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Opinions on graphic portrayal, combat violence. pt 1. Pls read post before polling.

1-10 graphic portrayal of violence where you don't want to read anymore? Read post.

  • 1: Very general discription. pg rating in movies

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 2: discription is a little more detailed, maybe involving blood.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 3: Use of blood, general discriptions of wounds, etc.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 4. more discription of wounds, blood, etc.

    Votes: 1 3.3%
  • 5: More detailed discription, more realistic. pg 13

    Votes: 1 3.3%
  • 6: More adult discriptions and realistic, yet still geared towards YA

    Votes: 1 3.3%
  • 7: Mild R rating violence, More realistic

    Votes: 2 6.7%
  • 8: Much more graphic, R rating movies.

    Votes: 9 30.0%
  • 9: Even more graphic, R rating, movies like Django etc.

    Votes: 6 20.0%
  • 10: very graphic minutae on pain, wounds, and death of character X (not satire though)

    Votes: 10 33.3%

  • Total voters


This is part 1 of 4. The first three threads will pertain to a single topic with the 4 revolving around a summation and deeper look.
Ok so I've been trying to understand a few things on how we as readers view portrayals and graphic portrayals. I have a theory and am curious about everyones impression/opinion, but first I figure I would get a general base line of the members views so as to simply reach conclusions based off my assumptions.

Ok lets being. I'm not getting into the quality of writing, for the sake of argument lets just imagine that these are written by a great writer who doesn't make mistakes. I want to look at this objectively for a moment.

The scale of graphic portrayal. 1 to 10 (1 being no description and 10 describing the minutiae of how brain matter splatters).

The question. Your reading a book with a medieval setting. At this point in the book you are reading a battle scene where a main character is severely wounded and endures 2 hours of excruciating pain before dying. On the above scale 1-10, At what point do you find yourself not wanting to continue/quit reading/take a break due to content? This is only dealing with violence that would be typical on a field of battle.

Note! I'm trying to keep these equal for the sake of comparison hence everyone dies and the person in battle is severely wounded to keep the level of trauma somewhat equal among unequal concepts, more on that later.

secondary questions.
if you don't like graphic portrayals, what is it that you don't like about graphic portrayals of violence?
Does age or sex have any impact on your displeasure?
Does the length of time spent on the discription?
Does the type of character (main, secondary, tertiary) have any impact?
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On face value, I have no issue with a 10 on the brutality scale. Keep in mind that after a lifetime of studying military history, I'm used to this sort of thing and it takes a great deal to put me off. Battle was a brutal experience, something that most Hollywood productions tone down with discretion shots and fast camera movements. I don't want an author to sugar coat what is happening, especially if that is the main theme of the book. An author, like Bernard Cornwell or Joe Ambercrombie, use the violence as part of the story, and their works would seem dull without it. The only issue I have is if it is overdone, but that's more of a writing problem, rather than the violence itself. If the description is there for the sole purpose of being brutal, I lose interest. If it drives the plot, then it is acceptable. Also, knowing how violence works makes my mind wander. For example, someone is dying from an abdomen wound, yet is composed enough to give a detailed farewell speech. In reality, the person will be in excruciating pain, and hardly able to talk at all, especially if a lung is pierced. Things like this throw me out of a story.

In short, I have no issue with graphic violence or brutality, as long as it fits the plot and doesn't bog down the pacing. Then again, I have shouted "Blood for the Blood God! Skulls for the Skull Throne!" while working out, so I might not be the best example of how most people feel.
I can't really answer the poll because it entirely depends on the tone of the story. You don't want level 10 violence when your story is otherwise lighthearted, and if you're making a dark realistic story then it can feel off or unrealistic. In my opinion, if it's meant to be a harsh read, it's the reader's fault if they're unwilling to read it, same goes for those who wish violence in a story where it doesn't belong. Not every story is everyone's cup of tea.


I'm generally pretty liberal with my views on graphic violence, and have been known to compose extremely graphic portrayals of torture in my head just to exercise my imagination, but I have found I do have my limits. One of the things that made me quit watching Game of Thrones (besides broader issues like darkness-induced audience apathy, an overwhelming feeling that the main threat of the series had been built up for so long that no resolution could conceivably be satisfying, and the observation that the series was basically incapable of properly ending plot threads) was the conclusion of "The Mountain and the Viper." Watching such a likable character die in such a gratuitously painful, gory, and ignoble fashion made me sick to my stomach and I still get random flashbacks of it.

