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How do I emphasize the horror of a Dark Ritual without being overly Graphic?


A person is born with a certain amount of mana, which increases with age and peaks at a certain point. Individuals are born with all the mana they will ever have, but it can be refined with practice and training. This will determine how well it can be controlled and used to perform spells. However, there is a way to cheat this process. Mana is transferable through a dark ritual that ends in the death of a host. Through this process, a renegade witch can absorb the mana of others, making themselves stronger. These witches are called crones. . Mana that has been honed with training gives crones the most power, making competent witches the most sought after targets.
At a certain point, a witch would achieve apotheosis and evolve into a higher life form. However, absorbing mana from others leads to physical changes in a crone, eventually losing all resemblance to humanity. Therefore, crones must operate away from society, and use proxies to obtain victims for them.

This is meant to be the most monstrously evil acts in the world's setting, represented as something that is separate from regular murder and goes beyond traditional acts of criminality. This would be easy to show visually, but harder to show the true horror of it in written form. How can I emphasize it in written form without the benefit of graphical images?


I am not sure how to answer this. I would say write as best you can what you see in your mind's eye.

I think you trying to suggest that the medium is different and things that are visually upsetting are not neccesarily so on paper.

I dont know that that is true. I think with writing we are always shooting for immersion, and if the reader feel immersed, they will have the reactions I think you are hoping for. But immersion is no easy feat. It is accomplished with characters people care about, stakes that seem compelling, a voice which draws them in, and painting the scenes in a way that sets the mood. Horror writing, which is something I skirt close to shore on in my own writing, is really more about the unknown than the known. When the horror comes to light 'on screen' so to speak, it comes after the mood has already been set and its jarring nature can have the most impact. So there should be some tempo and bulding to it as well.

If you are just trying to write a gory or awful scene, plently of ways to accomplish that. But to make it more vivid I would try to include things the movie cannot deliver. We all know the red runny stuff is blood, and the little rolly thigns are eyeballs skirting out, and some will say I've read enough of that, but can the movie capture the smell of old rotting flesh? Or that the blood is sticky? or moldy? Bring to life not just what I know, but what I did not even think I would think about, and it is becoming more jarring.

Not sure if that help, but probably get things started.

Edit, did not notice the threads title, I was looking at the original post. Yeah, if you are trying to avoid being gory, then I think the third paragraph is more of what you are after. Immerse, set the tone, make me feel the scene along with character, and show me just enough to understand, but leave enough for me to imagine that I just know it could be awful.


Scale. An average murder can be mentally filed away as "just another murder". When the numbers get into the hundreds, it gets an additional appaling dimension. Maybe powerful witches work best, but getting lots of people with little magical energy will also do the job.


Scale. An average murder can be mentally filed away as "just another murder". When the numbers get into the hundreds, it gets an additional appaling dimension. Maybe powerful witches work best, but getting lots of people with little magical energy will also do the job.
I'd usually say that the opposite is true. A single murder is an atrocity. A thousand is a statistic. The trick is to make the reader care about that murder.

Miles Lacey

"It was... dreadful. Dark hoods, chanting, screams and blood. Ugh, it would've been so much easier if the poor thing has been knocked out before the ritual. But, no, the Mistress of the Ritual insisted she had to be conscious if the ritual was to be successful."

If you want to avoid the graphic details of a ritual then use a third party to talk about it. If you really want to shock your audience describe it in the same tone of voice as someone who has just done their supermarket shopping.

"How was the Ritual last night?"
"She was a fiesty one but she went to the altar just like all the others. It was a real bitch to clean up the mess but it was worth it. She had very powerful mana."

Sometimes the reactions of those participating or witnessing these events can convey the horror and importance of the ritual without needing to go into all the gory stuff at all.


Myth Weaver
The things you fear the most are those that are the least defined. Sort of.

The fear of what might lurk in a dark room in a house reputed to be haunted. The sort of fear that freezes one blood, makes it impossible to move. That sort of situation, a person remembers only bits and pieces: a trembling limb, a screaming voice, a flickering candle.
The implication of graphically violent acts can be just as, and at times, even more effective that actually spelling it out. There's a scene in ASOIAF where there is a battle, but it is all from Catelyn's perspective. She isn't actually watching the battle, but you are able to gather all of the details through things such as what she hears. It's not exactly the same kind of situation as a dark and vile ritual, but it functions the same way. Perhaps, for example, imagine that a character who is present for this ritual is blind. How would they know what is happening? What can they hear, taste, touch, smell that would outline the details of what is occurring in the room?

R.H. Smith

I think the best way to show goriness without actually writing the goriness is through the emotions and reactions of your other characters or MC reaction what he/she just witnessed...As the witches hand lovingly clutches the Uber-dagger, she cackles, lifts her eyebrows in glee and shoots her hand down to pierce her victims flesh...Scaredy-cat, hiding in shadows, almost feints at what he just witnessed. His eyes glaze over as vitriol spreads and his constitution weakens considerably after every stab and cackle. The strong smell of iron in the air only heightens his distaste for the pooling red liquid on the bottom of the altar... I'm not sure how graphic you're looking to write it out, but I hope this helps you out a bit. Strong reaction and emotion is a great quantifier of the tenseness, goriness, brightness, kindly, evil occurrences that are befalling on your characters!


I would be graphic, explain the main parts of what happens, the gore, or whatever. But don't do too much. leave it to the readers imagination to fill in the blanks. Give enough to fill the main picture, but allow the reader to fill in the small blanks. it will be much more believable, and the reader will add more details to the scene for you, and they will add what disgusts or horrifies them.


Keep in mind that nothing is scarier. Being graphic makes it disgusting, not scary. So essentially, you need to describe a scene without describing it. Maybe have character hiding, so he cannot see anything; describe the scene through sounds and smells, and include character's own emotions. Or else you may describe the aftermath of the ritual. Last possibility is showing victim's point of view, and especially focusing on emotions and feelings of the victim, on the impressions everything leaves on them.