3 comments on “Violence in fiction

  1. Surprised you think most historical novels aren’t that bloody – ever read any Bernard Cornwell?
    I agree with your comments about the pace of action scenes. If the action is fast, then the writing must move your reader along at speed.
    One trap I know I sometimes fall into when writing is to over-describe – that’s because I want to be sure that what I’m describing is possible/realistic. Trouble is, I then have to go back and edit out a lot of it because the text is suddenly way too long!

    • I have not read Bernard Cornwell, but he is known for graphic violence in his books and probably not a good example of all historical fiction. And I certainly haven’t read every historical novel out there, but the ones I have read can be violent, but usually don’t get gruesome. For example: when people are shot or hacked with a sword, the author lets you know what happened without describing gushing blood and spilling entrails, blinking eyeballs in a head rolling away from it’s body, etc. I can understand this, because most of the people I know would be turned off by that kind of writing. I do have a few friends who prefer “the more realistic, the better”, but I don’t think they represent the vast majority of the readers the publishers want to reach. I’ll have to take a trip to my local library and look for Cornwell’s work. Who knows, I may become a fan. (Thanks for the tip.)

      On description: I believe some readers actually enjoy reading extensive details and long descriptions so they can better visualize the world they are in as they read the story. Other readers (like me) are more concerned with what is actually happening than the rust on the metal pot in the corner. I can imagine the characters and their environment just fine (although it might not be exactly what the author pictured). Fortunately, there are books out there for both types of readers. I try to find ways to work bits of description into the action to lead the reader’s imagination in the right direction. Because of my own short attention span and impatience for long descriptions, I suppose I am hypersensitive to those of a perspective reader. But like I said, not all readers are like me.

      One question: How do you know if your “text is way too long”? Are you shooting for a certain word count? When you proof-read, are you getting the sense that you might lose your reader’s enthusiasm as a result of slow pace?

      • I think the second – I never aim for a certain word count it’s more gut instinct.
        Sometimes individual scenes in a story just come out right first time. Other times, I find myself writing things out in great detail to ensure there’s logic to them, then read it back and find the story is bogged down and I need to hack back the shrubbery to find it!
        (Sometimes it’s my instinct – sometimes it’s my editor telling me ‘cut it down’!)

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