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I'm a big fan of stylized violence and of absurdity. I've watched the two Kill Bill movies multiple times and will undoubtedly watch them many more if I don't drop dead tomorrow. I thought Deadpool was great fun every time I watched it. I'm a huge fan of The Boys also. Invincible is also great fun. I think The Boys and Invincible are better satire than Deadpool. (Kill Bill was not satire but rather something else, akin to the glorification of—not violence, but the love of over-the-top violence.) I have a large library of DvDs and Blu-rays that would show how much I love this sort of thing, heh. I haven't even started listing anime series.

In these cases, I think the visual medium is a huge help. I know I have occasionally encountered something similar in a novel and enjoyed it—but not so often and not so easily. (I mean the level, frequency and incidence of violence those movies and shows utilize.)

I could more easily pinpoint specific violent actions and events from novels that gave me pretty much the same feeling I get from seeing the violence used in those examples from the cinema and television, even if not the same style of violence.

I'm a fan of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin effect: When a character slowly levels up, I see or at least sense this happening, and then BOOM! the character displays masterful killing or destructive skills.

Sure, important character development will seem meaningful. Masterfully, brilliantly killing the bad guy will be meaningful if everything leading up to that has prepared us for the payoff.

But Kill Bill definitely prepared us. Should I say, conditioned us? Our ability to love The Bride or Deadpool allows us to feel as if the absurd over-the-top violence is quite meaningful in context. The Boys' nearly X-rated level of violence is important to the story it is telling, but I wonder if most viewers have stopped seeing it as satire at this point.

I think the problem is this: Defining what is meaningful in a forum thread is almost a fool's game. You can design a story with a general idea of who the audience will be and construct the story in a way that will make what happens in it meaningful; then someone you never imagined in your audience will encounter your carefully spun cotton candy and hate it. Or, love it. Who knows?

Today the trailer for Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey dropped. This feels germane.
 

pmmg

Istar
Just gonna say, the boys is way gory. I think it says something when the MC says he just wants to go to work and not get spattered with blood...and then he does not make it through the day with a good drenching. I'm not sure how long I will stick with the boys. Its way up there. Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey better not disappoint.
 
Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey will be a horrible movie. Probably lots of fun for some. A YouTuber I occasionally watch said he's heard a story that the film was made in ten days on a very shoestring budget. Heh. I mean, yes, I do love absurd things, but sometimes only very briefly.
 

pmmg

Istar
Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey will be a horrible movie. Probably lots of fun for some. A YouTuber I occasionally watch said he's heard a story that the film was made in ten days on a very shoestring budget. Heh. I mean, yes, I do love absurd things, but sometimes only very briefly.
I thought it was a joke. Its a real movie? Uh...I dont know. I am not watching much these days. Just trying to move the story along. Not much in the way of violence at present.
 

pmmg

Istar
Probably should start a new thread for movies, but Yikes.... It is real. Don't know if or when I will see that one.
 
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.

For me, the central issue is the fantastic quality of it.

Violence in fantasy is not real violence. I'm afraid of trying to describe what it is, heh, because I suspect it can take many forms. Sometimes for me, violence in a story is like a necessary variable in a mathematical equation. It stands for something. But...what?

Sometimes it stands for a character trait; I am learning something about the character who uses violence—or who is a victim of it, or who is witnessing it.

Sometimes it stands for a milieu trait. Is this the sort of world where pouring boiling oil on those trying to ascend castle walls happens? Or is this the sort of world (or castle, realm) that only shoots arrows? Heh. On the one hand this may seem trivial. Perhaps it's a world that throws large stones down on those attackers. Or shoots bolts of lightning. How much does this matter? It matters because this is a "real" world (not really) so it's A, B, or C for sure and I just don't know which until I'm told. I suppose this means violence can put some things into sharp relief. If so, then cleverness in the deployment of violence can help to shape a more memorable milieu.

Sometimes it stands for righteousness or depravity, as you've said. Saving the cat or kicking the dog can signal something important about a character or a milieu.

Which is winning, righteousness or depravity—at any given point?

Sometimes it stands for a road sign. What are the current stakes? Now, later, what are the current stakes? Are we near or far from the end of the story? If an important character is being killed, how does that signal where we are in the overall plot? Rising tension? What leads from that? What effect do violent events have on the pacing? (I wonder if some of the negative experiences of reading violent events relate specifically to these questions more than our lack of relationship to a character involved in those violent events.)

