Okay, before I scare anyone, this isn't an issue post or anything involving graphic images of anything whatsoever. Because that's an image that none of us need, I'm sure.
This post is about theater. We like that, right? Something nice and warm and sweet (even if theaters can be dark and kind of cool temperature-wise, but that's besides the point.)
Okay, it's about killing babies and theater. And writing, of course. But mostly about the later two, I promise.
Anyway, getting on topic...
Once upon a time, in the days when I was two inches shorter and an active member of a certain theater cult (I mean, family-esque theater organization...), an older member gave us some very useful information about improv, or really any material you're presenting: Don't kill the baby.
That line came from a kid in one of her college theater classes who did a whole pantomime as if tenderly holding a baby only to culminate by killing it. Basically, it meant that during an audition or something of that sort, don't do things that will scandalize or horrify your audience past traditional bearing.
Here's the thing about doing something like that, if you kill the baby, people will be pretty well horrified, and that's all they're going to remember about your work. They'll walk about saying, 'Heaven's to Betsy, they kill the baby.' 98% of the time, that's not the reaction you're hoping to elicit.
So, unless you're in the two percent who want people to think, 'Aaahhh! They killed the baby!' I'd strongly recommend not doing it. Really strongly recommend it.
I'm not saying that shocking your readership is a bad thing. It can be a very good thing to do. But there are times, places, and ways for it. And it's probably best to make sure that the way in which you're doing it does not detract from your work overall.
I recently finished a book (which shall remain nameless, because of my policy of not dissing books on the blog) that killed the baby. It's wasn't a bad book, but the Killing the Baby scene is one of the two I seriously remember. (Actually, arguably, there were three shocking scenes, one of which stands out as seriously Killing the Baby, all of which I remember, and one regular scene that was good. The traumatic stuff, though, is what leaps to mind.) Basically, the baby-killing moment wiped a lot of the book from my recollection.
While I think this book might have fallen into the 2% where killing the baby works for the book, it still illustrates, in my mind, the care with which one must handle such material. Is this the part of the book you want seared into your readers' brains? Does this moment make sense in the context of the rest of the book, or will it seem completely out of left field? Is this shocking to help or shocking to be shocking? You'll need to know the answers to those questions.
Baby killing scenes are specifically Handle With Care.
How do you feel about such shocking material? Have you used it in your own work? Has such a scene ever drastically changed your view of or reaction to a work?