Rhobin’s question for July, 2018: How do you handle/use violence in your stories?
We live in a fairly horrible world, and the news keeps rubbing our nose in all the nastiness. When I read for fun or relaxation, I don’t want more of the same, so I won’t write it either.
At the same time, conflict, savagery, violence… it’s part of life, so if I want to write about life, it’ll be there.
The golden middle is, violence is a tool for character development, advancing the plot, and maintaining tension.
In real life, there is no “justified violence,” except for self-defense, proportionate to the threat. In fiction, violence is justified if without it the story would be unrealistic.
OK, enough of generalities. When I was writing Sleeper, Awake, I was determined not to have a villain. Every character was a good person, from the character’s internal reality. I still couldn’t get out of violence. Jealousy drove one young man to commit the first assault in a thousand years. My heroine, Flora, had flashbacks to savage rape by her husband. A giant bear attacked her, and she was rescued by two youngsters who abandoned their secret quest in order to help her.
Without these events, there would have been no story.
My latest novel, Hit and Run starts with a horrific mass murder of little kids, and there is a steady peppering of other violent events throughout the story. And yet, every reader so far who has chatted with me about it, or reviewed it, has been impressed with the positives: the reactions to these violent events. Precisely because of the violence, characters within the story grew, and became better people. Reviewers have said that they’ve been inspired to change their attitude to criminals, thanks to reading this story.
The same is true for Guardian Angel. The story starts with the aftereffects of violence. My little heroine dies because of violence. Major character Gerald transforms his life thanks to guilt over an act of violence. Without these events, there would have been no story. But the consequences of these actions advance the plot, force my characters to grow, and induce intense emotion for them — and therefore for the reader.
For me, this is the only legitimate reason to describe violence in my stories.
The same is true for other devices, for example romance. See my previous post about this.
Writing is not a photograph, but a charcoal sketch. The author uses a few bold lines to indicate action, movement, emotion — the full range of human experience. It is the reader who then fills in the details. When violence is needed, it should be there. To my mind, any more than that drags the story down.
I often get comments from other writers on these posts. That’s wonderful, and more please, but I’d also love comments from people who enjoy a good book, but don’t write novels themselves.
Please visit my colleagues in this round, and comment on their offerings as well.