September 16, 2019, 11:40:29 PM

Author Topic: Torture/Cruelty  (Read 1731 times)

Offline Bender

Torture/Cruelty
« on: March 25, 2019, 12:13:00 AM »
Does it really make a difference? We've had many books from WoT to Black Company to Malazan..which do not have much/any explicit cruelty to humans or animals.

Even in cases like Jorg, Cosca or Glotka, I can still appreciate the flavours of the characters even without the overt cruelty. It's my opinion that many authors feels it adds grit to story...but all it does is make a dark story cheap. Like watching a proper horror movie vs a gore movie. You can get proper dark or grimdark  fantasy without the overt cruelty / torture description.

PS: I especially hate it when it comes to animals.
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Offline S. K. Inkslinger

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #1 on: March 25, 2019, 11:55:53 AM »
Does it really make a difference? We've had many books from WoT to Black Company to Malazan..which do not have much/any explicit cruelty to humans or animals.

Even in cases like Jorg, Cosca or Glotka, I can still appreciate the flavours of the characters even without the overt cruelty. It's my opinion that many authors feels it adds grit to story...but all it does is make a dark story cheap. Like watching a proper horror movie vs a gore movie. You can get proper dark or grimdark  fantasy without the overt cruelty / torture description.

PS: I especially hate it when it comes to animals.

I agree. Jorg and Glokta are alright, just the level of gore/ cruelty that made it gritty good. I've read some grimdark where it's just gore for the sake of shock value, and that's just make those parts pure rubbish, seriously.

Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2019, 02:48:15 PM »
The question I think a writer should always be asking themselves when deciding what to put in and leave out is always the same: does the narrative structure require it? A gritty torture scene might be a pivotal point in the development of a character, and we might have to live through the awfulness as experienced by them to understand why they come out different on the other side. In that case, there's a reason for the scene to be unpleasant for the reader.

But in another case, if all we need for the story to move forward is to know whether or not the torture subject divulges a certain piece of information, then there's no need to describe the torture in gritty detail because it doesn't serve the narrative structure.

Doing anything for its own sake (grittiness for the sake of grittiness, sex for the sake of sex, description for the sake of description, etc.) means you are breaking away from the narrative structure that builds a story. Although it may sometimes be worth it in small doses, it cannot be done without a cost to the story.
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Offline Eli_Freysson

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #3 on: March 25, 2019, 03:59:16 PM »
PS: I especially hate it when it comes to animals.

This is something I've never understood. Not that I approve of animal cruelty; I just don't get why a lot of people can tolerate a character who does awful things to innocent human beings, but then turn on him the moment he kicks a dog.
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Offline Skip

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #4 on: March 25, 2019, 06:38:36 PM »
It makes sense to me, especially with the modern mentality. People were less doting on animals in earlier centuries.

Anyway, my notion is that animals are more helpless. In most situations, a human could (or is presumed to be able) to fight back, whereas an animal can't. Generally speaking we're talking about domesticated animals. I don't think it's the same reaction if the animal is a tiger or some such. Exceptions abound, of course, but I do think that it accounts for the difference.
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Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #5 on: March 25, 2019, 07:22:46 PM »
I have a real problem with how people treat animals now. Dogs tend to be baby substitutes are no longer trained and walked on puppy training leads. Cats are kept by vegans, not allowed out and forced to eat a meat free diet ensuring they are niether healthy or sane. And this is not animal cruelty?

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #6 on: March 26, 2019, 03:09:49 AM »
With regards to any intense content, whether cruelty, sex, violence, (and of course we all have different senses of what constitutes intense content), I think the writer should aim for a particular audience. Some, like me, cannot stand it - I do not find it entertaining in the traditional sense. That said, the cruelty in GoT made me hate the perpetrators with an intensity that took my breath and made me long for justice to an extent I've not experienced elsewhere. Like the sickening stomach-flop of a good roller coaster, I do not enjoy it - but it does make the ride more compelling.

This kind of content is one of the key areas where the adage "Show don't tell" breaks down. Sometimes, you should not show, if it will drive your readers away or shatter the overall tone or whatever. Comments about the many dead birds, cats, and dogs in a neighborhood can convey that someone is cruel to animals, and inspire the desired dread or anger without actually subjecting the audience to an animal's suffering.
« Last Edit: March 26, 2019, 03:15:03 AM by The Gem Cutter »
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Offline Eli_Freysson

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #7 on: March 26, 2019, 07:02:52 AM »
This kind of content is one of the key areas where the adage "Show don't tell" breaks down. Sometimes, you should not show, if it will drive your readers away or shatter the overall tone or whatever. Comments about the many dead birds, cats, and dogs in a neighborhood can convey that someone is cruel to animals, and inspire the desired dread or anger without actually subjecting the audience to an animal's suffering.

