Fantasy Faction

Fantasy Faction Writers => Writers' Corner => Topic started by: ArhiX on July 17, 2015, 12:39:09 PM

Title: Violence in fantasy
Post by: ArhiX on July 17, 2015, 12:39:09 PM
So recently I finished to outline a story that happens in my world, and the first thing that came into my mind was - "Man. This world is brutal. It's entire story is brutal. Dude. WTF?".
My goal was to create a story when everyone is hurt in some way (physically and mentally) and where painfull but quick death is actually a blessing. And to forestall - I don't use violence just for the sake of using it, but still it's a key component of my world, and i made sure it's justified (most of the times).

What do you think about it? What is the thick red line that separates "grim/dark fantasy" from "butcher's fairytale" (this is how one of my friend reffers to it)? How not to turn a story into a parody? How far can one walk into a Mordor of description?
Do you often use violence in your writing. Or maybe in other way: Do you LIKE to use violence in your writing.
I also want to say is that I never read any of GoT books, and never even watched a second of it's TV series. But as far as I know - it's a hurtfest/killfest/rapefest/tearsofreadersfest/cutthedongfest.

Maybe it's a time to read it? Or do you know other authors that like to "play" with their characters in this way? Or maybe even better?
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: JMack on July 17, 2015, 01:24:17 PM
Definitely time to read GoT. It's pretty awesome.
If you haven't, you should also make sure to read Mark Lawrence.
I assume you've read Abercrombie. I've only read The heroes, and it was incredible.

OK: personal taste. I'm cool with reading about violence, and with something grittier than old school high fantasy. But I've got no interest in pain and misery for its own sake. Which does not mean I think that's what you're proposing. But, you didn't list any of the for-me-necessary uplifting stuff. I want unrelenting misery, I can find that in a lot of places on our dear, blessed Earth.

A Crown for Cold Silver, recently published, has some pretty brutal stuff and the pain get's shared around pretty well. But it's also leavened by humor, admirable traits in many folks, etc.

So, for me, a balance of flavors and textures, or I'd just put it down.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: Eclipse on July 17, 2015, 01:33:21 PM
As long as the story is good I've got no problem with violence.

Strange thing is while I don't mind violence I do with swearing and cursing.I don't mind it occasionally but if a character says it too much I put the book down lol there's a popular uf book called Miriam Black I really struggled with.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: ArhiX on July 17, 2015, 03:55:24 PM
I will make sure to read some Abercrombie - it was recommended to me before, but I was still hooked to Malazan and it's spin-offs back then.

I always make sure that everything is plot driven. Or at least I'm trying - my work is big, and I don't want to brag about it here because if a porkchop was to be this unfinished, it would propably still be defrosting. I'm just really curious how people reacts to it, because I'm the kind of person who laughs when sees some bloody scenes in TV shows. For me it's easy - becasue I know "it's not real" it's only on screen/on paper. But I know some people just can't stand it when after the slash there is actually trail of blood following the sword instead of just clear sparks of light.

I want to use it to show how much someone is suffering, physically (Yo reader! Look how he is suffering. He totally got his hand eaten by this giant black creature and now he is bleeding!) and mentally (But wait! You know what he was holding in this hand? HIS LOVED ONE!) and how someone can be crushed (Now he hears how she screams and how this monster munches her bit by bit. Yep - he is totally in despair). Sometimes it can't be showed without some gore (So yeah - something just took away his wife to darkness. He is propably very worried about her - because he totally don't know how to wash the dishes. And who will make him a dinner now? It's propably time to unsheat the sword and go save her.) And... well... I just like to crush (and munch) my characters.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: JMack on July 17, 2015, 04:04:38 PM
Sure. And the old adage:

"Put your characters in a tree.
Set the tree on fire.
Get them out of the tree."

But burned.

Or, Lois McMaster Bujold's line: "I invent characters I love, and then I think of the worst possible things I could do  to them."

BTW, I really do like the notion of: "She's dying; crap, how do I do the dishes, anyway?" Mixed with the right other set of emotions, that would be very human.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: Eclipse on July 17, 2015, 04:20:15 PM
Have you seen the new Daredevil series on Netflix? I thought that had some realistic gritty violent scenes.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: RemadeGold on July 17, 2015, 06:22:36 PM
So recently I finished to outline a story that happens in my world, and the first thing that came into my mind was - "Man. This world is brutal. It's entire story is brutal. Dude. WTF?".
My goal was to create a story when everyone is hurt in some way (physically and mentally) and where painfull but quick death is actually a blessing. And to forestall - I don't use violence just for the sake of using it, but still it's a key component of my world, and i made sure it's justified (most of the times).

