Yet, like empaths, we submerge our hearts, bodies, and psyches in their lives. As they journey through the pages of our books, we experience their loves and fears, friendships and loathing, bravery and betrayals, times of great joy and desperate despair. This intimacy is one reason why writing violent scenes can be difficult.
A character’s view of and tolerance for violence (and sex, by the way) may be considerably different from our own. Violent choices, attitudes, and behaviors can easily push us beyond the borders of our comfort zones. How graphic we choose to be will depend partly on our intended audience, but also on our personal thresholds. It’s difficult to write a scene where a character contentedly partakes in a level of violence that makes us recoil, and not have our distress slip through.
In my previous career as a mental health counselor, I frequently worked with young women who were victims of abuse as children and teens. Violence took myriad forms and lefts indelible wounds on innocent souls. What I found hardest to bear was how difficult it was for them to break free of destructive patterns, to believe in their intrinsic worthiness and right to be tenderly loved. Happy endings and sweet love stories were fantasies that played out in the scripted world of television and movies. They weren’t real.
I wrote my first fantasy book, Myths of the Mirror, for them. It’s a non-violent story about acceptance, forgiveness, and the freedom that results from owning one’s life and braving new choices. It’s a story close to my heart, one I needed to tell.
My books have become increasingly violent. My most recent novel, The Bone Wall, is pretty darn grim (by my standards anyway). For a time, I wondered why I was writing this stuff. It’s not because I believe that fantasy lends itself to brutality or because I think violence sells. I’ve never written for pure marketability. My stories arise organically and are told the way I need to tell them.
We live in a dangerous world where the depth and breadth of violence continues to astonish me. Network news programs flash mere snapshots and move on. For to see it up close and personal, night after night, might depress us, or require us to speak and act, a possibility that raises the fearsome face of responsibility and choice.
Personally, I’ve experienced only glimpses of violence – in the stolen innocence and lost hope that surrounds me, and in the murder of my youngest brother, an event that still aches after twelve years. I’ve never fought in a war, suffered torture, witnessed executions, seen my neighbors slaughtered, or been sold as chattel, yet those horrors occur daily in our world.
Why? I pen my stories with as much truth as I can tolerate, and that includes violence. I try not to sugarcoat, to glorify, to pretend that violence doesn’t hurt or change those who encounter it as perpetrators or victims. If some readers find it too graphic, that’s okay. I’m willing to risk a scene or two (or more) of violence if it continues to raise the real-world question of why.