Friday, December 23, 2011

Aspiring Advice: It's Only A Flesh Wound

I hope you brought a strong stomach for the last edition of Dicey December, because it might get a little grody. And you may want to wash your hands when it's over.

Violence holds a broad place in history and literature. Some of the earliest fiction is incredibly grisly and real life entertainment often included watching people fight to the death. It can be as subtle as a paper cut or as blatant as falling into a meat grinder, but violence is ever present in books and our writing. It is, after all, a common way to increase tension and suspense.

Like I said in my posts on sex and sensuality and language, violence has its place in fiction. You won't see much more than punches or bullying in children's books and you can easily lose track of the body count in anything adult. And sometimes not. It all has to do with your audience and its place in the story. While violence is not condoned (understandably so) in our real life society, some can't seem to get enough of it in fiction.

Some even laugh.

And sometimes, it's downright silly.

In romance, you might have two love interests duke it out. In mystery, expect a little cloak and dagger. If there's a war going on ... you get the idea.

Personally, I'm not a fan of gratuity. Sure, I can handle a war movie or the final installment of The Inheritance Cycle, but constant blood and guts lies on the other side of the blood-lust gate, a place which I'm not all that interested in entering. And while I do have a soft spot for zombies (as gruesome as the genre implies), most zombie stories are a turn off for me. Mostly because of poor plot and over-the-top gore. 

(The Walking Dead does not have this problem)

Some authors have no problem describing an accurate decapitation. Others would rather get that message across with as little detail as possible. What matters most is how you use violence. Many books and movies lately have taken a creative approach to the issue.

Take The Dark Knight for example. Personally, it's a great film. There are plenty, however, who have shied away from it because it "looks so violent." I respect that, but what they don't know is how tame the violence really is. The film is quite clean. Very little language. Very little blood. Most of the violence is implied. It's the portrayal of an anarchist that gets to you.

(No act of violence here, but disturbingly effective)

Have I written violence? You bet. In some cases, in very creative ways. I haven't written every act of violence imaginable yet (and I may never get around to it) and my YA is fairly clean when it comes to violence (minus an occasional stabbing). When I do write violence, it's not for shock value's sake. There is a purpose, to reveal character or to heighten the danger of a situation.

This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. Writing violence of one form or another is common and expected among authors (debatable), but it's the direction you take will make or break your story. Pick your inflictions carefully. Smite your foes thoughtfully.

Figuratively, of course.

Have something to add? How violent does your writing get? What's the worst thing you've done to a character?

I'm David, and we'll call it a draw.


  1. I looooove action... I love writers like Jim Butcher and Jeaniene Frost, where the action is so clear, if a bit disturbing at times ;) I think when action is backed up by fantasy or supernatural circumstances it takes the edge off... for some reason it makes it okay if it's a creature being gutted rather than a normal person just walking down the street. :D

  2. Haha. I love Monty Python.

    I write YA so violence happens of course but I don't go into terrible depth explaining it.

    Though I'm sure my MCs wish there was even less... :)

  3. "It can be as subtle as a paper cut or as blatant as falling into a meat grinder, but violence is ever present in books and our writing."

    And these things are mirrored in real life, too. I've had someone give me a papercut on my eye, and one of my friends had her arm ripped off in a meat grinder. That's why I always suggest researching incidents similar to the ones we dream up. It helps us work out details we might otherwise miss. :)

    Great post, David!

  4. There are fights, some more violent than others, but I don't think I've described anything too graphically in detail. I think...?

  5. I'm guilty. I've written violence into my MS because it helped the characterization grow. Let's hope I did it well. I can say, I leave out all the bloody descriptions, though. Perhaps. Now I need to go back and read my work.

  6. I think if it is a plot propeller, it's necessary. However there is a book that just got made into a movie that I actually threw away because the sexual violence was so strong that I couldn't read it any longer - I didn't see what it proved about the characters, how it moved the plot, any of it. It was violent and grotesque and I stopped reading because of it.

  7. Great post as always, David. I have violence in my books, but I don't think it's gratuitous. I hope. It fits the story and the characters.

    Like you, I don't like the gratuitous stuff. Personally, one of the primo films for scaring the crap out of me was "Jaws". And the scariest scenes were the ones without the shark.

  8. Let me clarify. Where we don't see the shark. That shark was there.

  9. Good of you to reference Monty Python!
    Other than space ships blowing up, I haven't added violence to my books, nor any real gore. There are a few more explosions with consequences in the second book, but nothing graphic.
    And if the story is good, I can handle gore in movies. Peter Jackson's Dead Alive is so over the top, it's funny. And most creative use of a lawn mower as a weapon.