What do you think about it? What is the thick red line that separates "grim/dark fantasy" from "butcher's fairytale" (this is how one of my friend reffers to it)? How not to turn a story into a parody? How far can one walk into a Mordor of description?
Do you often use violence in your writing. Or maybe in other way: Do you LIKE to use violence in your writing.
I also want to say is that I never read any of GoT books, and never even watched a second of it's TV series. But as far as I know - it's a hurtfest/killfest/rapefest/tearsofreadersfest/cutthedongfest.

Maybe it's a time to read it? Or do you know other authors that like to "play" with their characters in this way? Or maybe even better?


Stephen Lawhead, specifically Pendragon Cycle and Song of Albion, is really good at walking that line of violence-but-not-overly-done, I think. He'll leave you chilled for days without overdoing it.  Dan Wells writes YA serial killer novels...that might be another good middle-ground (not as dark, but, well, I did say YA serial killer).    I actually thought Hunger Games towed the line, especially when you consider how much could have happened to Katniss that didn't, and how much was implied but not shown. Ender's Game is another.

I tend to write pretty brutal worlds and/or characters with brutal backgrounds, myself, so these are my thoughts. First, read through your own manuscript yourself. If it's too much for you, then I suggest finding another way to convey it. I've come to prefer a less-is-more approach for the really nasty stuff (if this is what he's showing me, dear Lord what's this over here he's *not* showing me?), but I do think the first line on this is whether or not you yourself are comfortable with it.

Second, show it to someone whose judgment you trust who is either also a writer or is at least an avid reader in your genre. Pay attention when this person reacts, and ask them to be specific with their reactions. (Ex: I showed one friend a scene I was having trouble with. Because it was him,  since *he* said one character reacted too violently for the situation, I scaled it back. )

Third, having done this, look the thing over again. You said your goal was to keep the violence focused on driving plot and character. So, in this pass, is there anything distracting from that? (Ex: Scene 12 is the really important violent scene, but Scenes 4 and 7 have the same level of intensity. Since you want to emphasize 12, don't put 4&7 on the same level. I don't think this is something you can do until you have a full draft. Or, since your outline is done, mark the ones that really need the emphasis, and make some notes on ideas of how to not be as intense on scenes around it. So the violence is there, but you're making sure the reader doesn't make Level 10 of intensity into Level 1.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: tebakutis on July 20, 2015, 04:37:04 PM
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Second, show it to someone whose judgment you trust who is either also a writer or is at least an avid reader in your genre. Pay attention when this person reacts, and ask them to be specific with their reactions. (Ex: I showed one friend a scene I was having trouble with. Because it was him,  since *he* said one character reacted too violently for the situation, I scaled it back. )

Yeah, this is excellent advice. Run it by your target audience (ideally, multiple folks within that group) and see what they say about it.

I recently finished a military sci-fi novel, and in it, my POV character gets captured by a despicable crime lord and tortured in a pretty brutal manner (probably on par with what you'd see on 24, or a bit worse). The scene was only a page long, but it was brutal enough that it really bothered about 80% of my advance readers (I was lucky enough to have 10 or 11 opinions). Since 8 out of 11 people told me the scene made them want to put the book down, I scaled it back.

Ultimately, I wanted to keep the book accessible, and that scene limited my audience. After I sat back and looked at the book as a whole, it wasn't really necessary to move the plot forward. I was able to do everything I wanted in a different way while keeping the book palatable to a larger audience.

Also, sometimes it's not the violence that's the problem, but the type of violence. Certain topics will bother certain people more than others. For example (spoiler for Prince of Thorns):

In the first chapter, the POV character placates his grumpy crew (who aren't finding the loot they wanted in a village they've just slaughtered) by saying something like "Sorry there's no treasure. But hey, there's some underage girls hiding in that barn. So if you're bored, go rape them a few times and then burn them alive when you're done."

The POV character is intended to be a total bastard, but man, I couldn't get past my disgust for him after that scene. It might be because I have a good friend who's been raped, or just because I find the subject distasteful, but that tanked the book for me. And the majority of violence doesn't bother me at all!

