As a fiction writer, over the years I have noticed much of literature contains violence to one extent or another. In Westerns and action-adventure tales, violence is practically a necessity to the story. In fantasy and science fiction, violence is common enough. Even in the romance genre, there often can be found a villain with a gun, a thug with a knife, a wicked temptress with a bottle of poison, etc. I doubt I need to mention the horror genre’s reliance upon violence.
Usually in literature the violence is originated with the antagonist, sometimes followed up by violence from the protagonist. That’s not always the case, of course, but it is a simple enough notion for all of us to understand and it is one that offers an acceptable framework to the majority of readers. Most of us shy away from violence, at least in the real world, and we want our entertainment reading to make sense to our own values and our image of the world, or how we would prefer the world to operate.
Unfortunately, most times fiction writers get it wrong. About violence, that is.
I get it wrong. I admit it, though I’m not happy about it. Fortunately, for my sake, of late I write mostly in the horror and fantasy genres.
In horror, the violence is most often what I think of as “civilian violence,” meaning it usually is not targeted at military or law enforcement or those who can readily fight back (though that’s not always the case), which kind of makes sense because if Dracula, as a simplistic example, showed up at a base full of U.S. Marines, I’m sure poor Drac would soon find himself staked out cold with a grenade stuck in his mouth. Just kidding. But still, I’m sure the Marines could make short work of a villain like Dracula. Something like Godzilla, on the other hand, might provide more of a challenge.
Concerning fantasy ... well, it’s a little easier for a writer to fake it and get by writing violence in a fantasy world simply because so many readers themselves are not that familiar with the handling of a sword, nor rarely would they have a realistic idea as to how much damage an ogre or even a dragon could deal out.
On the other hand, there are a growing number of readers who know their swords, as there are readers who know their guns. And they will not hesitate to call a writer out. I don’t know how many times I’ve read an older police procedural novel and cringed when the author mentioned a crook using a silencer on a revolver, or a cop who had to flick off the safety on a revolver. Once, I even ran across a writer who had an assassin carrying a 22mm pistol, and I asked myself, “What the hell is he trying to assassinate? A jumbo jet?”
The truth is, most fiction writers are not experts in violence. Then again, the majority of human beings alive on the planet are not experts in violence, which is probably a good thing. A number of people might face violence or deal it out, even on a daily basis sometimes in some parts of the world, but still, most are not experts at it.
I’m not trying to give fiction writers a break here, really, because often enough we look silly when we get things wrong, which is most of the time when it comes to exertions of force. Fiction writers’ main intention most of the time is to entertain, but that is no reason to get our facts wrong nor to dismiss the realities of that which we write. It’s no reason to be sloppy.
To that end, I always suggest my fellow fiction writers and those who want to become fiction writers become experienced with the use of force, of course within reasonable boundaries.
The easiest way for a writer to begin such studies is with the tools of defense. Firearms. Swords. Spears. Bows. Tasers. Explosives. Many of us have our favorites, our preferred weapons of choice. As I mentioned above, one of the easiest mistakes for a fiction writer to make is concerning weapons. At the very least, we need to know about the ones of which we write. If I’m planning a story that will involve a particular weapon, I try to get my hands on one, to understand not only how it operates, but how it feels in my hands. Better yet, when possible, I try to receive at least some bare training in the use of the weapon. When none of this is possible, such as when I’m writing about military weaponry, I fall back on asking some Marine buddies about their experiences; often I will send them the story or chapters involving such a weapon, seeking input on where I might have got things wrong.
Still, weapons are only one aspect of the potential use of force, a most obvious one within literature but not always the most important one.
Beyond weapons, practical training and experience can be important. If a fiction writer happens to have a military or law enforcement or related background, that can help to elevate their writings. For those of us who have none of that, sometimes we can receive minor levels of training at weekend camps and even seminars and the like, for what they are worth, but more often than not we must turn to experts and other writers, usually non-fiction writers. Such experts and writers can readily open one’s eyes to not only particulars of training and events, but also to emotional levels or detachments that often are unfamiliar to the civilian world.
This is about the best fiction writers can hope to accomplish when it comes to gaining experience in the uses of force. To go further would take us past being mere writers, would include a scope of involvement that is frankly beyond many of us for a variety of reasons.
Let me wind things up here by stating that if I came of as somewhat flippant concerning fiction writing and violence, I did not mean to. Those of us who makes things up for a living should not get off so easily, because we owe it to our audience to get the facts right, from mechanical details to emotional revelations. I admit to failure sometimes, but I continue to strive for what might be an unreachable goal for myself. However, for me, the journey is what is important, perhaps more so than the culmination, and I can always keep pushing ahead, trying new things, learning from the best.
As my final words, I want to thank Scott for allowing me to appear as a guest on his blog today.