I'm not the sort of person to call for censorship, though. I would have no intrinsic problem with hardcore porn being played on daytime television. I do, however, think that the basic principles of tact and good taste should give people their own limits.
It depends on how well the violence is described, just like the rest of the content in the book. If it's meant to shock then I'm more annoyed than anything else. Like the "Red Wedding" for example. I don't get why people found it all that shocking, other than what happens to popular characters. The violence itself wasn't that bad from a visual/visceral point of view. What happens to Theon and Ramsay's "brides" is far worse. Even if it isn't all shown on screen.

It also depends on who it is happening to and under what circumstances. Violence on the battlefield isn't as bad as torture scenes for the most part.

I have torture scenes in my story but it isn't supposed to be a mere depiction of graphic violence just to make some readers queasy. It's more about the breaking of someone's will and described from inside the head of the person being tortured, far more about the state of mind then all the gory details about what is happening. The MC is "voluntarily" captured as a means of infiltrating a castle by pitting his will against the prince, who is ruling in place of his father who is off on some kind of political business. The MC is semi-immortal, meaning he can heal from wounds much faster than a normal person. The prince is already extremely paranoid, making him violent and prone to torturing people, and the whole plan is for the MC to defy the prince and play head games with him until he breaks and then the castle can be infiltrated.

The other takes place in this underground demon's layer where a succubus is using her sexuality to try and break the mind of the MC, bringing up memories of the past that he's tried to keep locked away via some type of mind-reading. She's not purely evil yet isn't viewed as anything more than a seductress/whore by the rest of the inhabitants, so her lust is mixed with what she believes is love, and that messes with her mind as well and leaves her vulnerable.
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So I voted 8. but I think for you to get what you need it is important to know why I voted eight.

I am a PI lawyer, so I have graphic images of injuries and detailed medical descriptions of deaths etc cross my death every day. I am not uncomfortable with these things in my life at all.

And I didn't answer 8. because reading some description at the 9. or 10. level would make me uncomfortable because of graphic descriptions. I answered 8 because I find it difficult to imagine what use a level 9 or 10 description can be to telling a good story and don't like to be insulted as a reader. I also think material produced for primarily shock value is childish and poor writing.

For example. You got a guy dying in excruciating agony from battle wounds over two hours. Tell me that, maybe a few details, but the prose to cover that should not go on and on. That is just repetitive, boring and insulting. If a writer is trying to hard to make an obvious or simple point to me and it drags on and on, I find myself thinking "I get it, guy is dying for two hours in a bad way, now let's move on with it." That goes for graphic violence etc, etc.

Graphic violence for its own sake really just is simplistic or primitive writing.

For instance how long is the scene in Elric with the torturer, Dr. Jest? Is it graphic? Did it work?

If it serves a clear purpose, be as graphic as you like. But I find most graphic descriptions of violence/wounds etc just lazy writing.


Article Team
I agree with Russ. I also voted 8. I can handle pretty graphic stuff in books, and I love a good Terentino film, but I avoid horror as a genre because I can't accept gratuitous violence as the plot line.

I loved the Game of Thrones books, but in the show when the guards killed the Kings baby in the brothel I stopped watching the show. I personally have a line in regards to violence towards children.


I voted 8.

Graphic violence can have it's place in stories, but as others have said, it mostly comes down to the "why". Does graphic description of pain and suffering advance the plot or give insight to the character? Does it stylistic 'fit' with the rest of the story? Is it a succinct description or does it go on and on and on like Robert Jordan's description of spiced potatoes? I believe there needs to be a balance and a light hand when bringing in the darker, make you squirm, scenes in a story. Too much and a reader can get desensitized and it loses it's impact (which is probably defeating your own purpose of including it in the first place).

As for your other questions:

If you don't like graphic portrayals, what is it that you don't like about graphic portrayals of violence?
- I don't mind them, but the times I haven't liked them it was because it was gratuitous, poorly written, and/or entirely too long.

Does age or sex have any impact on your displeasure?
- Don't think so, but detailed sexual violence (without very good reason) or violence against children makes me feel icky.

Does the length of time spent on the discription[sic]?
- Usually less is more. A few well crafted sentences can have more emotional impact than paragraphs of description. Implied suffering can also be just as powerful. A paragraph going into the minutiae can sometimes be replaced by implication. (e.g., laundry list of torture devices and how they are used vs. "Bob's screams and wails echoed through the hall, long into the night.")

Does the type of character (main, secondary, tertiary) have any impact?
- If you're spending words on someone's suffering I'd better care who they are. An important character deserves more time than a red-shirt.


toujours gai, archie
I don't mean to undercut the poll, but I have a basic tenet: whatever can be described numerically is trivial. At least when it comes to humans. As some of the posts have indicated, everything depends ... well, on everything.

