Writing Violence

As writers, we often create characters with whom we have little in common. They believe, do, and say things that we would never contemplate, EVER.

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.

Since then?

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.

31 thoughts on “Writing Violence

  1. reocochran says:

    Your reasons for violence in fantasy stories are true and valid. You know fairy tales are about conquering fears and your stories also reflect elements of reality. ~Robin

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think some writers/readers avoid it and others like the rawness. Both are fine as we all have our personal tastes in reading. I just seem to have gone in the more intense direction when it comes to violence and am pretty comfortable with my reasons. Thanks for adding to the discussion, Robin. Have a peaceful, loving day ❤


  2. Violence is hard to write – I had one scene (and will have a couple more) in the WIP, and it took me months to get it right. It involved a physician needing to defend herself, and clinically calculating what kind of damage she could do with a kitchen knife to someone invading her home. All the time wondering if she really could, even to escape or incapacitate him.


    • I know what you mean. As a writer you need to go there and get inside the character’s head. It’s hard, because in a way, on some level, we are evaluating our own capacity for violence. That’s how it feels for me anyway. It’s a challenge.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly – in her situation I might have been having the same conversation with myself. Apparently, most people wouldn’t actually pull the trigger even in a life-threatening situation – so criminals who are aware of this can take the gun from them and use it against them easily.

        Having been lucky enough not to be in a situation like that, I am aware that thinking about it is not the same as being in it – but this is the best I can do for now.

        The scene would seem unnecessary or forgettable, except that it sets up other scenes later – where the same question is asked, but with more at stake.


  3. Thank you for tackling the subject. Violence is with us always, and is easy in comparison to the time it takes to repairs its effects.

    I am so sorry about your brother. Please accept my condolences. Sadly, it will always be with you – certain things humans go through leave permanent marks. We have a similar story in our family, and it keeps coming up at odd times – and often points out to me how certain word combinations – such as shooting someone, or “I could just kill her” – are the lazy brain’s way to say things. I catch myself now making them conscious so I can remove them, but it is hard work, when the rest of the world seems to use them so much, for such trivial reasons.

    I haven’t decided about the games – but I won’t play the shooter ones. There is too much glee there.


    • Thank you Alicia, for your kind words, and my condolences to you as well. I find myself changed, much more attuned to the suffering of human beings and creatures around the world when so much of it seems preventable, pointless and cruel. I tend to be a little over-sensitive myself, and that’s okay by me.


  4. “We live in a dangerous world where the depth and breadth of violence continues to astonish me.”

    I feel exactly the same way. I think fiction writing is a calling. A higher purpose… to tell the truth and find hints of a better way.

    But I find it uncomfortable to let my characters engage in conflict of any type. Big problem. I need to overcome this tendency if my stories are going to become exothermic and engaging.

    Interesting post! Thank you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is hard, isn’t it? When I starting writing violence, I spent a lot of time in my head weighing my real-world capacity, beliefs, and limits. My characters, particularly the good guys, forced me to make personal decisions when they or their loved ones were put in dangerous situations. Writing often challenges us to learn about ourselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great piece, Diane. There is so much violence in the world, both real and virtual. My children are grown, but it must be even harder today to protect a child from viloence. It was there even when my kids were growing up. It just seems to get worse. The best we can do is to try and let them know the difference between the real and virtual and avoid the real whenever possible. — Suzanne

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Everyone’s already come and told you it’s an awesome piece, and I’m here to confirm it! Love it Diane

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Having read your book, you’ve got the violence aspect covered just fine 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m so sorry to hear about your brother – I can’t imagine how painful that must be to live with. I love everything else you say here, and especially that final picture says it all “Silence is Violence”. I also find writing violence disturbing, but I’m sure you’ve got it spot on. Brilliant ways to raise awareness in people who never encounter such things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jo. I love how fiction can work on different levels – as pure entertainment, as a vehicle for thought and change, or both. Most of my favorite books are those that moved me.


  9. I’ve had to deal with violent topics in writing, but like you said–our character views can be considerably different from ours. (And, yes, the sex, too.) I can only watch so much violence on TV, but I still have to make my characters real and sometimes write what I might not like. This is a great post by the way. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dawn D says:

    Your post touched me deeply. I am not a writer. Not like you. I have never created a character. No one except me, who I am and who I want to become.
    To see through your eyes how a character can take life is very interesting.
    As for violence, I think I cannot talk about it right now. It would then be too difficult to go back to work and I absolutely need to concentrate.
    But thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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