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Queshire

Auror
Mmm.... I dunno. There's nothing wrong with exploring that stuff, but considering the biggest influence on me it generally comes down to not having a story if they don't.
 

pmmg

Vala
Violence is a tool. It may be the last refuge of the incompetent, but it may also be the only one that fits the need, competent or not. Violence can be wielded both wisely and unwisely as situations merit. I'll have to depart with Mr. Asimov on that one. While some violence would seem, and may be, senseless, some violence has a lot of reasoning behind it, and the reasons matter. Violence is sometimes the most, and maybe only, appropriate tool for addressing the problem at hand.

Any blanket statement about it would be difficult to defend. It may be undesired by many, but it may also be just what is needed.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
>someone who has seen a lot of violence might be so accustomed to violence and hence so unfeeling about it that they don't even think twice about using violence, much less think about about the consequences.

Here again I think of Simplicissimus. The mercenaries who spend whole decades under arms, with pretty much annual destruction of communities, became notorious for their unfeeling violence. That certainly implies a level of consuetude.

The brothers-in-arms angle is another that interests me. We see loyalty expressed in Roman legions--consciously cultivated from at least the time of Marius. There can be a feeling of acceptance and understanding even when it's between men who've never met. They're simply both veterans. Maybe both served under the same standard. In other life circumstances, they might be indifferent or even hostile to each other, but this common experience binds them.

IOW, there are some positive aspects to the common experience of battle. Whatever angles a writer chooses to pursue, I think we'd be wrong to overlook the effects upon mages who have been in war.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
>someone who has seen a lot of violence might be so accustomed to violence and hence so unfeeling about it that they don't even think twice about using violence, much less think about about the consequences.

Here again I think of Simplicissimus. The mercenaries who spend whole decades under arms, with pretty much annual destruction of communities, became notorious for their unfeeling violence. That certainly implies a level of consuetude.
It may have been "accepted" in older times, but these days it isn't. In modern research terms it's usually regarded as a form of coping mechanism for cumulative combat stress.

The brothers-in-arms angle is another that interests me. We see loyalty expressed in Roman legions--consciously cultivated from at least the time of Marius. There can be a feeling of acceptance and understanding even when it's between men who've never met. They're simply both veterans. Maybe both served under the same standard. In other life circumstances, they might be indifferent or even hostile to each other, but this common experience binds them.
This is something which military training encourages. It isn't a new idea at all, in fact it goes back to Ancient Greece, where experience showed that building a group identity (think of the Spartans) gave a more effective fighting force. That written, experience and modern research also show that in such a tight knit group severe losses can have a disproportionate effect on moral and combat effectiveness.

IOW, there are some positive aspects to the common experience of battle.
Speaking from personal experience of combat, the only positive aspects are my ability to use those experiences in my writing. The other aspects (the memories and the PTSD in particular) are things I can live without.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
On the positive side I was thinking specifically of camaraderie. I wasn't saying positive aspects to experiencing battle, but of the common experience of same, of having gone through something difficult together. And very likely that camaraderie was due to more than combat-related matters. There's simply being on the march together, or being posted somewhere. A few years on Hadrian's Wall and they would all have that in common

When we write about wizards, they're rarely in groups, even though it would make sense to assemble a unit of battlemages. No doubt they would have their own sense of identity, separate from "regular" soldiers. Their whole experience would be different.

But I'm heading in a direction different from the OP, so I'll stop there.
 

pmmg

Vala
I dont know why wizards would be immune. Would not fireballs be similar to dropping bombs? and more up and personal killings would still be up close and personal? and anyone entering a bad place would see a lot of horrors. Its not just combatants who would be susceptible to it.
 

Nighty_Knight

Troubadour
OMG. What a question to ask a veteran with PTSD. But you asked in good faith so I'll do my best to answer.

People become very detached, almost nihilistic in some cases. They don't seem to relate to anything, just sort of sit staring. If you can get them to do things thye have trouble concentrating, or they seem very tired, like it's all been too much. You have to sort of lead them by the hand because they don't always seem to be able to prioritise things, or they focus on small things. They can get sudden mood swings, and some sounds or events will trigger almost panic reactions in them. I have a friend who stills dives under a table if he hears a sound like a car backfiring. Nightmares are common - I still get them, waking up soaked in sweat in the middle of the night. Anxiety and distrust, irritability, and a desire for very fixed routines. Being very tense, almost hypervigilant, never able to relax. Insomnia - I sometimes don't sleep. Very restless sleep. Flashbacks - oh how I hate them, but still they happen. And some develop acohol problems.

