How I use Violence in my writing and why.
By Kira Morgana
**Warning – the following article contains excerpts from Horror stories – if you are squeamish, you may not wish to read this…**
Violence in literature is a controversial subject… and your view of violence depends a great deal, on how you think about it.
Not quite sure where I’m going with this? Well let’s go back to the beginning for a moment and ask a slightly different question:
Why are we writing about violence anyway?
Of course, I can only answer that one from my point of view. It might be similar to yours - I don’t know – but let’s pretend for a moment that we agree and if you disagree, well that’s what the comments box below is for…
Okay? Right then, back to the question I just asked.
For me, violence has always been a part of life. I spent the first ten years of my life on an airbase, surrounded by gun toting soldiers and airmen.
Violence has been done to me (but that’s a different story) and even when I moved away from the airbase, I was drawn into joining the ATC where we were trained to shoot and hunt down ‘enemies’ as part of the games we played.
Even when I went to University, I chose to do a martial art that used as little force as possible to keep myself safe.
I’m not a violent person. I don’t like it; I wish humans could do without it. It is an inescapable fact, however, that humans are an aggressive species of animal and in some people that comes out as violence.
So, why do I write about violence? Why don’t I ignore it and write about happy things?
The simple answer is I can’t. I’ve grown up with violence and it is part of me. I see it on the TV and in movies, I see violence in nature and I see it in life as a whole. I can’t write about humans without including it. What I try to do though, is to use violence appropriately.
I write for the whole spectrum of age ranges - I have a children’s rhyming story series in production, a young adult series and an adult series. They all reference the violent side of life through.
In one of my children’s stories (aimed at the Primary School age groups), the antagonist sounds angry and tough; because he doesn’t look nice, and other creatures are scared of him, he decides to be nasty to them and keep away from them.
“A Phluph on my path, well what a surprise,
And after I told them all to come is not wise!
To tread on my path and interrupt my lunch,
Maybe for tea I’ll have Phluph Crumble to crunch.”
The Gribblebid growled and polished his claws,
Stretched out his wings and locked up his doors,
He landed in front of our adventurous Phluph,
Opened his mouth and roared, “That’s enough!”
“You can’t trespass further along my front path,
It makes me angry and that would be daft,
I’ll give you one chance to skedaddle back home,
Before I decide you’ll make a good garden gnome!”
Excerpt from “Pika the Phluph and the Gribblebid tough” by Kira Morgana & Maria K.
The Protagonist sees past this into his loneliness and entices him to chase her and have fun, despite his threat to turn her into a Garden Gnome. The story ends with them being friends and the antagonist living in the same village where he becomes gentle and fun to be with.
This is violence from a young child’s perspective. Children are primeval creatures who haven’t yet learned the rules of polite society, so if someone is bigger than they are and scares them, they will shun them and push the different person away, often physically. This is one of the roots of bullying.
As the child grows up, they gain an idea of what kind of violence is and isn’t acceptable in society. So that’s why playground violence is subsumed into rough games like British Bulldog and no holds barred games of football or basketball. It takes the aggression humans are born with and turns it into competition.
By the time High School rolls around, kids have competitive aggressiveness in their psyche; even the gentle, book and academic kids will be competitive over their grades and the awards that they win.
Their physically stronger brethren can’t see this so they see them as weak. Again, animal nature surfaces and bullying at this age can range from mental to physical. It is part of being at High School and you can’t write about Young Adults at this age, without using it.
“I’m glad to see that you are enjoying your last days of holiday Lady Gwynnhafr.” A voice said from behind them. Jenni turned round to see Jeanette sat at the next table. The girl sneered at her, “I’m surprised that you’re slumming it with us mortals, at a mere comprehensive school. I thought you’d be going to the Ladies College with all the other poor little rich girls.”
Jenni turned back and rolled her eyes at Caoimhe.
“My Uncle is going to put you right back where you belong!” Jeanette said to her back, her voice rising slightly.
“Give it a rest, Holey!” Caoimhe snapped, “you’re just jealous.”