I wish you luck with figuring it out. Also, another good topic might be measuring the violence (and types of violence) in your book to other books to which you'd like it compared. If you're about even with those, you're probably okay.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: Lor on July 20, 2015, 04:51:57 PM
It can be hard to strike a balance though, because sometimes unsettling scenes and plots are required for the story you're telling. Running it by some readers is good advice though, for all kinds of writing.

I try to limit the violence in my novels not because I am totally against it, but more because I feel I don't write it well. If it is entirely necessary I'll give it a go though.

I wish you all luck in your endeavours, it's not an easy thing to write!
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: ArhiX on July 20, 2015, 07:38:40 PM
What I'm trying to create is full fantasy world. And what I'm actually using as inspiration are actual historical records of wars and deeds done during and after them (mostly asian wars) - and believe me that war is something terrible, but mostly for the losing side.

And with "if it disturbes you - you should rethink adding it" - I have a high "boiling point" and I'm not easily disturbed - especially by fiction. Becuase of that it's hard for me to get how "hot" my story actually is. Someone may feel compfortable, someone can be burned by it.

Looks like I might need to rethink my writing. My story isn't purely run on blood, tears and other body fluids, but still many legs of little girls are broken, many throats cut in sleep, and villages pillaged. Someone is being shot by ballista's arrow (it's actually humorous part).

Still many thanks for everyone for every little advice!
 That's why I was wondering what is an actual level of others "boiling points". Also I might need to read actually released but still very violent books. Abercrombie and Martin are my number ones to read now I guess.

And I'm not very lucky with alpha readers - only one person read GoT.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: RemadeGold on July 20, 2015, 07:48:39 PM
I agree that violence type also matters.

And, really, *how* you describe it matters often more than the actual level of violence. None of the things you just mentioned, listing them off, would necessarily phase me. But I remember pretty clearly this one book that contained a detailed scene that did not phase me and a very brief, undetailed scene that did, strictly because of the type (and, well, that writer knows how to pick his words). 
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: Lor on July 20, 2015, 07:53:17 PM
It's an interesting topic, because different people have different levels of tolerance, informed by their own life experiences etc.

I think you can have a high level of violence as long as it is not entirely gratuitous, but then you run the risk of your writing becoming dull, because it loses the ability to shock, or the reader no longer cares that any character could be in danger at any given time. That's the thing that makes violence effective: when it toys with the reader's emotions.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: tebakutis on July 20, 2015, 09:54:37 PM
Quote
And with "if it disturbes you - you should rethink adding it" - I have a high "boiling point" and I'm not easily disturbed - especially by fiction. Becuase of that it's hard for me to get how "hot" my story actually is. Someone may feel compfortable, someone can be burned by it.

Looks like I might need to rethink my writing. My story isn't purely run on blood, tears and other body fluids, but still many legs of little girls are broken, many throats cut in sleep, and villages pillaged. Someone is being shot by ballista's arrow (it's actually humorous part).

I wouldn't rethink anything regarding your novel yet. I'd gather more data first! Really, you shouldn't be trying to publish anything without getting as much outside (and unbiased) feedback as you can before doing so. So it's something you'll already be doing.

I should clarify that I made the decision to scale back the torture scene in my recent book because I had a cross-section of readers (most of whom did *not* read military sci-fi or grimdark) remark that it made them want to put down the book. I scaled it back because I wanted to make sure I didn't turn off that wider audience, specifically. If I *was* targeting a "grimdark" audience, I probably wouldn't have changed it at all!

You just need to decide who you're writing for. If you're targeting the grimdark crowd, I bet they'll be game for grisly, sometimes horrific violence, so long as it serves the story and the book is well-written - that's why the call the genre grimdark! It all comes down to knowing your audience and writing your story to appeal to them.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: Roxxsmom on July 22, 2015, 05:29:56 AM
How much is too much? It's somewhat in the eye of the beholder. I'm fine with violence in fantasy, and I'm not one for glossing it over. But I feel it should serve the story (not drive it), and I think there's a difference between portraying violence and its consequences realistically versus glorifying them. Sort of the difference between glancing at something horrific, then averting one's gaze, versus lingering over it and describing it in sensuous, loving detail.

Some things are sensitive and problematic enough in real life that I feel they should be used with caution and only after a certain amount of research. Rape is probably the biggest one, both because it's something that will have affected a significant percentage of one's readers personally, and because it's been abused, overused, misused, and misrepresented as a plot device by so darned many fantasy writers. But there are other violent tropes that have been overdone and which might actually be portrayed in ways that are misleading or harmful. The idea that torture is a good way to get truthful and reliable information in a hurry, for instance.