I want a good story. A good teller of stories will handle gore well, and I'll go along. I don't care if it's gore or sex or language or physical description or dialog or what. If it's done well, I'm there. If it's done poorly, I'm out. I don't see any way to capture that on a scale of one to ten.
I'm having difficulty regarding the quantity vs quality breakdown.

I generally agree with Russ's position on such description going on and on and on. But a) that problem can address many kinds of description/narrative–e.g., the MC wallowing in self-doubt and insecurities for four pages–and b) I'm not sure that length of description is necessarily a significant factor in graphic levels. A single sentence could describe "the minutiae of how brain matter splatters." If said sentence is used and the narrative moves on, is it less graphic? If the next sentence is equally graphic, about bone thrusting up from a shattered leg, but the narrative moves on after that second sentence (so, two highly descriptive sentences rather than one), is it more or less graphic?

So in deciding a scale for graphic violence from 1-10, this is problematic.

I can't remember which movie did this, but I remember a case of some protag shoving his thumb or fingers into a baddy's open wounds to manipulate him (torture for getting truth, I think), and that seemed rather graphic even though the wounds and blood weren't themselves so graphic. Probably in a work of fiction, the same thing wouldn't seem as graphic as seeing it happen onscreen.

There is also the case of the Kill Bill movies. I absolutely love them. On some level, they are meant to be satirical, sure; but who does the violence, and to whom, makes a big difference, even in a more serious approach.

So generally stated, the more important thing is the character reaction (good guys and bad guys, both) and the character development, and the level of graphic violence, itself, is far less important.

I haven't voted in the poll for the reasons mentioned above regarding quantity vs quality. Also, I chose not to vote as protest against the repeated misspelling of "description."


I don't mean to undercut the poll, but I have a basic tenet: whatever can be described numerically is trivial. At least when it comes to humans. As some of the posts have indicated, everything depends ... well, on everything.

I want a good story. A good teller of stories will handle gore well, and I'll go along. I don't care if it's gore or sex or language or physical description or dialog or what. If it's done well, I'm there. If it's done poorly, I'm out. I don't see any way to capture that on a scale of one to ten.

Ok, I typed a long response then decided I'll just stop explaining my thought process for why asked the question in the way I did. I'll just post the original thread, which I had meant to post, when I get home.

Basically I just wanted some way to get others thoughts without looking at quality of writing. Originally I had simply made assumptions that people don't like this but are ok with that description. I was hoping to get something more reliable than me guessing.

I haven't voted in the poll for the reasons mentioned above regarding quantity vs quality. Also, I chose not to vote as protest against the repeated misspelling of "description."

Thats embarrassing. In my defense, I haven't really spoken English in 3 years now, I've noticed that I'm starting to spell and structure the English syntax in a similar way to what I'm speaking over here. These mistakes are poking up more and more, sorry.
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Myth Weaver
My issue would not be stopping because it got to me, it would be because I got bored. Droning on and on about blood and gore details becomes nothing different to me than droning on and on about heraldry. I don't watch horror flicks because they bore me for the most part and are a waste of time. Dramatically speaking, movies and books that leave more to the imagination are more intense... particularly in lit. Even with lengthy torture scenes, which can be downright disturbing in a movie, in a book they're ink and become blah blah blah, the point is the story for me.

I guess you could say, if you get down to pointless minutia in anything, violence, sex, heraldry (yes picking on GRRM with that) I will skim. I bore easily.

An interested related question might be sex scenes... I skim or skip them entirely, I just don't give a crape.

Deleted member 4265

I find this impossible to answer because I deal with certain kinds of violence differently. For example overly graphic combat violence can be a bit boring, and perhaps even disturbing, but its never made me stop reading a book. I don't enjoy overly long, unnecessary descriptions of blood and gore, but it doesn't actually bother me.

On the other hand I have a very low tolerance for how graphic torture or of people healing others. (I'm totally okay with gory battle scenes but the moment you start talking in detail about cleaning and stitching wounds it makes me uncomfortable).

I think the tone of the story has a lot to do with what I will tolerate. The level of violence has to seem completely necessary and serve a purpose in the story. So yes, I could theoretically read something with a level 10 of violence, but the kind of story that needs that doesn't seem like one I would want to read. The story's I do read tend to be in a 7-8 range.


I voted for 7, partially for the balance of things and partially for the realism aspect.

