Violence In Your Writing: When It's Necessary and When It's Not

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

via Pinterest
I sat down to finally write this post - how long it's been in my drafts I really can't tell at this point - and the internet went down due to severe thunderstorms. I've been rubbish at this whole blogging thing lately, but at least this time I have a logical excuse, yes?

I feel your iron stares.

It has come to my attention, whether through reading books for school and hearing the general opinion of my classmates on it or simply noticing what books the popular culture devours and which it shuns, that violence is the measure of a "good book." "Was it good?" "Yeah, I liked all the knife-scenes." "Was it graphic?" "Well, the whole thing is during a war so someone dies on every page and there's a lot of blood but no, not graphic. The fighting was awesome!" Culture, it seems, has tapped into it's blood-lust through a namely apocalyptic setting in which it makes sense for the characters to be fighting for their lives indefatigably. Apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic novels are written, shelved and devoured one right after the other because they appeal to our basest appetites, or more specifically our desire for revenge. The idea of a character being stuck in a dreadful situation against his or her will makes us decidedly against anyone that would challenge their escape, which is not inherently a bad thing.

Before I go any further, I ought to make it clear that I am not against violence in literature. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I am for violence in literature. Because life is not without conflict, why on earth should we remove it from our writing?

But what I am sick of is this almost worship of blood and gore and pain and sickness in writing. Since when did this become the new beautiful? Yes, it is more realistic, and yes, it is necessary in small, deliberate punches, but there comes a point when it is overkill. It's an easy way to skip the development of your characters and to make them look "strong."

Perhaps this is just me being girlish, but I can't stomach a book with too much blood - I get naseous at the sight of it, and my brain translates words very visually. So when I go to read a book and find every other scene a battle, and a lot of blood on the pages, I start to wonder, when is this all worth it?

If a fight isn't worth the blood being spilt, it's not worth the pages of your book either. Snip it and put in something meaningful - or perhaps something that will give your reader a breath from all the action, Jenny's ma - and even if you're not writing to particularly please the reader, this will give the story itself more life. 

Remember that some of the strongest men in history used their tongues first.

I like a good heady fight scene because I like the victory of the Good Guy, and even when wrong wins temporarily, the emotional struggle of the hero fascinates me and I'll dive into it headfirst. (I suppose you could say I like violence for the motivation behind it and the psychology spilt from it, not the actual warfare.) But at the end of the day, we all want to have a meaningful life. Your characters should too - they deserve more than constant hand-to-hand-combat, they deserve personality. 

I guess what I want to say is your words, and the words of your characters, should be powerful enough that you don't need to be killing a character every few chapters to keep your reader's attention. That's being a mature writer, contrary to popular belief.

Welcome to the Real World

Monday, April 21, 2014

This has nothing to do with this post. And it's fantastic. (via Pinterest)

"Welcome to the real world," she said to me
Take a seat
Take your life
Plot it out in black and white
Well I never lived the dreams of the prom kings
And the drama queens
I'd like to think the best of me
Is still hiding
Up my sleeve
-John Mayer
This song popped up on Pandora the other day while I was doing Chemistry calculations, and it got me thinking about the real world, growing up, and life in general. Thus, this post.

We are often told by the world - or society, if you will - conflicting opinions. One half of the general populous wants to believe that life is good, you should stay young forever, and growing up is overrated. The other half falls opposite: life is tough; get used to it because nothing is changing.

I think I find myself often in the later category. To be honest, it's a lot more truthful, and I've always preferred clarity, however brute it may be, to a sugar-coated falsity. That's just me. Life is tough, and there's no real escaping that. Growing up is not easy (I've been learning that a lot lately), and there certainly is a lot to learn about life that can only be learnt through experience.

And then sometimes I wonder if there isn't something in Peter Pan's never-grow-up philosophy. I don't like the idea of neglecting maturity. I think that's exactly that - immature. But there is much to be said about those who have a childlike faith - a simple trust in God that is not dependent on circumstance. I think many of us - me included - get caught up in being Grown Up and Mature and learning the Ways of The World that we find our sufficiency in ourselves. "It's okay, I can do it on my own." "I was fine without you anyway." "I don't need help." --They are all little phrases we {I} use to boost our confidence in ourselves because we think we've learned the world and can navigate it on our own.

The truth is, we cannot. God did not create man to be alone: that's why Eve was formed for Adam, that's why marriage is such a foundational part of the Bible, that's why God desires our presence.

Solitude is a good thing, and necessary, particularly for those of us more introverted in nature, to "detox" from the world, if you will. But even in our solitude, we are keeping company with our Saviour. We need the people around us to guide us as we guide them in a constant struggle towards the Cross. And to do that, we have to start with a childlike trust in each other. The world may be brute, but does that mean we can't find pleasure in those simple, unadulterated things without shading them with reality?

