Monday, December 1, 2014

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #305 -- Making Violence Resonate

How do you convey violence in your writing in a way 
that makes it resonate with readers and truly affect them?

There are a few tricks (though I prefer to call them techniques) I use to make my violent scenes connect with readers. Among them:

  • I adjust my sentence length to make the violence felt, using longer sentences to set up the punch of the shorter ones. Just like a fight is a dance, the words and phrases used to reveal the fight can be a dance too. 
  • I listen to the sounds (i.e. the poetry) of the language during the scene. I've said it before that soft sounds flow softly, meandering zealously for miles, and hard sounds hit like a brick, stopping readers abruptly and forcing them to slow down and feel each beat. (Hear what I did there?)
  • I aim for visceral word choices in my nouns and adjectives (and tend to try to avoid adverbs during violence since they are weaker word choices typically). I prefer words that touch the senses through not only sight and sound, but also through smell, touch, and taste as much as I can get away with. And combinations of them can be doubly effective.
  • I like the mix the familiar with the unfamiliar. For example hit like a brick is a common way of describing a punch, but combining it with a follow-sentence about the mash potato mush that the brick made of my face reinforces one without letting it slide into complete cliche. Plus it's very specific, which always helps. 
  • I know when to stop. Too much is too much. Take your readers to the edge, but don't step over. Let them do that for themselves. 
  • It sounds like the opposite advice, but I also have to know when not to stop. My job is to take the reader a little farther than he or she is comfortable, to make him or her face that unknown (or sometimes known) that incites an emotional reaction.

Hope all that helps. Happy writing.

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