I guess the list could go on. I'm more or less in a position of trying to defend, by explaining, my appreciation of violence. If it were real violence, I'd feel quite different. But on that note: To what degree do readers of fantasy come to the story wishing to be in an unreal environment, and to what degree does the presence of violence help them to feel they have successfully entered that environment?
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
>To what degree do readers of fantasy come to the story wishing to be in an unreal environment
Surely there are as many answers to this as there are readers. Ditto for the second half of the question.

Another way to approach it is this (just happens to be my approach, which makes it the correct one <g>): I decide. For me. When I come into a story, I'm just waiting to be told a story. There are a hundred things that will drive me out, and maybe a score that will pull me in. Any single story is going to have some of both; indeed, every scene in every story has the potential to pull or push.

And I'm dreadfully unfair to the author. I might be reading while I'm tired. Or distracted. Or sick. I might be reading bright-eyed and eager. The text is the same, but the reader isn't.

How the heck is an author supposed to deal with that? As an author, I don't. I please *me*. Do I think what I'm writing is good (with all that adjective entails)? As I'm inventing a tale, drafting it, editing it, this is all I can control, all I can speak to. The more books I write, the more comfortable I feel with my judgment. I well recall, and try deliberately to recall, how very unsure I was on the first novel. How in need I was of guidance on things where I either didn't really need it or genuine guidance couldn't really be given. But boy howdy I was anxious!

So it is with this matter of violence and what draws a reader in. At this point, I sort of don't care (unless my beta readers raise a flag). As I see where violence is likely to occur, or could occur, in a story, I do think about how far to go, how graphic, how detailed. It's always a combination of objective and subjective judgment. The violence has to be in line with what has come before and will come after. It can't strike a false note. But the details, the flourishes, are almost entirely subjective and in the moment, and these can open up insights into character or into pacing and plot. Or both!
 

Ankari

Hero Breaker
Moderator
The violence has to be in line with what has come before and will come after. It can't strike a false note. But the details, the flourishes, are almost entirely subjective and in the moment, and these can open up insights into character or into pacing and plot.

There are two separate thoughts in this reply.

1) The usage of violence. (Things the author needs to consider like should it be in their book at all. How does it change the story? Is violence a shorthand for plot or an expression of the character's personality? And so on).
2) The manifestation of it on the pages (quality, quantity, etc.).

These points are how I look at violence. I'm also interested if other authors see it the same as I do.


I'm more concerned with the former. Also, another point you raised:

The more books I write, the more comfortable I feel with my judgment.

This judgment is what I'm addressing. When an author writes a book, what does their judgment say on matter of the usage of violence in a work? Since you can't answer for all writers, I'm asking for a consensus of what every writer here thinks on the matter of violence. What guides them in their usage of it.

Even as I write this reply, I'm chewing over everyone's comments and processing them to better understand how a wider population experiences these issues.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
Characters dealing with the consequences of violence is a central theme in my 'Empire' series. Two of the central characters are veterans of a devastating war; one deals with what we would term 'post-traumatic stress' (initially through alcohol) while the other simply doesn't know any other way of life and struggles to adapt to a peacetime existence.
 

pmmg

Istar
For myself, I want the combat to seem real, and believable, accepting that there are some fantasy elements to it.

For the most part the bigger guys win, and fights are very brief. Anyone hit with anything does not stay standing for very long. I want the consequences to be real. People who get into fights are at risk, and bad things can happen to them. There is some degree of plot armor for some characters, but for them, I want it to still seem plausible.

I tend to focus on the reasons and reactions to violence, rather than the gore. Gore is there, people get splattered, but I dont dwell on it.

I dont like violence for no reason. When it occurs, I think the reader would understand the why.

I think violence in my stories fall into a category where just about anyone would have done the same given the circumstances. So its not really a surprise that it occurs.

I dont really focus on PTSD issues, people are still in their stressful situations. But all of them are not the same after things occurs. They all have some reaction to it.
 

pmmg

Istar
Additional thought, I dont really care for the fight scenes. I think they take up a lot of space, and the most relevant point to them is who won, and who got injured. The actual blow by blow is almost irrelevant.

I do use them to reveal the characters. I try to show who has skill and who does not, and allow for a type of ranking to occur if any wanted, but...more so, its along the lines of stay away from the ones who are good at it.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
I’ve been reading through this thread, and I have a lot of scattered thoughts I want to add.

First: Mad Swede, thank you for your post earlier, it struck me as both personal and accurate, and I found it helpful.

I find it helpful to draw a line between violence, and action. Violence feels real, and horrible, and sits with readers like a weight on the chest. Action is light, and the focus is on getting the blood pumping, and hitting all those gut instincts. It’s similar to what others have said about attitude and gore, but I find this line more functional.