A big thing with violence is it should have consequences, and they shouldn't always be what the perpetrator intends.

This is one place where feedback from critting partners and beta readers is a plus.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: Rostum on July 25, 2015, 12:21:00 AM
I read a lot of violent fantasy. The stuff that works is where the violence has repercussions and affects the people involved. Soandso died but now we are doing this doesn't really cut it. A-team lots of shooting but no one getting hurt sanatised nonsense annoys me on the other hand splatterfest type gore for the sake of it serves no purpose.
It should further the story.
Mr Abercrombie is remarkably good at finding the balence in both his YA and adult books and the cleverist thing he did is have his characters bury the friends they lost and awkwardly speak for the dead.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: night_wrtr on July 25, 2015, 09:46:19 AM
Good feedback here.

Abercrombie is one of my favorite authors. Definately check out his work as he has mastered violent scenes imo.

I agree with RemadeGold regarding type of violence. Some things are best alluded too and left out in detail.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: JMack on July 25, 2015, 02:20:04 PM
I'll go back to something I've noted on the Foum before: an Interesting Fact to Know and Tell!

The word obscene comes from Greek and can be parsed as ob - skena or...
"off scene".

So what was off scene? That is, what wasn't fit to show on stage in ancient Greek tragedies and comedies?
Sex? No.

Violence.

Clytemnestra murders Agamemnon and cuts off his head? Happens off scene. Then she comes on holding the head aloft.

It's just an interesting twist in perspective.

Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: RussetDivinity on July 28, 2015, 03:20:47 AM
I'm okay with violence in fantasy as long as I don't feel like it's overdone. If I think it has a purpose, then I'm all right with it, but if it's just there because the author really wanted an epic fight scene, then the author might want to rethink it. Even constant violence in a story can work out well, as long as it feels like it suits the book; if it's just there because the author really wants to drive home the point that violence is a thing that happens (or just wants to write fight scenes all the time), then it starts to wear on me.

Also, going off the Greek thing, the Iliad actually had some overdone violence, at least in my opinion. I read it for a class recently (well, parts of it), and was amazed by how gory it is, and gleefully so. The part where Patroclus ran his spear through a man's chest, then pulled it out and brought the man's lungs out with it felt almost like it would be a parody of something today.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: JMack on July 28, 2015, 03:30:46 AM
I'm okay with violence in fantasy as long as I don't feel like it's overdone. If I think it has a purpose, then I'm all right with it, but if it's just there because the author really wanted an epic fight scene, then the author might want to rethink it. Even constant violence in a story can work out well, as long as it feels like it suits the book; if it's just there because the author really wants to drive home the point that violence is a thing that happens (or just wants to write fight scenes all the time), then it starts to wear on me.

Also, going off the Greek thing, the Iliad actually had some overdone violence, at least in my opinion. I read it for a class recently (well, parts of it), and was amazed by how gory it is, and gleefully so. The part where Patroclus ran his spear through a man's chest, then pulled it out and brought the man's lungs out with it felt almost like it would be a parody of something today.

Yes, interesting about that. Have to admit that some of my memories of this are from 30+ years ago. I think there was a perceived difference between theatre and other forms of art.

I listened to the Iliad as a recorded book a few years ago, and had the same reaction - wow, this thing is violent.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: CameronJohnston on July 28, 2015, 10:01:48 AM
I think it's like anything else - it gets boring if it's overused. If that's all the novel is, relentless violence, then I'll likely get as bored as I would if all characters did was walk and talk, eat, then walk and talk, and eat... (Yes, Frodo and Sam walking through the mountains of Mordor bored me stiff). Violence especially will lose its impact in pivotal scenes if it's been overused or over-described earlier on. Something like Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes (essentially all about a single battle) does very well in balancing lots of violence with character interaction, and deftly balance the grim mood of the novel so it doesn't get out of control.

I'm fine with violence in books, but it needs to be balanced with other things. Grimdark is fine, but even that needs notes of lightness and hope and humour or it's just monotone bleak, and ultimately unsatisfying.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: Nora on August 06, 2015, 05:47:56 AM
In fiction in general - not necessarily fantasy - I often get a lot more marked by violence when it has an active psychological mark.

