RARA-AVIS: Re: Violence (was: Violent Saturday)

From: Al Guthrie ( allanguthrie@ukonline.co.uk)
Date: 26 May 2003

----- Original Message ----- From: "Robison Michael R CNIN" < Robison_M@crane.navy.mil>
> It's artsy to leave the violent part out and then just gradually
> fill the reader in on the details after the fact. I place the
> blame on Faulkner for popularizing the technique in SANCTUARY.
> Edward Anderson liked it and followed suit in THIEVES LIKE US.
> It's a delightful little game the writer plays with the reader.
> The reader endures endless talking and talking and talking and
> then something really wicked or exciting occurs but the only
> way you hear about it is through more talking and talking and...

Violence is difficult to write well. Ignoring the comedic approach ("hey, why you just shoot me in the leg, motherf*cker?") and the early hardboiled approach ("I clenched my jaw. The slug had ripped into my thigh. Fortunately, previous experience told me I'd have forgotten about it in ten minutes"), I can think of only three main methods of creating realistic fictional violence (I'm sure there are many more):

1: after the fact 2: overkill 3: reportorial

There are pros and cons to all of them. My preference is for the reportorial style, as employed to great effect by Charles Willeford. But it has its restrictions (for example, to report violence in this detached way makes it almost impossible for the point of view character to be the recipient of the act of violence). The best example of "overkill" I can think of is the climactic scene in John D. MacDonald's SLAM THE BIG DOOR which Kurt Vonnegut described as "a Beethoven's fifth for coroners and safety engineers." As for "after the fact" violence, sometimes it works. Other times it just seems like the writer is suffering from Big Scene phobia.


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