Are you squeamish?

First there was darkness…

I’ve been thinking about violence in the context of my work in progress. I’m not sure if I’m writing something dark. I do enjoy action, but it always nags at me when there are no serious societal or psychological consequences to violence.

I’m often annoyed when movies studios cheat and present a faceless enemy. All the stunt guys wear matching uniforms and masks. If you never see their faces you won’t regret it if they die, right? Uniformed guard number 3? He hasn’t got a chance. Other times the enemy is not human (Disney, I’m looking at you). Maybe they figure if you can’t identify with it, you can’t feel bad for it.

Violence hurts, literally. I did martial arts for many years. One thing you learn is respect for your opponent, and an aversion to violence, except as a last resort. Why? Because it hurts! It bruises. You can get hurt, bones break, and you can hurt someone.

I do not believe that violence should be glorified. If it is in a story, I prefer that it should be real and painful.

On the other hand, I know some people have a low tolerance for violence. They would prefer that the grit is left out of the wounds, that blood does not splatter so widely.

What do you feel about violence in fiction? How much blood, and grit, and realism can you endure?

And then there was light…

Sunshine AwardStephen the Undiscovered Author generously passed on this sunshiney bloggy award for making his day brighter! Thanks so much! If you haven’t checked out his blog, it’s really well done, and offers insight into the life of a very busy  “writer on the way”.

These awards are meant to be shared, so I’d like to pass the sunshine to two wonderful women whose blogs never fail to make me smile, and who are always so full of encouragement: Kirstan Hoffman and Lua.

10 Comments to “Are you squeamish?”

  1. Aww, thank you!! I’m so honored.

    To answer your question, I think violence in fiction can take a little more “glossing over” than violence in real life. Like, I can’t watch the news because all the murders and robberies and rapes make me cry. But put on an action flick like Bad Boys or Mission Impossible and I can take all the blood and guts you can throw at me. Maybe it’s sick to find some violence entertaining, but I do. As long as I know it’s fake and my emotions aren’t attached.

    Now, movies like Saving Private Ryan (just one example) do a great job of portraying violence more realistically, doing justice to it. They show how awful it is. They show that even when we’re safe in our homes watching names or numbers on a screen, those names and numbers belong to real men and women who are suffering. Those kinds of movies (or books) make me cry just like the news, because that violence is so totally based in reality.

    So, it’s a copout answer, but I think my response to your question is, “it depends.”

  2. Lua

    First of all congratulations on the award!! 🙂 And thank you so much for passing it on to me, I’m so honored! I will take this opportunity to say how much I’m enjoying your blog and stories, keep on writing- you are great! 😉
    As for violence, if it’s not too obscene, I’m okay with it being in a story. Violence is part of life so it’s only natural that it becomes a part of a story if it needs to be but like you, I do not like violence if there are no societal or psychological consequences to it.
    Also, I don’t like it when the bad guys are %100 evils, all monster and no human! That just doesn’t feel natural, no one is %100 pure evil or good- I would like to see some humanity even it the character of the villain…

    1. I do too. I find that even just a little humanity in the bad guys make things more complex and interesting. It adds a greater depth of conflict to things. Thanks for your input Lua!

  3. You make some very interesting points about violence, especially with regards to its portrayal in fiction. Largely, I think you’re right, but I also think that as a society we have largely become desensitized to fantasized violence. And I think, in general, we mentally compartmentalize fantasized violence from real violence. For instance, my reactions are largely similar to Kristan’s. Real violence, or real blood and viscera, they make me squeamish and ill. I’ve come nigh to passing out at the sight of copious amounts of real blood (I’ll refrain from sharing any specific details). But the same thing portrayed, even realistically portrayed, in TV or film in a fictional way does not affect me the same way. (But if the blood I see on TV is real… well… we’re back at square one.)

    One of the reasons I like something like Saving Private Ryan (great example Kristan) is that it does connect us more emotionally to the people and the contexts surrounding the fantasized violence in a way that a whiz-bang action flick cannot. In that movie, in particular, the characters matter because they feel real (and the situation is realistically portrayed). In a way, The Lord of the Rings movies did the same thing for me – because although the violence in that world was definitely fantasy violence, it was nevertheless portrayed in a realistic fashion (albeit to a less intense degree as that in Saving Private Ryan) and involved characters that, again, felt real and personal.

    But what both of those examples lack is a humanized “enemy” or “other”. We don’t care about violence done against Nazis or Orcs because, by definition, Nazis and Orcs are evil and must be stopped – and violence is the only mechanism that can be used to stop them.

    In both those cases, then, the violence starts to become more abstract. And this is part of why fictionalized violence is very different from real violence – even when the fictionalized violence is portrayed realistically. Because this fictional violence is really understood, on a certain level, in a more abstract fashion: it’s not someone getting hurt, per se. It’s a conflict being resolved. It’s a problem being overcome. And in a very personal way, it represents the conflict internal to all of us: to overcome the darker aspects of our own souls and the struggle to achieve something higher and better, a more pure and idealized version of ourselves. But we don’t know how to get there, so we fantasize this violence within ourselves. In a societal context, most of us could never be capable of real violence (unless we have failed in that internal struggle disastrously), but in our inner lives, we fight these battles every day.

    Anyway, that’s my take on it, and my personal interpretation of fantasized, fictionalized violence…

    Which is not to say that I don’t strongly appreciate it when violence is treated in a more serious fashion – when the real consquences of violence are laid bare, in a cautionary way. It’s important to have examples that remind us of the difference between the violence that occurs in our inner worlds and the real effects of violence in the real world, and these guardians at the gate are important wards against allowing the one to crossover into the other.

    1. I hadn’t thought about the greater struggle as an externalization of the inner one. Perhaps that’s why people gravitate towards stories with action. I do feel a kind of adrenalin when the good guys kick ass, and a sense of relief when the struggle has been overcome. You’re right, it can work on more than one level.

  4. Also, I’m quite put out that my company’s aggressive internet filtering service prevents me from checking out Kristan’s blog…

    (And, ironically, most of my “free” time, right now, occurrs while I’m physically in the office at work… so I rarely have time to go back and check stuff like this out when I get home… 🙁 )

  5. I know I’m late but I like this question. 🙂

    It’s an ongoing thing for me. To write violence into my book or not? I don’t like excessive violence. Seems kind of overindulgent in a twisted way. Why would I want to read about…?! Well, nevermind. The beginning of the final battle scene(s) in Tentacles (Roland Smith) REALLY turned me off. So much so that I just closed the book then and there.

    However, there is hope.

    I think it can be an important part of the work. Pain is just part of life; why not put it into a book? I think a limited amount of pain…not violence :-)…is acceptable for kids’ novels, which is mainly what I write. It helps to add depth to the story and to raise the stakes. That said, in my Grand Novel there isn’t much physical pain. If any, it’s all psychological and mental. But then again, it’s a mystery, not an action…

    So, my answer is: Violence has its place. Keep it there, and don’t indulge in others’ suffering.


    1. You bring up a good point that depending on the genre, the tolerance level for violence varies. Your last point is pretty much what I feel about the matter.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts on this! I write fantasy, so mostly I struggle with trying to figure out how much is too much (because there is a war going on), or too little to be realistic.

      1. There’s a war going on in mine too. However, conditions are such that you don’t actually see the war. It’s just referenced a lot. 🙂 A wishy-washy way out, I know. Like I said though, it’s not really about the war details, the war is just a fact in the story-line.

        Yah, I would say just don’t overdo it. As to almost everything in life, there is a balance. Just don’t put in more details than are necessary to the scene.


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