For me, I often use action - often high on the magic and the fantasy - as a setup, and save violence for the payoff. As kind of an extreme example, I wrote a short story here years ago where the wizard switched from throwing fireballs to drawing a gun, and everything got real fast.

In my WIP, Smughitter, the two main character sprites are at odds, and their fights start with silly magical jinxes but end with drama and light violence. You see, I actually built that into the story’s action system. A victim of the Hapea/Shame curse has to be “prepped” with three jinxes first. Aliffe can only show up after the first jinx in her effort to save the victim by stopping the next two. The shift between light and serious is something I play with a lot in Smughitter.

A few other notes:

skip.knox, I’d be very curious to consider how much the background culture affected PTSD. Even death is something most historical cultures would’ve seen more of on a regular and public basis. But also, since most soldiers died of disease and malnutrition, I wonder if that changed the way it manifests.

Neither here nor there, but I sometimes wonder if the amount of action and violence we see on television makes us even more afraid of it, like it’s something we play games with, not something that’s supposed to be real.

Ankari, I DMed online games for years (years ago), and damnit, I had rules for myself for how I did battles. Every session had a battle, about 2-3 rounds (they took much longer online), and I joked that they were rigged, even though I usually didn’t think of my “out” until it was time to happen. Usually new info would come out, or they might take a hostage, or the villain gets away dramatically. It was never just mooks, I made sure of that. I almost wish I had time to recount some actual scenes.

To those suggesting that a lot of action and violence can’t be done well in a written medium, I think writers need to try harder because it absolutely can.

To those suggesting that PTSD and the aftermath of violence isn’t often shown, you can definitely find many good portrayals if you look outside the main action blockbusters.


It was Isaac Asimov (in one of the Foundation books) who wrote that violence was the last refuge of the incompetent. Whilst that's true up to a point it could equally be argued that only the incompetent wait until violence is the last resort, simply because then you only have one way out and both you and your opponent know it. So the build up to the use of violence also needs thinking about in a story, because it can determine how the use of violence works out for all concerned.

I think this is true for those who start the violence, but not for those who have no choice but to prepare for and respond to it.


To what degree do readers of fantasy come to the story wishing to be in an unreal environment, and to what degree does the presence of violence help them to feel they have successfully entered that environment?

I’ve known a lot of people who have faced personal hardships who like things light and fun, while many of the well to do privileged people I know want things violent and gritty. I don’t know if that’s a fair statement or if it’s too generalized, but it’s something that I feel like I’ve noticed a lot. And if you look at the Oscars or literary awards with this lens, it’s an instant WTF.


This judgment is what I'm addressing. When an author writes a book, what does their judgment say on matter of the usage of violence in a work? Since you can't answer for all writers, I'm asking for a consensus of what every writer here thinks on the matter of violence. What guides them in their usage of it.

Let me post you a quick excerpt from Smughitter. Haifen, a sprite, is explaining the infodump worldbuilding to a family that he’s staying with while holding up an illusion of it right in front of them. It’s pretty much an early theme statement that preps the reader for the nature of the action in the book:

Stones dropped from the map and vanished into the floor as the sprite children tore apart most of the castles across the map. Naked tiny humans ran wild into the woods, sobbed on the riverbanks, danced along fields of rotting grain, and pressed their lips to the quickthorn bushes. “For ninety years, the people of Crenifer lived lives of shame and shamelessness. Many just broke, while thousands upon thousands more spent their days attempting to swim naked while on the backs of dead sheep in dry fields because their minds were addled by our magic.”

Haifen gave them a moment for his words to set in.

Lecia snickered at a young man bathing in the shattered stones. Her mother hushed her.


“Just because it’s funny,” Grandfather Kratsfeld interrupted, “doesn’t make it less sad.”

You see, for me, the action system is a key part of the story. I didn’t just pick a page from a timeline of weapons and write down a list of spells. The more the story came together, the more clear it was what role the action plays, to the point where I now I have a statement to compare it to. Funny, but still sad.

And oh yeah, it’s a lot of fun to write. I mean, it’s still work. But damn it’s fun.
 
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Nighty_Knight

Minstrel
Additional thought, I dont really care for the fight scenes. I think they take up a lot of space, and the most relevant point to them is who won, and who got injured. The actual blow by blow is almost irrelevant.

I do use them to reveal the characters. I try to show who has skill and who does not, and allow for a type of ranking to occur if any wanted, but...more so, its along the lines of stay away from the ones who are good at it.
One thing is many people don’t know how to tell a story with a fight scene. Done right the fight itself tells a story. If not, it really is just a play by play for action.
 
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