  10. My title after my name "Supra-Genius" is a tribute of sorts to Wile E. Coyote. It's also there to make fun of all the people who have "comma author" after their names.

    Did you know that there is already a Batman reboot in the works? Not kidding. I read about it yesterday on Reddit.

  11. Hehe, Monty Python is fun :). I'm not really one for violence. I've used it a bit in my YA novels, but it's always rather tame. I've never thought about cartoons and violence in the same sentence, but of course there are elements - Tom always going after Jerry, Wile E. usually falling a long way. So I've learnt something new today.

  12. I’m with you David; I don’t like blood and violence just for the sake of it. Has to have a purpose. Which is why I never got into all those Jason movies, and other like it. The Walking Dead is the first decent Zombie series I’ve seen in a very long time. Love the story of it. But I’m both ways about the violence; I don’t mind the graphic details - sometimes I like being that creeped out - but I love the subtle mind chilling aspects too. Like you say, depends on the story, and the writer.

    I write horror and thriller short stories; and there is a lot of implied violence, but some of it is graphic. Can’t write about a MC getting shot or beat up in his POV without showing the pain and blood.

    Inheritance in on my Christmas wish list. We’re not exchanging gifts this year however, so I guess I’ll have to wait a couple pay days to get it. I’d drop everything to read that one, been waiting for it a lot of years.

    Have a good Christmas and New Year David :)


  13. PS: I guess I haven't been here in a while . . but I've had an adventurous morning cruising your blog posts for the last couple weeks. Thanks for the entertainment - and thoughtful insights.


  14. Although my novels fall into the thriller category, I've been writing a lot of short horror stories lately. Weirdly enough, they are kind of fun. I think my enjoyment lies in seeing if I can create a high level of suspense and fear without ever having to show gratuitous violence or gore. Most of the time in writing, less is more.

  15. The worst thing I've done to a character? Torture them. But I don't get into too much description during violent scenes, and I don't really like reading scenes like that, either.

  16. I'm definitely not a fan of gratuitous violence. But it's easy to shrug off violence in an action movie, as compared with a grisly movie about a psycho serial killer. There are some movies I will refuse to watch, because of what I've heard about their horrific gratuitous violence (i.e. WOLF CREEK).

    My novels sometimes do have violence, yet. But I haven't really ever focused intently on the description. Except there are a few gory scenes in my mouse detective novel. However nobody actually dies. ;)

  17. Personally a death or two, when well written is fine by me. I might even enjoy it! But gruesome, gory details put me right off. I rarely describe deaths in my writing, though they're in there.

    I picked the Monty Python! The moment I read your title I thought of that, and I was so pleased to find out I was right.

    We'll call it a draw when you lose all your arms and legs.

  18. My very first novel can be rather savage when it comes to violence. I try to balance it out with a bit of restraint from the MC though. Just because he can kill the other guy doesn't mean he needs to.

    The rest ... I guess on a scale of 1-10 I've a bunch of 3s and 4s. Some one on one fights, a black-out rampage ... yet nothing like seeing the end result of someone ripping a man's head off, spine and all ('predator style' as my hubby would say. I wouldn't know, I've never seen predator).

  19. Like you I think violence has a place in fiction, but not in a gratuitous manner. There is violence in some of my work but I think it is important to show the consequences of it- for as Asimov said "Violence is the first move of the stupid and the last of the incompetent", this has always been my guiding mantra. Have a Cool Yule

  20. I haven't the stomach to read - or write- much violence. But I believe that hinting at it, or detailing the after-effects, can be chilling enough.

  21. Great post! One of the things that makes The Dark Knight brilliant is the fact that it's the internal darkness that's the driver of the action. Yes, people die - violently sometimes - but that's not what grabs to audience and shakes them. It's the fact that we all instinctively know that we might have made some very ugly choices if we were in the same situation. A good example of this would be the ferry boats...

    :-) Can't wait to see the changes you bring in.

  22. With regards to your comments on The Dark Knight, I haven't seen it for exactly your reasons although I didn't realise the 'violence' everyone spoke of was implied as opposed to blatantly gory.

    The movie Seven is probably the most disturbing movie I've seen.

  23. I write action-heavy stories, although I would put my stuff at PG-13 at the worst. I don't go into a ton of detail, but I do make the fight scenes as realistic as possible - but you don't have to be gruesome to do it.