“Am I now? Why would I be when my Uncle is going to make sure all those riches go to the right family in Arkingham.” Jeannette said as she stood up, shoving her chair into Jenni’s chair and stormed away.
“That’s right, you run away and tell mummy how spoilt and jealous you are!” Caoimhe muttered at the other girl’s back.
“Why do you call her Holey? I’ve heard others call her that.” Jenni asked before draining her milkshake.
“Michael Jenner, Lia Flynt, Shara Henderson.” Jenni replied after a few moments thought.
“Ah. It was Mike who came up with the nickname. We all went to Arkingham Primary together. Jeannette moved here when she was five and her mum was a single mum, so Jeannette had her mum’s name, Holewinski.” Caoimhe finished her juice down to the bubbles, “Jeanette bit Michael on the shoulder when he accidentally tripped her on the playing field. She became rather nasty after her mum died.”
An Excerpt from “The Angel’s Crown” By Kira Morgana
In this case, the root cause is rather deeper than the protagonist and her companion think it is (no, I won’t tell you, that would ruin the book for you) and although the loss the antagonist suffered contributed to the problem, it isn’t the main reason for her taking her aggression out on the protagonist.
Nevertheless, this still isn’t the sort of violence that makes people shudder and look away or the sort that causes rubbernecking at murder sites and car crashes. The fascination that humans have with violence and the results of it can only be shown properly in Adult fiction.
Moreover, this is where my dark side often shows. Most of the adult violence I use is in Horror, Paranormal and Sword & Sorcery / Pure Fantasy. Depending on the genre, you are reading my work in depends on how deeply I go into it. I even have different levels for different types of story within those genres.
For Sword & Sorcery / Pure Fantasy, I try to stay realistic, yet detached from the violence itself:
Before the group had a chance to discuss what they were going to do next, the north door unlocked and three skeletons rushed in screeching at the top of their voices.
How can something with no lungs or voice box make so much noise? Loric wondered and set himself to fight them anyway. If I break them apart enough, maybe I’ll find out
He never got the chance because Kalytia cried out in Elvish and a white glow filled the room. The three skeletons tumbled into piles of bones and didn’t get up again.
Loric lowered his sabre again, “Thank you, Lady Cleric.”
She smiled weakly and passed out on the floor, fast asleep.
“That was a high level spell. I think she’ll have to sleep for a while before she can use any more magic.” Silvertree lifted her and carried her over to the southeast corner of the treasure room. He laid her down behind three large piles of gold and gems and covered her with her cloak, “Hopefully we can deal with anything else that comes in.”
Silvertree’s prediction proved to be correct.
Three creatures that looked like a cross between a frog and a dragon came in through the new door, breathing flames and using their long tails and sharp claws to try to rend their victims. Loric and Grimhelm dispatched them quickly, while Silvertree stood in the way of anything that might threaten the sleeping cleric or Thiert who still could not rise because of the alarm trap.
A pair of what Silvertree called Dark Mistresses, pranced in, blowing kisses.
Loric and Grimhelm relaxed their guard and the women pounced on them biting and scratching with sharpened fingernails. They fought back and managed to kill one, as another two cavorted through the door alternating blowing kisses with fireballs.
The three joined forces, pushing Loric and Grimhelm backward toward Silvertree. The mage projected a force field around them and they were able to carve them into pieces. The little Gremlin creatures rushed in, grabbed the still twitching remains and ran out. Another six of the dragon-like creatures appeared from the south door, almost immediately after the Gremlins left and this time Thiert had to fight lying on his back.
It was a tough fight and everyone was exhausted by the time the last creature laid leaking green plasma over the scattered gold.
Excerpt from “The Tower & The Eye: A Beginning” by Kira Morgana, Published by Pfoxchase.
Given the situation – a melee fight in a confined space – I could have been a lot more graphic, but I’m writing for adults and I want them to use their imaginations, to make the scene a movie in their head, so I give them just enough detail to do that.
It’s a purely animal fight, with a lot of ripping and shredding, remains twitching and blood / ichor / plasma running over surfaces.
