Writing Violence, A Beginner’s Effort
I don’t write violence well, or at least not well enough. I know this. I also know why. It’s not that I can’t ENGAGE in violence, it’s that violence to me is like sex. Not being a voyeur, I’m not interested in every little in and out stroke (of the knife or whatever) and once the burner is fired, or the knife (eh) is in, I’ve lost interest and wonder off into the fascinating (to me) weeds of emotional reaction.
So, what is wrong with that? Plenty. Remember how I said people don’t read because they want to KNOW the story (for that there’s Cliff’s Notes) but because they want to experience it? Unless you’re writing romance — no, scratch that, some of the worst written scenes of violence particularly of women getting beaten I’ve seen are in Romances — or rather the sort of romance that’s a comedy of manners, you’re going to have some confrontation, action, at least a physical fight.
Yeah, part of this is being used to movies. I mean even the A & E Pride and Prejudice had to throw in Mr. Darcy fencing and Mr. Darcy swimming (anyone got the drool mop?) to er… spice things up.
But a lot of it is the genre we write. In fantasy and science fiction, it is simply not credible that you save the world, or the settlement, or defeat the big evil without the big evil fighting back, which is going to lead to violence. (Yes, I DO know a bestseller who, when it comes to the big confrontation, writes the big evil just folding like a deck of wet cards. You know what, I then have to make up my own battle in my own mind to even believe her books.) And in Urban fantasy, we really cannot believe these characters created for violence, vampires, werewolves, or dragons, are just going to fold up and take it.
A master at writing violence can hook you in and keep you going from the very first scene, taking you to every slash and parry of the fight, every crash and boom, and make you live it. For a master class read the beginning of Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International. Also good is the Vimes-goes-bonkers scene at the end of Thud (the book itself is mixed) in which he takes untold punishment but will NOT lay down and die. Think of it as your Inigo Montoya template.
This is not a master class. I’ve been studying this for months, but I’m still an apprentice, paying a visit to my violence muse.
I could crawl, commando style towards it. I could. But approaching the beastie across a vast expanse of expository prose will only bore the reader and give the monster time to ambush me.
I pop up, suddenly, from behind a clump of adverbs, and leap at the creature.
It is large, blood spattered, stinking of carnage and decay. Remember you must use your five senses. Leap on it from above, yelling Banzai! Yelling anything you want, really. Sounds help us feel the violence of the clash.
Bam! I’m on top of it. Its head is rubbery, slippery-gross, over what feels like a hard cranium. Its claws reach up towards me: scythe sharp and about as long. I lean backwards to avoid being known as “one eye molly” the rest of my life.
Argh. Why didn’t I have my knife out when I leaped? This is what comes from lack of practice.
“What a delightfully tender morsel you are,” it says. “It’s been years since I devoured a lady writer.”
I have my knife out now — remember, idiot, scabbards with no clips. Geesh — and stab it in the eye while it says that.
It scream and blood spurts. My knife comes out full of jelly-like stuff, and a lot of blood pours out in a geiser. The monster shakes his head. “You never learn. Eyes. I can grow those.”
It shakes its head and shoulders hard, throwing me, like a horse throwing a jockey. I fly through the air and hit the far wall — since when does this place have walls — with a jar.
I can now see the creature as it gallops towards me. Imagine a cookie monster the color of dried blood, with mad red eyes, and a mouth full of multiple row of teeth. “Lady writers,” it says. “Tasty and inept.”
I take stock of the situation. If there’s a wall there’s other things. And there are. Just not many. A horn of the sort used to signal distress, a pair of nail scissors, a… banana? What kind of joker set this stage?
Stretching my arm, I grab the banana. The monster is almost on me, its breath fetid and hot. “Having a snacky are we?” I asks. “I love banana flavored writer.”
I don’t bother answer. Not much breath, anyway. Instead I slip the banana under its lead flipper-like feet.
Then I jump aside. It hits the wall with a thud. I have unclasped the sheathe on my other knife. I don’t take it out yet.
Instead, I leap at the monster, and slam a knife into his eye, so hard that if it didn’t have a knife guard, my hand would be in its eye cavity. And also sliced. I suspect it can’t regenerate as long as you leave the knife in.
I then take the other knife out and slam it in its other eye. It shrieks and flails, trying to get the knives out. I pull its hand down, then jump on it, hearing bones break. Then I do the same to the other.
Then I grab the nail scissors, nick the artery in the neck, where it runs close to the surface on violence-muses. It is important to know your adversary’s weak points.
Finally I grab the horn and HONK because added sound is always good. The floor is covered in blood and gore and ick. It smells like a charnel house. And I stand there, victorious, smelling of sweat and gore, and honking my little horn for all I’m worth.
The monster lies panting. Finally he takes a deep breath and says, reasonably. “You should have used the horn as a distraction before you used the banana. I might have figured out the banana, otherwise.”
“I know,” I said. “But I didn’t know where I was nor what I had to hand.”
“Mistake number one. Always foreshadow. You have a lot to learn. See you next Wednesday.”
I sigh. “Yep. I’m gonna bring my guns.”