Sunday, January 12, 2014

writing about violence

For  some people sex is the hard thing to write about in a book. For me it's violence; but I do write stories involving danger which means at a certain point there might be a fistfight, guns blazing, people getting shot, knifed, or killed. Writing that is a tough one since I've never punched anybody in the face-- ever. Not even slapped them. So if I have to use my imagination with the love making, the violence is even more so.


It seems we live in a culture where kids grow up automatically knowing about violence and enjoying it. For many people, it's more acceptable than sex, but for me it's the other way around. If I have my hero or heroine do something violent or be impacted by violence, I want it to be essential to the story, and then I want it to feel right. When that fist smacks into a face, I'd like it to feel it happened. Naturally that means I rely on what I've seen in a movie or read in someone else's book-- and hope that will never change as I don't want to get punched to find out what it's like.


When we were at Old Tucson December 2012, they showed how they stage their fist fights as well as explosions. The best movies look so realistic that you would believe that blow really hit home and sometimes it does-- leading to broken bones.

Real fist fights are not pretty, and they do a lot of potential damage. Recently the newspaper related a story where a man was hit by someone and went down in such a way it killed him. Taking violence casually, due to all the movies and games, seems one of our mistakes as a culture. So there is a lot of responsibility when opting to use it in a book.

As a writer who wants danger to be in the book, who has some bad guys with a hero out to take the villain down, there will be violent events, and I have to think long and hard not only how to stage them but how much to describe. Also is violence the best way to resolve what must happen? Are there less bloody alternatives that would work as well? And as to details once I decide it has to be, I am not one for blood spurting everywhere to read or watch; so I am sure not going to write about it ad nauseum.

One of the big issues, of course, is when a weapon is used, how much damage would it really do? How much kick would it have? What type of weapon would be used in each historic era? I can think of a lot of old movies where I saw the settlers on a wagon train fighting off the marauding Indians using repeating rifles. Guess what-- those weren't around until during the Civil War and even then not quite like we might imagine based on the movies or rifles of today.

Making a decision to kill a character is a big one for me. When I do it, I ask myself are there alternatives. Except sometimes there really don't seem to be any if I want the story to feel realistic. I consider violence as big an issue for how I will write about it as the sexuality.


I rely on Farm Boss for weapon information because men seem to always know about it where I am lucky to remember what he said from one fight scene to the next. Off hand I cannot tell you how many guns we have on our ranch, but they range from the very old to relatively new.  My personal oldest one is a .38 which was my grandfather's and the story goes that he was on a horse running from a posse with that gun. It's now a little on the old side for firing and whether the story is accurate, who knows.

When required, I can use a gun, asked for my first the Christmas I turned twelve. Supposedly the 30.30 is mine too but it has a little more kick than I prefer for coyotes. I have no fear of safe handling of guns with a loaded one near me most of the time (except when the grandkids are visiting), but I don't know much about them other than how to care for, handle safely and shoot the ones I have-- and I stay totally away from all those automatics where it's too easy to shoot yourself. Even with a concealed weapon permit, I don't carry a gun unless I am anticipating being in a wilderness where I might need it. Otherwise, pepper spray does nicely ;) and I haven't had to use that either although I've had a few times I wasn't sure if I would.

It does seem a casual attitude toward violence has not been helping us as a culture. Writers have a responsibility to take that into consideration with their stories-- or so I believe.

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