Yes, this. Merely hinting at something terrible can often be more effective than showing it, and certainly more tasteful. Example: A character finds a dead body. We aren't given any details, but make up our own through the character's horrified reaction.

I've tried watching a few of those "classic" Italian Giallo films, and they tend to do downright pornographic closeups of gushing wounds. Aside from being really a really cheap way to be shocking, I've come to find it somewhat despicable.
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Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #8 on: March 26, 2019, 07:55:41 AM »

My WIP opens with a torture scene. some people find it exciting and terrifying, but... it really puts some people off reading the rest of my book.  it's been called "torture porn"-- there's not any more of it "on screen' in the rest of the book or planned in the series, but for the purposes of this particular book (and the series) it serves several purposes.

1) it was intended to be a Grand Guignol opening, showcasing the villain.  She's a shapshifter riding along with the main characters innocuously for most of the novel, so you the reader needs this set up to feel terror when she makes her move, knowing what she's capable of-- otherwise she'd just seem to come completely out of the blue.

2) at some point, in later books (if I write them) you learn that she was actually tortured herself, forced to witness her loved ones be tortured in the way that she now tortures others, and that the torture she commits is part of a traumatic loop she can't break.

3) for the series structure, I wanted to open with her as the antagonist, b/c by the final book of the series my plan is to have the MC of the first book be the antagonist and her be the protagonist.

Anyway I just wanted to say that torture is a thing, yeah people don't like it. but i honestly can't think of another way to do what I want to do with this story.  Sure it's cheap. Sure I'm loosing readers b/c of it, but it really does sometimes serve a purpose, even if the payoff isn't until long after the scene in question.  Maybe that payoff is worth it to me, maybe it's not to you.

Offline Bender

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #9 on: March 26, 2019, 02:18:42 PM »
It's not on torture itself, but rather the graphic-ness of it. There are means to communicate the impact, without spending few pages in the actual gruesome details.

As mentioned above, hinting of atrocious and letting readers imagination take over is far more chilling and effective than actually describing them.
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Offline isos81

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #10 on: June 18, 2019, 03:21:53 PM »
I was reading Emperor of Thorns today and I came across with the section where someone is tortured while Jorg was tied. I've read First Law, WoT and Malazan too where all books had torture scenes.

I felt bad before and felt bad again today. I'm not saying writers should stop writing detailed torture scenes, on the contrary, I applause them because of the feelings I get from the book. Getting me feel bad is as hard as getting me feel excited (not that I prefer feeling bad though :) )  I'm not sure if you can understand me, I've been in a dark mood all day.

For the animal sensitivity: I feel terrible for all the animals dying in humans' wars. I believe they did not get a vote whereas many humans chose to war against each other.
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Offline Nora

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Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #11 on: June 19, 2019, 12:08:08 AM »
Does it really make a difference? We've had many books from WoT to Black Company to Malazan..which do not have much/any explicit cruelty to humans or animals.

Even in cases like Jorg, Cosca or Glotka, I can still appreciate the flavours of the characters even without the overt cruelty. It's my opinion that many authors feels it adds grit to story...but all it does is make a dark story cheap. Like watching a proper horror movie vs a gore movie. You can get proper dark or grimdark  fantasy without the overt cruelty / torture description.

PS: I especially hate it when it comes to animals.

I'm not sure I get your point though? There are Dark fantasy and then there are next level dark fantasies... IRL people do use torture, and people are very attracted to torture and gore. Look at the papers. Killers cutting their victims up, or war crimes... it sells books and newspapers and starts documentaries.
I certainly wouldn't want a literary world devoid of torture or cruelty, because cruelty is a cardinal point of humanity. Some of my favourite books are very heavy on the side of gruesome actions, though not necessarily showed off. Actually 3 in my top 5 get extremely violent and have epitomes of cruelty... Dang.

Anyway, I think you not wanting any is fine, but it definitely makes a difference. It is not for show and for effect if the author needs it for the core of their story and characters.

