October 5, 2018 at 9:17 am #2073
I am struggling with editing a couple of violent scenes in my WIP. They need to be there. My preference is to keep them short and allusive (spelling?) and leave the reader’s imagination to do the work but a couple of beta readers have felt cheated. I’d post them but they make no sense out of context. Any advice?October 5, 2018 at 9:23 am #2074
I’d agree with you Jane, ‘less is more’ works for violent scenes much as it does for sex scenes, though I suppose you’d have to work harder so as to bring something fresh for the readers’ mind to work on.
Those long, graphic scenes can be effective, up to a point but can tun as many off as they do on, so go with your gut feeling.October 5, 2018 at 9:32 am #2075KateParticipant
I’m with you and Sandra on not going graphic. Ramping up the PD and inferring what’s going on rather than full on graphic is definitely my preferred route. BUT, don’t ignore feedback either. What percentage of your Beta readers had this reaction? Could you ask the ones who didn’t mention this how they felt. It may be you’re being too short and allusive and just need to fill it out a little.
October 5, 2018 at 9:37 am #2077
- This reply was modified 2 years, 6 months ago by Kate.
Kate, I think I am may have let my decision to keep the violence short stop the scene from developing in other ways so I’ve been working on that but I can see, nevertheless, that the violence has been threatened for a long time and I’ve ramped up the tension and fear leading up to it and maybe that is why it seems a let down.October 5, 2018 at 9:40 am #2079KateParticipant
I think you’ve just answered your own question. 😀 Good luck with developing it.October 5, 2018 at 11:18 am #2082AnnaParticipant
What genre are you writing in Jane?
I agree that if you have built up to it, then there has to be a payoff. You can still adapt the level of detail to suit your intended reader.
It’s a good idea to study comparable books and see how they deal with violence before you decide which route to go down.October 5, 2018 at 11:56 am #2083
Thriller/Psychological thriller, Anna. If you have any suggestions of books where you think the violence is done well, I’d be interested!October 5, 2018 at 12:33 pm #2084
For severe violence done well I’d look at Malcolm Mackay, Ray Banks, Stuart Neville’s ‘The Twelve’. Benjamin Myers ‘Turning Blue’ had me commenting ‘Stomach-churning details precisely told’, or Sarah Hilary. Denise Mina might be good, but I cannot remember which is the most violent.October 5, 2018 at 12:38 pm #2085JonathanParticipant
My question would be why do you not want to write the scene in more detail? Is it a matter of taste? (ie you’re not keen on doing it) Or is it more in keeping with the rest of the book that way?October 5, 2018 at 12:54 pm #2086
Jonathan, I don’t want to write more detail of exactly where and how many times they hit her and how much it hurts (or doesn’t) mainly because I don’t think it advances the scene and would therefore be gratuitous. I’ve tried, now, to write enough for the reader to understand that it was horrifying, callous and caused life-threatening damage (which is all the plot requires) and to give a glimpse of the MC reacts to it and there I’ve stopped.
I’ve also remembered some partisularly usedful advice I read about writing sex – which I think applies to violence as well. Namely if it doesn’t advance the plot or reveal something about character, don’t prolong it.
Thanks, Sandra, I’ll go and have a look. I’ve read a few Sarah Hillary and enjoyed them, so will start there!October 5, 2018 at 1:48 pm #2088
“if it doesn’t advance the plot or reveal something about character, don’t prolong it.” – excellent advice! Thanks Jane.October 5, 2018 at 2:18 pm #2092JonathanParticipant
I imagine details such as the number of times someone is hit – or even the exact manner – would be gratuitous; I don’t think anyone would keep track and I think it could actually lessen the realism as well as being rather unpleasant to read and write imo. But I do wonder if there is a chance to show character, eg sympathy for the victim by showing her reaction – letting us be her – no matter if her reaction becomes disjointed and and so forth. It doesn’t necessarily have to be violent, but it could be something, I would say. I quite like the idea of depicting traumatic scenes in a perspective completely different than expected. For instance, in my first MS I have a scene of a character falling but instead of experiencing the terror, the velocity, sound and what-have-you, I have her notice, in a very childlike way, things like the sun and the clouds and the way the land looks all tumbling about, but it’s interspersed with a sense of “something just happened”, plus these memories and fragments that make little sense like about how she needs to say some special words a prayer to stop this acceleration otherwise otherwise otherwise boom. Point being: you could try a super close up POV, bend the grammar past breaking point, flash images past us at high speed and see how that goes. It also saves the actual horribleness about depicting the violence as-is. Just some ideas anyway about how I might approach it. Good luck 🙂October 5, 2018 at 2:44 pm #2094
Some great ideas in there, thanks JonathanOctober 5, 2018 at 3:30 pm #2096
I had a problem like this in my last effort, and it cost me more sweat than anything else in that story. It was all the harder because it was a husband beating up his wife. I really didn’t want to go there and tried everything to skate round it, but the plot demanded that I meet it head-on. In the end I did almost exactly what Jonathan suggests: I went right into the victim’s head, PD5, abandoned grammar, etc. If you think it would be helpful I’ll post the passage when I get back from holiday after the weekend, and you can see if it gives you any ideas.October 5, 2018 at 4:31 pm #2100Philippa EastParticipant
It sounds like a really difficult issue, Janeshuff. However well done on you for listening to your reader feedback.
