

  9. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    It goes back to Aristotle and Life Imitating Art or Art Imitating Life. Whenever a new idea or threat we don’t understand comes along, it is manifested in art. Metropolis in 1927 showed us the dangers of robots long before we had AI in our kitchens to play music and order groceries. We need to see these kinds of cautionary tales so that we can prepare. Plus, wow, it is an exciting series!

  10. Avatar
    Colleen Winter

    I agree with Sharon i.e. Life imitating Art and Art Imitating Life. Violence is a part of human existence. There hasn’t been a time in human history when there wasn’t violence in one form or another. I do my best to keep violence out of my writing but ultimately the decision rests with whether it is needed for the story. We can save the discussion on whether it is needed in society for a much longer debate at another time.
    We are likely not the first people to come up with the ideas for violence that we use in our books, even if we do think we are being original. What sets us apart is that we actually put it into a novel that can then be consumed by other people. It is impossible to know how anyone will react to any given aspect of our books, violent or otherwise, so I don’t feel the story should be compromised in an effort to avoid something we have no control over.

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