I mean damn, the whole concept behinf Robin Mckinley's Dearskin is that the MC is violently raped by her father after an intolerable build-up of unease, and the entire novel is about healing and accepting. So it's horrible. The king shatters her room, grabs her dog (who is a central character and vital to the MC), swings it against the glass doors and rapes his own daughter, and you're crying the whole time, begging the pup isn't dead... You invest so much emotion in these two pages, that you spend the rest of the book healing as much as Dearskin is, really. A censored, cruelty free version of this story *does not exists*, unless you think you can make a satisfying catharsis out of the story of a girl who runs away because her dad gave her bad vibes and nothing worse...

So yes, in my opinion, if pivotal to the story or to a character, then violence in any form is justified. Though it;s like sex : you'd best fade to black if you don't know how to handle it well.
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Offline Bender

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #12 on: June 19, 2019, 01:28:34 AM »
You misunderstand my point. I'm not against torture per se, just the gory descriptive version. You can have fear inducing writing without actually describing the nail pulling and eye gouging in descriptive  detail.
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Offline Skip

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #13 on: June 19, 2019, 02:54:11 AM »
Gruesome/gory is generally done for shock value, and shock wears off pretty quickly. Some people seem to relish it, and it doesn't wear on them as quickly. Turns out there are different kinds of readers, so we have different kinds of books. There are books I like very much that other people dismiss as boring or stupid or just plain unreadable. Diff'rent strokes, as the poet sayeth.

I do have a more specific problem with torture, especially torturer as a profession.  We know from wide experience that torture is a lousy way to get reliable information. It's pretty effective in getting a confession, but honestly just killing the poor fellow is much quickly and can make use of unskilled labor. The only reason to bother with the confession is if the interrogating entity (usually a government) wants a pretense of legality. But since it's all for show, pretty much anyone can do the torturing.

I never made it past the first few chapters of Wolfe's much-lauded series because I never bought the premise, and because I find the pseudo-Goldfinger, which in turn was pseudo-Gestapo, brand of interrogation to be rather silly. I just never recovered from that. Since then, any number of books have employed the same trope.

But, once again, other people don't have these objections, and many appear to enjoy the genre.
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Torture/Cruelty
« Reply #14 on: June 19, 2019, 06:46:57 AM »
I agree that when it comes to including any scene of action, you need to decide if all the details are necessary. I get bored by fights, or sex scenes, or escapes, or man-vs-environment, or anything when there's no real driving emotional question behind it all. But torture scenes are particularly a problem when they lack reason--and even sometimes when they have a reason--because they're just so damn unpleasant to experience. The question needs to be asked even more strongly, I think.

So I'm going to mildly disagree with Magnus here:
A gritty torture scene might be a pivotal point in the development of a character, and we might have to live through the awfulness as experienced by them to understand why they come out different on the other side. In that case, there's a reason for the scene to be unpleasant for the reader.

I dunno that that's a good reason. I don't need to suffer just because the character suffers. If you can't make me understand or empathise with the suffering of the character without making me live through it, you're not doing enough with your writing. Because the point isn't what happens, but what it does to the character, how it makes them feel. And you can probably deliver that without all the nitty gritty. In fact, it's possible that the nitty-gritty--and my reaction to that as a reader--will undermine what you're trying to communicate about the character.

Similarly, if the only question posed by a torture scene is "how far will this go?" or "will the character break?"... those are things I am not interested in watching happen. I am likely to skip to the end of the scene and find the answer so I can move on. (I will also do this with those fights and sex scenes and whatnot else that lack a solid reason to stay in the details. If the only question is "who will win?" or "what position do they bonk in?" then I'm kinda meh. "How can he possibly win?" and "will this be as loving as I hope or are they too caught up in their own heads?" are more interesting questions that make the details a little more important.)

Abercrombie's work is obviously an interesting collection of case studies in torture. I feel like the Glotka stuff teetered on the line, but managed to mostly stay relevant, partly because it was all bound up intrinsically with him as a character, but also because it mostly functioned like... like a superpower? Like, we get the demonstration of what Glotka can do, it's supported by exploration on the page, and then later on mostly it's him flexing his power, enough detail to give the sense of it, and results.

Alternatively, Best Served Cold had
Spoiler for Hiden:
a hugely compelling question in its torture of Caul Shivers--that being along the lines of "surely this won't happen / Monza won't let this happen"--and it's a pivotal and essential scene that drives the character and the plots...
but it's just such a brutal treatment of the character that it made it impossible for me to enjoy the book. It is a very well done book, ruthlessly plotted and magnificently executed, and I hate it. I hate that I experienced it. I wish I hadn't. It took me a long time to pick up another Abercrombie after that.