And also, sometimes, an acceptance of violence and methods that in other circumstances they would have reacted against. Things like walking up to a captured enemy soldier, cutting their d*** and b**** off and then leaving them to bleed to death. A willingness to be at least as nasty to the enemy as the enemy were to them. There's also a lingering sense of hatred and a desire for revenge. Old tales get told, of how great great grandfather helped beat them last time, and what he did to them. And the spiral just goes on, usually downwards. You get domestic violence too, people seem to sort of react with violence in situations where before they'd have talked it through. Casual violence and harsh punishments seem more common, like the rules of society have take a 400 year step back.

Children aren't children any more, they seem grown up and somehow responsible. But they also seem a bit lost, like there's something missing from them. And they can never quite go back to being children, even when they're not yet 14. When a child has had to take charge of others, has been a leader, they grow up in a way which stops them ever going back.

But also, an acceptance of other veterans and their behaviour without even batting an eyelid. There can be a sense of brotherhood, and sense that you all understand one another. Those who haven't been there don't understand (and that isn't criticism).

I don't know if this makes sense?
Pretty accurate, much from personal experiences. Also a vet here. USMC grunt and 3 combat tours.
 

Nighty_Knight

Troubadour
Speaking from personal experience of combat, the only positive aspects are my ability to use those experiences in my writing. The other aspects (the memories and the PTSD in particular) are things I can live without.
I can add to this from my own experience. It now helps with my job. I’m now a firefighter and EMT. I’m used to dealing with the pressure as well as things going wrong. Same with doing trauma as an emt, I don’t really get phased when I see it. That’s everything from vehicle accidents to gunshot wounds. PTSD, I agree, would be happier without it.
 
@Mad Swede bring up the issue of effects, which in turn brought to mind my own interest as a historian in this question. The 20thc effects (and 21st, now ... congratulations, humankind!) of combat have been well documented, but much less so have earlier centuries. I wonder if anyone knows of some scholarly work on the topic.

I don't know of scholarly articles, but I remember Dan Carlin of the Hardcore History podcast talking about this in his Kings of Kings series on the Persian Empire. Or maybe it was one of his other series; I've listened to so many.

Basically, it was lots of PTSD. A lot of accounts of soldiers drinking heavily before battle, nightmares for years, etc. Carlin basically said to imagine yourself there. The opponent is right in front of you running toward you—not some distance away falling to bullets and shells—and you have to pierce his body with sharp instruments, face to face, when he reaches you, while seeing exactly this happening to your mates on every side. There were accounts of fields and streams literally red with blood, and sometimes no way to walk without stepping on bodies. Guts falling out. And on and on.

I think some things in the cultures helped those ancient soldiers deal with their sort of brutal, up-close warfare. After all, what I've just described had been the case for generations. Even so, such memories do not disappear.
 

Aldarion

Inkling
I'm about to post an article on my blog about the utility of violence in a story. What is the point of it in a story? What is considered "good" or functional violence and what is considered "bad" or gratuitous violence? My opinion is that violence serves the same purpose as dialog: ideas are communicated between two parties who hold opposing views. Words have failed and violence replaces it.

There are other forms of functional violence, such as establishing tone, but these expressions are usually divisive and alienate many readers. Look at GoT, or the recent House of the Dragon episode. These shows attract a larger viewership, despite the presence of abundant violence. I think these shows (and the books they're based on), use violence in the "good" or functional form.

So, what are your opinions on violence in a story? What is good and what is bad? Do you tend to write a story with abundant violence, or do you like to scale it back? What guidelines do you use when dealing with violence in your stories?
Violence can be good for a story, but it must never be there for its own sake. I mean, fact is that human history had been shaped by warfare and that warfare and intelligence go hand-in-hand. This however also means that a) warfare usually has a purpose - it is not violence for its own sake and b) as warfare becomes more destructive, so do systems designed to prevent or limit impact of warfare become more complex. Diplomacy developed fundamentally to stop people from killing each other.

But yes, you are correct about violence being essentially a form of dialogue, be it between individuals or between societies. And that is something that must be kept in mind, otherwise you, as noted, will alienate audience - violence has to have purpose in the story.
 