By no means am I going to shy away from gore in writing. If it comes in buckets and buckets (or any ridiculous amount) I'm definitely going to start questioning the narration and maybe break out of immersion. I think my main issue here is that if I'm reading a battle scene from a character POV who's fighting, I want it to read like they're in the battle. And to me this means that they're killing and maiming indiscriminately, they're struggling to survive, they're killing so they won't be killed, and they're doing this fast. This means that if they're hacking and slashing, they don't have time to use a page describing the nuances of brain matter, or the way intestines fly through the sky like autumn leaves.

They have time to stab and block, parry and slash. They have time to feel the blood and bile pour over their hand, to hear the screams, smell the offal, and see a comrade get skewered. If there's a break, maybe they have time to vomit and take a paragraph to justify the killing. If not, they push forward and maybe weep a little.

The only time I had to step back was in the MBotF, when a guy had his skull split open and he was lying on the battlefield poking his brains until everything went black. Can't get that image out of my head...


Queen of Titania
Hi everyone.

This is a tricky question to answer. I think that descriptions of fights, battle and war are sometimes necessary in many Fantasy stories, so it would be very hard to avoid those situations completely. However, a good Storyteller can use the violence ingredients wisely and to great effect in a story without exaggerating things.

I can accept high levels of violence and graphic deaths in war scenes, for example. In my opinion such descriptions need to be justifiable by story circumstances, and if you do it well then it works fine.

In the other hand, a story that describes in gory detail the death of a character when the graphic stuff is not really necessary comes across as gratuitous violence... That's what I would call cheap shock value, and it's nothing but a device intended to shock the readers and make your setting a darker place.

Instead of shocking it can become simply disgusting, and even distasteful not to say worse things.

After watching some gory scenes from the Game of Thrones series, I was reminded of the Happy Tree Friends animated series. The old Braveheart movie comes to my mind also, not to mention the original Mortal Kombat game. HTF does it for comedic purposes because the deaths happen to sweet animated characters, and the gore is acceptable in Braveheart because they are battle scenes after all.

The problem with Game of Thrones (and other Fantasy out there) is that they do it as shock value and also because it's supposed to be so adult and realistic, but to me it only comes across as cheap and disgusting.

In one of my stories, I have two Mage siblings that are very psychopathic and evil.

Alice loves to throw innocent people into wolf pits and watch as they get devoured alive. She also tortures people into insanity, and has a strong affinity for drinking blood even though she is not a vampire... Aycell is known to use his monstrous strength for dismembering people limb by limb before he finally takes off their heads, and then he eats as much as he can from the remains.

And... guess what? In the story itself, they are never seen doing those things.

I know what Alice and Aycell do to people, I know how many people they have tortured and killed. However I do not show it directly because it would serve no purpose in the story, and I think that it would be terrible taste to show their favorite activities in graphic detail only to try to shock my readers like it's done in other Fantasy stories.

To conclude my post: Graphic violence is fine in the right circumstances, but if you abuse it then it's a really bad thing.


For me, it depends on whose point of view I am using. If I am writing from the point of view of a pacifist, of course he will turn away upon the sight of the first drop of blood. If I am writing from the point of view of a sadist, then he will savour every millisecond of it. Same thing if I am reading. Take Harry Potter for example. If I am reading a chapter from the Bellatrix's point of view, then I will digest every fiber of her sadism and inflicted pain. If I am reading from Collin Creevey's point of view though, then I can forgive him turning away at the slightest injury. I'm very flexible when it comes to these things.


Some good points have already been made.
Like a few of the posters above, I can't make a general statement about the leven of violence I can tolerate. The strength of my reactions varies considerably between different forms of violence and injury. For some reason, I'm rather sqeamish about everything eye-related for example. I don't think this should effect an author's choice though and I also don't think I have a right not to be made uncomfortable by something I read.

I agree with the statement that it's erroneous to assume that long descriptions of graphic violence are automatically more interesting than long descriptions of things such as meals or the countryside. Especially in the middle of a combat situation wasting too much time on the gory details slows the story down and takes away suspense maybe adding nausea in return but that's not a good exchange. In a story meant to be realistic, the suffering and dying can't be ignored or suger-coated either though. Pacing and focusing on the things the character would actually notice are the key here.
If the treatment of a character's severe injuries and the question if he will survive them or not is an important part of the plot, more detail can be the right choice but a two-hour long description of the two-hour long death of a side character who's mainly there to die anyway doesn't add much.

A story which feels like some vegan-made slaughterhouse report meant to discourage viewers from eating meat isn't helpful in a story and adding more details doesn't automatically make anything better of more mature. As mentioned before, leaving some things to the readers' imagination can be more powerful if used under the right circumstances.