We strive for maturity, but don't let's let it steal away our innocence.

Unrelated note: Yoikes. I really did not mean to take a two-week blogging hiatus. I do apologize for that! Exams will be upon me in two weeks, so I can't promise a steady flow as I'd like to, but I can say I'll be making a more conscious effort to keep y'all updated around here. You can expect a Chatterbox soon - and maybe some snippets as well. And come summer, I hope to be back with a vengeance! XD Love you dears. Thanks for sticking around. 

Also! Please note the new URL: - if you are so fabulous as to have this blog bookmarked, be sure to update that so you can still reach my feed!

The Advent of Mrs. Meade: by Elisabeth G. Foley

Monday, April 07, 2014

Today I have a special feature from Elisabeth Grace Foley, in celebration of her newest release: The Mrs. Meade Mysteries Volume 1! (Purchase here.) Enjoy.

-The Advent of Mrs. Meade-

I have a terrible memory for dates and times, so I discovered quickly that if I didn’t date the first pages of my stories I’d have no idea when I began writing them. I don’t bother to date every page of the notebooks where I scribble my first sketches of story ideas, though, so their exact origins often end up (if you’ll pardon the expression) shrouded in mystery. Unless I happened to mention it in my journal, I can’t remember when an idea came to me or what sparked it.

With the Mrs. Meade Mysteries, however, I’m a little more fortunate. To begin with, we have documentation:

July 27, 2011
[Watched] Gaslight [tonight]. Second Victorian thriller from the 1940s I've seen this month—I think I liked The Spiral Staircase best of the two. Plotting out a little suspense novella of my own, titled The Silver Shawl. Future project, of course.

Things would change along the way—at this point I was referring to it as Victorian suspense when it would actually turn out Edwardian mystery (which, if you want to be particular, is a better definition for The Spiral Staircase too). But even this entry wasn’t the real beginning. I frequently bounce ideas around in my head for a while before putting pen to paper, and the basic concept for The Silver Shawl had been bounced around as an idea for a Western story—the concept being the disappearance of a young woman, with some question as to whether she was kidnapped or fled of her own accord. Some of the details remained the same to the final draft. She worked at a post-office. She had a fiancĂ© or sweetheart who agonized over her disappearance and didn’t know what to make of it. Most importantly, there was the character of an older woman who reassured him and offered council. After playing with this idea a while I found it didn’t really work as a straight Western, but at some point it dawned on me that it would make a fine historical mystery.

Mrs. Meade came into being very naturally, born of that original woman character and definitely influenced by some other lady sleuths of detective fiction. As a lifelong mystery reader, of course I was well acquainted with Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple, but it may have been Anna Katharine Green’s Miss Amelia Butterworth who had more effect on the creation of the Mrs. Meade Mysteries. Green, though not as well known today, was a very popular mystery author in the 19th and early 20th centuries—her novels, written in flowery old-world prose, are thick with intricate plots and clues and lashings of Victorian melodrama. That Affair Next Door, published in 1897, introduced the character of Miss Amelia Butterworth, who would go on to appear in two more novels—a very proper but forthright spinster who always insisted she was not an inquisitive woman, but was very much aware of what everybody else was up to, and put that knowledge to good use in solving mysteries! My Mrs. Meade has her own personality, somewhere between these two ladies and no doubt inspired by both, but it was the rich period atmosphere of the turn-of-the-century world Miss Butterworth inhabited that sparked many of my ideas for setting and background.

October 5th
I had another historical mystery-novella idea and decided I could link it with The Silver Shawl by using the same amateur detective—in the tradition of Miss Marple and Miss Amelia Butterworth, an elderly lady. Mine is a widow, though, not a spinster. She lives on an annuity in hotels or boarding-houses, and always "happens to be across the hall" when things happen. The stories can bear the subtitle, "A Mrs. Meade Mystery." That sounds neat!

And the rest, as they say, is history.

We all know how much things can change between the original inspiration and the final product, but this is a rare case where some of my first ideas made it through: I liked that line about Mrs. Meade always “happening to be across the hall” so much that I kept on the lookout for a place to use it, and did eventually work it into the second story, The Parting Glass. See if you can spot it when you read the book!
Elisabeth Grace Foley is a historical fiction author, avid reader and lifelong history buff. Her first published story, “Disturbing the Peace,” was an honorable mention in the first annual Rope and Wire Western short story competition, and is now collected with six others in her debut short story collection, The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories. Her other works include short fiction set during the American Civil War and the Great Depression. A homeschool graduate, she chose not to attend college in order to pursue self-education and her writing career. Visit her online at
Elisabeth is hosting a giveaway for one lucky lady (or gentleman, I suppose!) to win a signed copy of The Mrs. Meade Mysteries: Volume 1! Enter below...

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