Avoiding Death By Morality

There is a familiar tendency in movies that characters live or die based on whether or not they are good people, or whether or not they commit certain crimes or traditional “sins”.

Imagine that you’re watching a movie – maybe something made in the 80s. A bunch of college kids are having a party by a lake; one of them is loud-mouthed and brash, it transpires that he has stolen the beer that they are drinking, and he is now whisking his girlfriend off into the bushes to have sex: you know that he is going to get killed. In some movies, you can survey the cast of characters at the outset and, based on their morality, work out the exact order in which the serial killer, shark, dinosaur, demon or whatever, is going to kill them. Those who offend against conservative morality are doomed; those with redeeming features may get a chance to make amends but probably still have to pay with their lives; only the conventionally innocent, “nice” hero and heroine are guaranteed to survive – shaken, but largely unscathed.

Fortunately, movies have moved on. The predictable death by morality is much less common that it was. But it’s still an easy trap to fall into: the bad guys die, the good guys live, and good-and-bad are defined in simple, conventional terms. It’s boring.

Deadly Adultery

In the book Deadly Adultery we were determined to avoid this trap – and it would have been so easy to fall into. The central premise is that a man cheats on his wife on their wedding day, and is brutally killed; it then transpires that the same fate has befallen another adulterer; and another… and so the central characters become embroiled in solving the mystery of the killings. This sounds like a recipe for death by morality: fornication leads to death; repeat.

Avoiding this trap isn’t just a way to avoid cliché. It became an imaginative stimulus. There is an easy assumption to make that adultery is unhappy people in flawed relationships cheating on one and other – and that assumption may often be correct, but it doesn’t make for interesting situations. In order to avoid death by morality pattern we had to look at a range of possible situations in which adultery could occur. This made it easier to set up unexpected or unusual situations, in which more interesting sex followed naturally.

Many of the scenes in Deadly Adultery arose precisely from our conscious avoidance of this trope. Not that this means suspending moral judgement. Many readers may feel quite pleased that the obnoxious mobster Antonio Risso is murdered; but equally, the fates of the star-crossed lovers George Willoughby and Gloria Jefferson are unjustly tragic. By dealing with all the situations as unique, and the characters as individuals, the scenes get an erotic and emotional originality which they would otherwise have lacked.

The real advantage of avoiding the worn-out death by morality cliché, therefore, is not just that it avoids the writer sounding like an old-fashioned preacher. Its great advantage is that it pushes us to explore more intriguing, unusual and erotic situations.