One of the most disturbing book to me from memory still is The Collector by Fowles, but also McCarthy's The Road.
Both book portray violence both physical but also psychological. I find that a certain form of pointlessness is absolutely devastating (in a good way).
The moral system is different and the violence appeals to us through that distorted lens, a reminder of how easy death comes, how meaningless lives actually are, unless you're here to give them value.
Both are books that made me bond with the characters in a very particular way and made me care and root for them, making any act of active violence a much more intense moment than in any other epic fantasy.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: Rostum on August 14, 2015, 04:00:46 PM
Well put Nora.

Part of the issue I have with a lot of American movies Is the scripts have no moral compass. We are caught in a spiral where the body count must be higher and the explosions bigger and somehow this makes for a better film.
Some writing seems to be going this way a gentle build up to short, shocking violence is far more effective than pages full of blood and gore.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: JMack on August 14, 2015, 06:18:52 PM
I've mentioned this elsewhere (maybe in this thread?  ???):

Jerzy Kosinski wrote a stunning Holocaust novel, The Painted Bird, in which prisoners sent to death camps appear only as trains in the distance or hands reaching out from rail car slats. Meanwhile, the boy at the center of the story is brutalized in a variety of ways. (Sorry for being depressing.) Kosinki's idea was that something as awful as the Holocaust could best be understood through an implied comparison to something small, personal and awful.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: madfox11 on August 18, 2015, 08:37:54 AM
I'll go back to something I've noted on the Foum before: an Interesting Fact to Know and Tell!

The word obscene comes from Greek and can be parsed as ob - skena or...
"off scene".

So what was off scene? That is, what wasn't fit to show on stage in ancient Greek tragedies and comedies?
Sex? No.

Violence.

Clytemnestra murders Agamemnon and cuts off his head? Happens off scene. Then she comes on holding the head aloft.

It's just an interesting twist in perspective.

But is that because it was considered obscene or because it is hard to depict such violence on the stage (especially in a world were a lot more people actually have seen it in real life)? Ancient Greek society was pretty brutal at times and as others pointed out violence/gore was not avoided in their literature.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: JMack on August 18, 2015, 11:03:22 AM
I'll go back to something I've noted on the Foum before: an Interesting Fact to Know and Tell!

The word obscene comes from Greek and can be parsed as ob - skena or...
"off scene".

So what was off scene? That is, what wasn't fit to show on stage in ancient Greek tragedies and comedies?
Sex? No.

Violence.

Clytemnestra murders Agamemnon and cuts off his head? Happens off scene. Then she comes on holding the head aloft.

It's just an interesting twist in perspective.

But is that because it was considered obscene or because it is hard to depict such violence on the stage (especially in a world were a lot more people actually have seen it in real life)? Ancient Greek society was pretty brutal at times and as others pointed out violence/gore was not avoided in their literature.

Interesting question. In my Ancient Theater course at university, it was presented as "obscene" in the way we mean - not fit for public viewing. When I wrote that post, I decided to double check and went to that great font of truth Wikipedia to check on my memory and the "facts". I mainly got confirmation, but Wiki added sex to violence in terms of what was off-scene.

So, for me, the question isn't so much whether it was difficult to depict on stage - Greek theater was not realistic as we think of it, and didn't rely for emotional effect on being physically realistic, just emotionally and articially real. But the question of why a violent society would make violence off-stage - that's really interesting.

Have to think about that one.
Title: Re: Violence in fantasy
Post by: ArhiX on August 19, 2015, 05:04:30 AM
This whole off-scene thing is actually... retarded and genious at the same time. I will just call it a neat idea to use in  writing.

I mean - if one has a BIG scene with a lot of violence - why not to cut it and make some of it happen off-scene?
Like literally - Chapter starts with a someone trying to save his/her friends from the hands of bandits. That person literally slaughters the front guards, and enters the room, where his/her friends are held and where REAL baddies are. And the next thing you know is that in the next chapter our herois sitting in a room.
But what is it? He lost his arm. And where is his best friend? Where are 2 other person? Why is everything so gloomy?

And one can literally SKIP a scene when bad things happened, to let the reader know from the dialogue later on, or just make a little break from action, a moment of relief, just to throw us right into this slaughterhouse of doom and despair again. Now we see how his best friends is a traitor. How females were treated. How one person was tortured to death. How he fights his best friend, loses his arm and kills him. How one of his friends sacrifices, so the rest can escape.