With Paranormal (a sub genre of Horror that has become a genre in its own right)) the violence ranges from clinical /animal…
Pulling his hood up, he followed the street back the way he had come, turned a couple of times and found himself out on the waterfront. He stopped inside a phone box, fumbling through his pockets to find the change to call a taxi.
A huge canine shape flashed past him to land growling on a human, ripping and tearing at its throat. Blood sprayed up a wall and the canine stumbled back whimpering as the human stood up and sliced through the creature’s arm with a wicked looking sword.
The canine collapsed to the floor and the human licked the blood off the blade, almost purring with delight.
“Hey, you know the rules! No feeding on them!” another human shaped shadow appeared from the opposite direction.
Excerpt from “The Heir of The Dragon” by A.E. Churchyard
….To comical / gore…
Dwight hefts the stone he has, aware that the moon has risen and he is minutes away from changing. “You can still talk? I didn’t think Zombies had enough brains for that.”
“Brrrraaaiiinnns!” Jayradikill moans and starts trying to climb again.
“Looks like I was wrong.” Dwight shrugs and drops the stone onto the zombie, sending half the creature’s face splattering across the grass.
“Aaarrrrggggh!” Jayradikill shuffles backward out of range.
Dwight glances up at the sky. The clouds have gathered high up and the wind has dropped. The stench of the rotting human below him fills his nose and he coughs. “Phwargh! I have got to get rid of you, Undead.”
“ooogh iiigh eiiigh geehh ooo fffiirrss.” The zombie has shambled around behind him and is slowly scrambling up the ruined back wall of the tomb.
Dwight jumps off the tomb and runs through the tall grass toward the Chapel at the edge of the cemetery; the Zombie follows him.
Excerpt from “Dungeon Duel: The Final Battle” By Dragon Queen (aka A.E. Churchyard)
…and sometimes my Horror can dip deeply into the psyche at the same time as gore:
Bump; moving again. Swaying in the dark. Jolt. Hands unhook and lay me down. Rough fingers pry my eyelids apart, inserting a device, forcing them open.
Frustratingly numb. Shadowy figures like apparitions, the blade glints advancing to my eye. Four quick slashes, device removed. Now I can’t close my eyes. Red light strobes. Blurry fingers holding tweezers remove something from each eye.
Vulnerably prone, moving into light. Unable to turn my head, staring vacantly at the reflective surface above me. Glimpses of red and blue lines leave an impression on my dulled observation; bright pink between. Grey flesh above my eyes.
My body; my brain… No skin?
Denial, panic, screaming inside my mind; I’ve been desecrated, skinned!
“I thought you said they were asleep? This one’s brainwaves are berserk.”
“An Awake? Dose it!”
Instant tranquility, then the merciful oblivion of sleep.
Excerpt from “A New Life” by A.E.Churchyard, published in Flash! Anthology, Edited by Chris Bartholomew
If you read these adult excerpts out of context (as you have above) you might form the opinion that I am psychologically scarred (possibly) and not a nice person (untrue). I’ve been accused of being “gore happy” or “bloodthirsty”, yet I am not putting the violence in to shock or scare. I’m putting it in because that is where it belongs.
Horror requires a certain level of violence. Fantasy has a certain level of violence; even children’s fiction has violence in it!
What changes is what voice it is written in, what words are used and how graphic the writer gets.
And this is where our original question comes into play:
Violence in Literature: When is enough, enough?
It’s such a personal question and the answer depends on each person’s violence tolerance level.
Some people can’t stand violence at all; they’ll be the ones speeding up to get past the murder scene. Some people revel in it – they’re the ones who rubberneck, stand around and make comments, trying to play CSI and generally getting in the way of the real crime scene officers.
Mine is quite high, probably because of the background I grew up in and the experiences I have had.
Do you know what your Violence Tolerance level is?
Can you answer the question asked this month decisively? Or are you, like me, of the opinion that it is a vital part of our species and we can’t escape it, we can only moderate it.
I now leave the discussion up to you…