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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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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.

VIOLENCE
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.

7 comments

  1. I have been worrying about this very thing, I have a 'vampire' (not your usual kind though) and I am afraid her bloodlust might turn some people off, I try not to make it too graphic but this is a very big part of her so........
    I was just wondering about your thoughts on this?

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    1. This is definitely a tricky question Louise! There's no black and white answer to how you should write your book - and it's hard for me to really say anything since I don't know the story. However, I will suggest having someone else look over your writing, someone with a more sensitive taste in literature than perhaps you, and see how she responds to it. A constantly blood-thirsy character does not necessarily have to point this out - mention her desire in a few key places and your readers will get the idea without being uncomfortable.

      And as a rule of thumb, it's always better to be asked to put more violence in your book than to take some out. ;)
      I hope that was of some help to you!

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  2. Thank you so much Bree, this was a great help! By the way, I love your blog!

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  3. Hi there! Had some trouble finding your blog when it moved... anyway, I tagged you for the Sunshine Award over at my blog

    http://arkansaschestertonian.blogspot.com/2014/05/sunshine-award.html

    Thanks!

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    1. I am sorry about the trouble finding the link! I knew it might cause some confusion, but I prefer the cleanliness of the new URL.
      While I appreciate the thought, I like to refrain from hosting awards on this blog. I feel it distracts from the purpose. :)

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  4. I like battles, but like you, I don't like it when there is so much blood and gore. I can never read books with a lot. I think I just like battles because it is the confrontation of good and evil and it is my desire to see good come out victorious. But I too don't see the point in a lot of violence.

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