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Is Violence Necessary?

Ronald T.

Troubadour
I suppose it depends on the genre.

But if it's epic fantasy, I believe violence is indispensable. I've been reading epic fantasy, primarily, for over forty years. I have a 400+sq. ft. library, and it's filled with epic fantasy and science fiction. And I don't think I have one novel in the epic fantasy genre that is free of violence. I think it's an intrinsic part of those stories. Along with a strong and exciting amount of magic, it's what readers look for.

If an epic fantasy novel was actually free of all forms of violence -- something I have yet to find -- I'd probably pass it up for a story that contained the elements I want to see.

But that's just one man's opinion.
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
I think you can have books in any genre without violence depicted in them. It's not common, but there is no reason it can't be done.

Violence can be fun, both in the writing and reading, or it can be serious and shocking/distasteful. For fun examples, think of the man in black in the Princess Bride fighting Inigo and then the giant. Those scenes certainly include violence in the broad sense, but they're also fun scenes that are meant to be enjoyed. For the other end of the spectrum, see the opening to Saving Private Ryan.
 
There's next to no violence in my books, and they could be called epic fantasy. There aren't any villains, either, and as to how I accomplished either of those impossible things...
 
Yeah, the answer to the question depends on how you define violence.

The definitions of violence online vary, but many of them refer to the use of physical force intended to damage or kill. Key to these definitions imo are the words "physical force", "intended", and "damage or kill". Stealing someone's water would have intent to damage or kill, perhaps, but would be missing the "physical force" aspect. Being crushed in an avalanche would have the "physical force" and "damage or kill" aspects, but no intent.

There could be a debate as to what is considered physical force. Any movement of matter could technically be considered physical force. So with the correct definition of physical force, stealing water could become an act of violence. But I think most readers would not consider the act of picking up a bottle to be the use of physical force. With the right definitions, tickling someone with a feather could be considered an act of violence. :)

I think epic fantasy requires action, but I think you could write an epic fantasy with lots of action that didn't equate to violence under certain definitions. Yet such a story might be filled with threats of violence.
 
Epic fantasy without violence... depends on how both epic and violence are defined. A high fantasy without violence seems more likely... Epic to many people has a specific connotation of "world changing" and to be in the spirit of epic poetry, Iliad, Beowulf... It might not be impossible to write an epic fantasy without violence (as defined by some people) but, it would present issues for many if one tried to label it that.
 
Well, obviously there can be no violence in fantasy, but epic fantasy is a specific subgenre... There doesn't have to be a murder to be solved in mystery novel, but if it's a murder mystery... yeah, well. In the OP epic fantasy was the subgenre mentioned, and then recently tacked on to.

An action story without violence, as also mentioned, would be tricky due to expectations and getting defined as "action". Yes, you could write a novel with piles of competitive action without violence, but would it really fit into the genre? It's an interesting discussion.

The answer to almost any question of the type "Does Fantasy have to have x" is no.
 

Ryan_Crown

Troubadour
I found myself dealing with this question with my current WIP. The idea I came up with for my main character is that he's under a curse that causes him to go into a mindless rage whenever he draws his swords, attacking friend and foe alike. As such, he tends to avoid combat if at all possible.

This posed quite the interesting challenge as I started to outline the plot. I had never really thought about how much fantasy tends to rely on battles/fight scenes until I started to plot out a story that very intentionally doesn't have them. Ultimately I decided to go for a pseudo-Indiana Jones style of story -- high on action/adventure, but not really combat oriented. So while the main character is dealing with deadly traps, environmental threats, or masses of hostile natives -- where the MC is all about discretion being the better part of valor -- I'm hoping to have minimal situations where outright fighting occurs. And in those situations where he does ultimately draw his swords, I want those scenes to be significant, for his curse to be enough of an issue that combat really does become a bad thing.

No idea how successful this sort of story might be, or if readers will be dissapointed by a lack of fighting, but I'm looking forward to finding out. And I expect it to be fun to write regardless of how well it connects with fantasy readers.
 
C

Chessie

Guest
After just watching this video Movie Violence Done Right - YouTube of one of my favorite youtube channels, Nerdwriter1, I thought to myself. Is Violence necessary?

I am not asking if violence is a necessary component of all fiction, but if you think it is needed in specific genres. Does an epic fantasy need battles of large and small scale? Can an action-oriented novel stand on its own without a punch being thrown. Would this be compelling to you? And if so, what do you use to create suspense instead.

Maybe not violence itself is necessary, but conflict is. I think a lot of newbies confuse action and conflict with violence.