I think as others have suggested, a close psychic distance is your answer. The character’s subjective thoughts, feelings, and reactions can never be gratuitous. These will also advance your plot, by contributing to your character’s arc.
I agree that trying to give a blow by blow (sorry for the pun) of the “practical” details of the scene could easily feel like overkill.
I really like Jonathan’s idea of having the character describe / notice seemingly irrelevant details during her ordeal. The mind can go to strange places at times of extreme trauma, and this can be a powerful (yet “tasteful”) way of communicating the severity and horror of what is going on. In other words you can communicate how extreme the violence is by showing how distorted, fragmented or dissociated her perceptions and thoughts become.
Even if they might seem out of context, it might be worth posting one of your extracts here so that we can have the specific example of what you are struggling with.
However you decide to work it out, best of luck with it.October 5, 2018 at 6:39 pm #2109
I can imagine how difficult that must have been to write, Richard, and I would love to read it.
The close POV is definitely a solution. However in my trickiest scene the POV is neither victim nor perpetrator but a sort of onlooker who cannot act. However this discussion has been really useful because I have, at least, realised this is why it is difficult. And I can’t change the POV, before you ask! There will be a solution, though.
Yes, Philippa, I have learned the hard way never to ignore what beta readers say, no matter what it is. You are so right about the mind going to strange places in times of trauma – but, of course, you are. And you have given me a host of an idea…October 5, 2018 at 6:42 pm #2110
Sorry, a ghost of an idea. I might have a couple of questions for you about subsequent trauma causing people to relive earlier trauma.October 5, 2018 at 8:29 pm #2112ElleParticipant
I agree that sex scenes like violent scenes that develop the characters or characterisation shouldn’t be shy away from. I think the main issues with those kind of scenes is when they turn into the mechanics of what goes where and who does what. The scenes I have read where it have really works were when the reader is in the head of the character, even if they are an onlooker they would feel fear, disgust, maybe shame at not helping, basically how do they react to what they witness. For example, Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling doesn’t shy away from sex and violence but for me those scene always revealed something about the characters, their inner psyche and the inner workings of their relationships.
I hope this helps.October 6, 2018 at 12:54 pm #2130Philippa EastParticipant
Well, clarifying the problem is always a good start! Yes, I can see better now what’s making it tricky. I guess the same principles still apply: focus on your onlooker’s reactions to what they are witnessing, rather that (just) the action itself. Maybe think about the onlooker experiencing the violence as a series of sounds, movements, colours, feelings etc.
Yes, you’d be very welcome to pick my brain about trauma and trauma triggers. Feel free to DM me or whatever is easiest.October 6, 2018 at 6:46 pm #2133
Okay, Jane, here is my violent passage. I’ve left in a bit on the front to put it in context. Two words in your ear:
1) Just to explain any weirdness, this is a ghost story.
2) In addition to the violence, contains sex and a little naughty language.
Okay, here we go.
Smiling down into his face, she began to pump her hips. Joey came to meet her, adding his rhythm to hers until their flesh was slapping together and they were gasping and crying out in unison. Surrounded by her flying hair, Rosalind was lost to the world, oblivious to everything beyond their striving bodies.
Until, from outside, the cry came.
She knew at once that no animal or bird, nothing in nature, could have uttered that cry: a cold, inhuman wail that yet carried human emotion, a burden of grief and despair that banished all the heat of passion and froze her movements on the instant.
Dumbstruck, blinded by her hair, for the space of a few heartbeats Rosalind knew nothing beyond the crawling of her skin and the cold knot of fear in her belly, the pounding of her heart and the panting of her breath. Just as she was about to toss her hair out of the way, it was pulled with such brutal ferocity that her scalp burned and she cried out with the pain of it. Forced to stare at the ceiling as her head was yanked back, she saw from the periphery of her vision that Joey had sat up.
A voice spoke, Joey’s yet not Joey’s: a growl heavy with menace and simmering with latent violence. ‘Well,’ it said, ‘what are you waiting for, whore?’
His hold on her hair had slackened just enough for her to lower her head and look at him. Still astride his legs, she stared in numb horror at the man to whom she’d just been making love.
‘I can’t… Not now…’ Undone by shock, fear and dismay, she could no more have carried on than she could have flown. Even speaking was an effort.
‘What’s the use of a whore if she won’t fuck? You did it with your fancy man. You’ll do it with me.’
‘I have, I did…’
‘You’ll do it again. Finish what you started. Now.’
‘Please, Joey, no…’
A bellow: ‘Do it, whore!’