As I've been including violence in my stories, I've come to realise two things about it.

The first is that we accept violence too easily from the protagonist. There's a guard in the way? Just stab him or slit his throat. That sort of thing. It's morally grey when you think about it, but most people never do. We often easily accept that a protagonist will do what needs doing to realise his goals, even if in real life we would find that sort of behavior terrible.

The other is that violence is often too easy an answer. It follows a bit on the first part. Namely, it's very easy to have your character fight his way into a room or overcome some guards or face the badguys. It's a lot harder to come up with alternative solutions. But that also makes it more satisfying to read. A fight scene can quickly get boring, especially if you have multiple of them in a book. In a film, it can be visually appealing, and there are even films where the whole point is the fights. But they don't work in a book. There are only so many ways you can punch someone after all.

So, given the types of stories fantasy often tells, violence is inevitable. But limiting it, and actually thinking about what it means to the character can often make for better writing. And that's without even going into PTSD. But just wondering if your character would actually harm someone just to achieve goal X is worth it. We're writing about life, not about a computer game (in most cases at least, if you're writing a DOOM litrpg, then go for it).
 

Ankari

Hero Breaker
Moderator
Violence can be good for a story, but it must never be there for its own sake.

I mostly agree with this. I think a better phrase I'd go by is violence cannot be meaningless. The question I originally posed is what is considered meaningful expressions of violence and what is meaningless?
 

Aldarion

Inkling
I mostly agree with this. I think a better phrase I'd go by is violence cannot be meaningless. The question I originally posed is what is considered meaningful expressions of violence and what is meaningless?
Basically, meaningless violence is when violence is there for shock value or to "pad the story", so to speak. Violence should be used to either 1) move the plot forward, 2) develop a character, 3) show something about the character.
 

Miles Lacey

Maester
My problem isn't with the use of violence in fiction in itself. Unless I'm reading a Harlequin romance or young adult novel I feel downright cheated if there isn't at least one dead body by the end of the first chapter. If the deceased died a horrible death it just makes things more interesting.

What I don't like is the use of sadistic or sexual violence to justify totally amoral or unethical behaviour by the protagonist or to establish the evil credentials of the antagonist (unless it's a thriller or horror novel in which case I am willing to tolerate such things as long as it's not too graphic).

Almost as bad are writers who attribute sadistic or similar acts of graphic violence to stereotyped antagonists of a particular ethnicity (e.g. the Black gangster), faith (e.g. the Muslim terrorist), socio-economic class (e.g. the poor white trash or welfare bludging non-white child abuser and wife beater) or whomever the Americans or the West in general doesn't like right now (e.g. the Russian gangster or corrupt oligarch).

In my work in progress my protagonist actively avoids using violence if she can because she's an unranked mage who knows how dangerous rage or anger driven magic can be. On those rare occasions she does resort to violence she doesn't play by Queensbury rules and she only uses magic once or twice. Her aim when using violence is to send a message to someone that she's not to be messed with or to take that person out of action long enough so she can do what she has to (such as get as far away from them as possible).

The antagonist is a person for whom the use of violence is part of his job description. He is with Branch IX of the Ministry of Internal Security which is a cross between the Spanish Inquisition and the East German Stasi (secret police). He has no qualms about using violence but he sees it as a means of obtaining information, punishing those whom he deems to be enemies of the state or terrorising them into becoming informants for the Ministry of Internal Security. However, it's when he starts using violence outside of the perimeters permitted by the laws of the land that ultimately leads to his demise.

The Mad Swede's comments about how fiction often downplays or even ignores the consequences of violence (such as PTSD) gave me an idea of how to conclude my work in progress. If I decide to kill off the antagonist my protagonist will be plagued by nightmares based on the guilt she feels about his death and the price paid by herself and her companions was really worth it. If he lives she will question if the achievement of her goal was really worth the price she (and the others with her) paid for it. I believe the term used to describe this is a Pyrrhic victory?

Well, enough rambling from me!
 

pmmg

Vala
Basically, meaningless violence is when violence is there for shock value or to "pad the story", so to speak. Violence should be used to either 1) move the plot forward, 2) develop a character, 3) show something about the character.
I think this is a phantom concern. I think authors include violence for exactly those reasons. It may not execute well, but they did mean something by it.