Now, for everyday life, violence can have some serious life-changing consequences. I say with fiction it should be the same way. Violence + consequences only make your story that much more believable, that much tighter.

The non-fantasy writing part of me writes historical romance. In those stories, violence is a huge no-no. Especially the audience I specifically write for, which are readers who like inspirational stories with a sweet emotional tone. Conflict comes in all sorts and ways. Exes. Misunderstandings. Someone's feels got hurt, etc. There are also outside influences, like my WIP heroine's sister is about to have a major health crisis and everyone is seeing the writing on the wall. It's making her anxious and anxiety leads to some nasty behavior in people. Pair that with a secret the hero is keeping from her, and his anxiety over that, and you have two people rubbing each other the wrong way. That's conflict in the short. (my fantasy stories have plenty of violence so don't let me fool you either)

So a lot of different things can happen, you just have to be creative. That's the whole point of this anyway, yes? :D
 
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I think how we define epic makes a difference.

There is something about scope in epic tales. Often they involve broad areas of a world and longish time periods—the story doesn't begin on one day and end 2-3 weeks later in the same city with no other setting for the duration. A large cast of characters is common for epic fantasy tales. If scope is the only factor, I can see an epic without violence being rather simple to accomplish.

Lately I've been leaning toward a different key element for definition of an epic. By the end of the tale, the world must have changed significantly due to the events that have occurred. Violence in this case is a great help for epic fantasy because violence is effective for causing fundamental, irreversible changes to the world. But I think it's possible to imagine a fantasy epic in which the change is wrought through political means, technological innovation, magical events, and the like, without the need for violence.*

Just because those other possibilities exist doesn't mean they'd be representative of what we've come to know as epic fantasy, however. I also wonder at the ability for such grand, epic-scale change to occur without violence in most typical fantasy worlds without building into them a mechanism other than violence for change. I recently watched a documentary on Martin Luther, so I'm intrigued at the possibility of introducing a new-fangled printing press into a fantasy world and the emergence of some innovator of thought—but even in our own world, the change that followed Luther's activities took the form of violence also.

*Edit: After writing the above, a thought occurred to me. You could show a changing world and achieve a large scale/scope if you had a long-living character traveling about the world and witnessing the normal changes that occurred through time. So you could have an epic without violence in this way—or at least something with an epic feel. A kind of travelogue spanning time and place, with interesting encounters at each stop along the way.
 
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Ban

Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
I see this thread has become a discussion again. I was a bit surprised to see that the Original Post was mine.
Interesting. I guess it is time to think about this question some more myself.

Alright, alright carry on :)
 
It all depends on how you define epic... obviously. These things aren't defined in stone. But, violence and epic fantasy are heavily interwoven, and mind you I am breaking high and epic fantasy here. Epic infers some sort of great change on a world scale, this is life and death shit, and that basically never happens without violence... and if we go into reader expectations... yeah, violence is probably necessary to truly be accepted as an epic fantasy. That doesn't mean it can't be a great story, a great fantasy, maybe even high fantasy... sure! But when you say epic fantasy to the greater portion of epic fantasy readers, or to marketing folks... uumm. Sorry. I don't think it flies without violence and/or the threat of great violence. Now maybe if you add another word... epic romantic fantasy... but even then, what romance doesn't have some sort of violence?

Which of course brings us to defining violence. You could say that you have an epic fantasy of man vs nature... Islanders vs the Volcano, or whatever, but there would still be have to be some violence or major threat thereof to defeat in order to be "epic". Now whether you qualify nature as violent... one could nitpick the definition. But, I will stick with epic fantasy requiring violence in order to fit into the expectations of the genre and its readers.

@Demesnedenoir: are you saying "violent" is synonymous with "epic?" I don't agree.
 
Concerning your edit... If we are talking about anything approaching realistic human relations, broad regions, long time periods, and big changes, these simply don't happen without violence. The character may not witness the violence, but it would have to be somewhere in the background. It is difficult to live our lives for any period without witnessing violence. It's kind of like some low budget films... which will narrate past a character going off to war to see them return (dead or alive)... sure, we don't see the violence that affected the character, but it was still there.

But even if creating some strange pacifist utopia undergoing some major peaceful change... and you wrote the hell out of it... I don't think it would be labeled epic fantasy due to reader expectations. It could well be high fantasy, but epic? Not really.

Now, someone could write it and call it epic fantasy, and some people might agree, but I believe the greater epic reading market would disagree.

I think how we define epic makes a difference.