His face contorting into an unrecognisable mask of fury. His arm swinging. He’s going to hit me again he is it’s coming can’t dodge he’s got my hair oh God the baby…
The flat of his hand on her bruised left cheek her head jerking around pulling on her scalp lights dancing in her eyes a singing in her ears atrocious pain exploding through her face a scream wrenched from her throat…
Again the back of his hand on her other cheek and again his fist on the side of her head her arms raised trying to shield herself in vain her voice screaming screaming…
Again and again blows on her head her shoulders her ribs her belly…
The baby Christ my baby. ‘Joey, no! The baby, Joey! Joey!’
No use the blows still coming on and on arms clutched to her belly no way of shielding her face no help for it do what you like to me but not that not my baby…
Thrown flat on her back. The monster, lowering onto her. Pinned down by his weight, knowing what was coming, helpless.
Christ, I can see it in his face, between his legs. He’s enjoying this.
Rape, pure and simple, husband or no husband. No other word for it. Grit teeth and endure. Not a sound. Not a scream, not a sob, not a whimper. Don’t give the bastard the satisfaction.
‘Now get out of my bed, whore.’ He cuffed her again, shoving her off the bed to thump onto the floor.
Rosalind lay where he had thrown her, eyes shut, shuddering and gulping. Pain everywhere, filling the world. Through it she heard him pulling on his clothes and thumping down the stairs. A minute or two later, from downstairs, came the faint chink of bottle on glass.October 7, 2018 at 8:55 am #2142
I had to read this a few times, Richard, to get beyond the awfulness of it. You were right to post it with a warning.
It’s a very strong piece of writing and – this is meant as a compliment – I’m glad I had a go at my own scene before reading it, because I would have found it difficult to write in my own voice afterwards! Yes, I see how you’ve done it. A jumble of her impressions and reactions, in close PD, using the lack of punctuation to make it seem incoherent and immediate. It really works. And it adds a speed to the action without diluting the horror of it. Much food for thought!October 7, 2018 at 9:09 am #2144
By the way, you might like to know that Rosalind doesn’t lose the baby. She’s only a month or two into her pregnancy.October 7, 2018 at 9:17 am #2145DaedalusParticipant
Aargh, spoiler!October 7, 2018 at 9:18 am #2146
Oops. Sorry!October 7, 2018 at 9:29 am #2147
I’d love to read the whole thing, Richard, if you’re ever looking for someone else to look at it.October 7, 2018 at 9:32 am #2148
And Philippa, I’m just trying to collect my thoughts to DM you…October 7, 2018 at 9:44 am #2149StellaOlivettiParticipant
Richard, that was good/awful. Works very well as it’s Rosalind’s pov so the abandonment of grammar, punctuation etc makes perfect sense. I think upthread examples of where violence is done well was requested: to my mind, one of the best (and it’s really hideous) egs of a violent scene is the torture scene in Day of the Jackal. But as far as I remember it’s written from an omniscient narrator or third person or whatever the tech term is – anyway, not from inside anyone’s head. I know that’s considered old fashioned these days. But it’s genuinely compelling, though hard to read, and that’s coming from someone who literally can’t bear to watch anything violent on the TV.
StellaOctober 7, 2018 at 10:29 pm #2166
Jane, you are welcome to read it. I’m in the throes of revising it after laying it aside for three years, so a fresh perspective will be useful.October 8, 2018 at 7:27 am #2169KazGParticipant
Richard, that is truly a shocking piece of writing – awful to read but really well done. Very powerful. It doesn’t feel gratuitous to me, awful as it is.
Jane, I think I know the scene you’re referring to 😉 Reading through this thread and going back to my own comments to you, the issue I had with it was that it felt as if you were avoiding the scene a little bit (I completely understand why) – compared to the rest of the wonderfully immersive writing, it was the one scene where I pulled out of the action, rather than being yanked even deeper in because of its power. I know the POV is unique but maybe you could play with the idea of a closer PD, or one that is disjointed and trauma coloured, so we don’t get a literal description of each blow but rather the effect of it on your MC. Perhaps the extreme trauma could push her closer than she has ever been to Elizabeth? Sort of mashing them together through trauma? Which would also work really well with your ending, actually. It could be a real turning point in self discovery and could also follow through into the escape scene, which also felt a little quick and easy to me. Just thinking on the page. You’ve had lots of great suggestions here, I have every confidence you’ll find your solution and I can’t wait to read the revision 🙂October 8, 2018 at 7:52 am #2170
Ha, Kaz! Have you snuck into my house and been reading over my shoulder? That’s pretty much where I’d got to – thanks in no small part to this thread. I was avoiding the scene and the complicated POV didn’t help. However I think, by making it somehow trigger a flashback to the earlier scene where she is beaten up by her husband and making her feel all the rage she should have felt then but couldn’t, it will, I hope, become a turning point for her that will feed into the getting out of the river scene. Plus it does need a bit of fleshing out anyway. I love beta readers!
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