I like the world unfiltered. Violence and rapes and all sort of bad things dont bother me if i think they are likely. I am bothered when they are excluded but the likeliness is high. What i really dont like is things that make me go bullsh*t over the events, but that goes beyond violence. (All in the context of a story of course.)

Bad guys come in all flavors. I just look for what is likely, what is true, and give the story what it needs.
 

pmmg

Vala
Just to clarify further, as I look out into the world, I see plenty of violence that is senseless, seemingly random, hateful, and sometimes evil. Much of that may even be in a category of meaningless, but I am not sure if I can go that far. In writing though, we are not following just anyone, we are following characters who are doing story important stuff, usually dangerous, and so violence and bad things are more likely for them. Violence in the story is there to help tell the story in some regard, so it may show a character as doing senseless stuff, but maybe not really meaningless stuff. The author is trying to show something by including it. So my measure is more of is it BS? Cause if I get into that category of no one would do this, or this does not track with what I know about the characters, I start to question to credibility of the story or the author.

Many good guys in stories are plenty violent, and in the real world, that ought to make one question, but in the story context, particularly fantasy, where good and evil are often diametrically opposed, violence fits better into the set of acceptable solutions to many of the problems. Dark Lords and their minions usually have violent ends. Protagonists also tend to attract those who want to do them harm, so the frequency of need for violence also rises. It just kind of goes with the territory of fantasy fiction.
 

Ankari

Hero Breaker
Moderator
It just kind of goes with the territory of fantasy fiction.

For sure. Violence is a staple in many works of fantasy.

I think I'm not representing my thoughts properly. I've been a D&D DM for thirty years (off and on). Every now and then, I'll watch someone's campaign online (currently watching Viva La Dirt League D&D). When combat happens, there are two ways for it to play out. One is when the players roll for attack and damage, the DM rolls for the monster's attack and damage, and the battle ends by who is the luckiest. The other way is when a story is made around the encounter. The characters are vested in the consequences of the encounter.

(I mention the channel I'm watching because you can see evidence of both types of player investment.)

Both are violent. One is meaningless and the other is meaningful.

Stories can have both kinds of violence. A character who kills without any residual consequences, feels empty. It feels meaningless. Just like the first example of the D&D encounter. It's ho-hum, boring.

Continuing on with that example, the DM may think by adding more encounters he's spicing up his game. He may think the narrative is dynamic and unpredictable. But violence isn't the answer to the problem of a boring game. It's the underpinnings beneath the story. It's the meaning bolstering the reason for violence.
 

pmmg

Vala
Sounds like you want a discussion on raising the stakes and getting people invested in the outcomes of the story. To which, I think it all begins with character. Hook me into the character and their problems and I am with them when things get crazy and violent. If I am hooked and invested in the character, then the stakes can be raised, and the character to came to face more peril, and more struggle, and I'll care. I dont really care if a character I like ever gets into a fight, but if they do, I want to believe the reasons make sense. If they get into a climatic battle, I hope the stakes of the battle match the climatic nature of it.
 

Queshire

Auror
For sure. Violence is a staple in many works of fantasy.

I think I'm not representing my thoughts properly. I've been a D&D DM for thirty years (off and on). Every now and then, I'll watch someone's campaign online (currently watching Viva La Dirt League D&D). When combat happens, there are two ways for it to play out. One is when the players roll for attack and damage, the DM rolls for the monster's attack and damage, and the battle ends by who is the luckiest. The other way is when a story is made around the encounter. The characters are vested in the consequences of the encounter.

(I mention the channel I'm watching because you can see evidence of both types of player investment.)

Both are violent. One is meaningless and the other is meaningful.

Stories can have both kinds of violence. A character who kills without any residual consequences, feels empty. It feels meaningless. Just like the first example of the D&D encounter. It's ho-hum, boring.

Continuing on with that example, the DM may think by adding more encounters he's spicing up his game. He may think the narrative is dynamic and unpredictable. But violence isn't the answer to the problem of a boring game. It's the underpinnings beneath the story. It's the meaning bolstering the reason for violence.

Not that I disagree, but I wouldn't recommend using that example in the article. Different players have different desires. What's meaningless violence to you might be a chance for another to blow off stream after a hard day at work by having Thogg the Barbarian slaughter a horde of pretend goblins or a way for another player to put their theories about a certain combination of feats & abilities to the test. How that translates to us writers though? Not a clue.
 
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