There is something about scope in epic tales. Often they involve broad areas of a world and longish time periods—the story doesn't begin on one day and end 2-3 weeks later in the same city with no other setting for the duration. A large cast of characters is common for epic fantasy tales. If scope is the only factor, I can see an epic without violence being rather simple to accomplish.

Lately I've been leaning toward a different key element for definition of an epic. By the end of the tale, the world must have changed significantly due to the events that have occurred. Violence in this case is a great help for epic fantasy because violence is effective for causing fundamental, irreversible changes to the world. But I think it's possible to imagine a fantasy epic in which the change is wrought through political means, technological innovation, magical events, and the like, without the need for violence.*

Just because those other possibilities exist doesn't mean they'd be representative of what we've come to know as epic fantasy, however. I also wonder at the ability for such grand, epic-scale change to occur without violence in most typical fantasy worlds without building into them a mechanism other than violence for change. I recently watched a documentary on Martin Luther, so I'm intrigued at the possibility of introducing a new-fangled printing press into a fantasy world and the emergence of some innovator of thought—but even in our own world, the change that followed Luther's activities took the form of violence also.

*Edit: After writing the above, a thought occurred to me. You could show a changing world and achieve a large scale/scope if you had a long-living character traveling about the world and witnessing the normal changes that occurred through time. So you could have an epic without violence in this way—or at least something with an epic feel. A kind of travelogue spanning time and place, with interesting encounters at each stop along the way.
 
I agree, I'd have to assume some violence occurred in the world off-screen.

But I'd made a comment about that sort of thing during the first go-round with this thread. Is the question about whether violence exists anywhere in the world, or only about whether violence occurs within the book/story? Does mentioning a battle that happened 20 years earlier, off-stage, break the issue of "lack of violence" in the story?

Also is "epic fantasy" different than "fantasy epic?" Heh. Well, I'd agree with you re: expectations. And then there is the thorny issue of "epic" vs "epic feel" also... :D

Concerning your edit... If we are talking about anything approaching realistic human relations, broad regions, long time periods, and big changes, these simply don't happen without violence. The character may not witness the violence, but it would have to be somewhere in the background. It is difficult to live our lives for any period without witnessing violence. It's kind of like some low budget films... which will narrate past a character going off to war to see them return (dead or alive)... sure, we don't see the violence that affected the character, but it was still there.

But even if creating some strange pacifist utopia undergoing some major peaceful change... and you wrote the hell out of it... I don't think it would be labeled epic fantasy due to reader expectations. It could well be high fantasy, but epic? Not really.

Now, someone could write it and call it epic fantasy, and some people might agree, but I believe the greater epic reading market would disagree.
 
There's all kinds of thorns on the bush, no doubt about it. LOL. Epic vs an epic.

That's why I think it might be easiest to break it into reader expectation... if you market something as Epic Fantasy, I'm not sure how you get away without violence somewhere. At the minimum, a great threat of violence against the MC and/or the world probably needs to exist, and the best way to show a threat is to demonstrate it... testing the Death Star, heh heh.

I agree, I'd have to assume some violence occurred in the world off-screen.

But I'd made a comment about that sort of thing during the first go-round with this thread. Is the question about whether violence exists anywhere in the world, or only about whether violence occurs within the book/story? Does mentioning a battle that happened 20 years earlier, off-stage, break the issue of "lack of violence" in the story?

Also is "epic fantasy" different than "fantasy epic?" Heh. Well, I'd agree with you re: expectations. And then there is the thorny issue of "epic" vs "epic feel" also... :D
 

Lucas

Troubadour
The most important part for me is to avoid the glorification of violence. Though my current story is High Fantasy, the violence depicted has some grimdark undertones, and most military losses are incurred, partially "on-screen" by untreated, infected wounds and diseases.
 

ascanius

Inkling
The most important part for me is to avoid the glorification of violence. Though my current story is High Fantasy, the violence depicted has some grimdark undertones, and most military losses are incurred, partially "on-screen" by untreated, infected wounds and diseases.

What does it mean to avoid the glorification of violence? What that violence can only ever be bad? Anything can qualify as the glorification of violence depending on the readers perspective. Funny how an examination of when violence is necessary is never a topic but non-violence permeates society.

I don't see what the problem is with violence in a story....within reason otherwise it becomes absurd. As to the OP I think it entirely depends on the story you are telling and it's scale.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
Absolutely violence is necessary, especially for beginning writers.

If you ever spend six months trying to edit your first story, I would think just about anyone would want to spend a little time decapitating somebody, with their words or otherwise.
 
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