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Monday, November 25, 2013

Tricks to Make Violence More Intense

Picture Credit: http://www.nytimes.com/
Back in September I wrote a posting on what to consider before adding violence to a book. You can view that blog posting here.

I decided to follow up on that posting by giving tips on how to add intensity to the violence you use.

I'm not going to re-hash everything I wrote in the last posting, but I think it'd be worthwhile to at least take another look at the definition of violence.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines violence as:

  1. exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse 
  2. injury by or as if by distortion, infringement, or profanation
  3. intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force 
  4. vehement feeling or expression
  5. a clashing or jarring quality
  6. undue alteration

Basically, violence is any speech, action, or threatened action that has the potential to cause harm. With this definition, you will see that most non-fiction and almost all fiction has some level of violence in it. Once you have determined the extent of violence you want to present in your book, you next need to look at how to bring out the level of intensity that you are looking for. You can do that by mixing the following tricks:

  • Speed of time
    • Scenes with violence can slow down to show a blow-by-blow account or speed up to show how a stretch of violence (think battle or extended fight) affects a character. Most scenes that contain a lot of violence, such as a battle, will alternate between slowing way down and then speeding up again.
  • Motivation
    • Pay attention to why your characters are fighting. Motivation will not be the same for every character and that will make their fighting different. For example, a hired gun will not stick out a fight like a person defending something he or she cares deeply about. Know how far your characters will go and at what point they will turn and run.
  • Avoid passive sentences
    • It's generally best to keep passive sentences to a minimum. They have their uses, but they can be red flags. But, fighting and violence is  always active. Do not use passive sentences in a violent scene. 
  • Use strong verbs
    • Spend time evaluating your verbs. How big of a picture do they create? Can you replace any of them to show more emotion? These scenes have room for tons of emotions to cover the page--fear, sorrow, hate, disgust, confusion--the list could keep going. Brainstorm to see if you can get more onto the page with your verbs.
    • BUT don't use unfamiliar verbs. This is the last place you want to be showing off an unusual vocabulary. It will only slow down the reading. A slower scene is less intense.
  • Action first, then reaction
    • The easiest way to explain this one is with an example. 
      • Wrong: His head snapped back when she punched him.
      • Right: She punched him and his head snapped back.
    • If you put the reaction before the action, it takes the reader just a little more thought to piece the story together. In an action scene this extra thought slows down the reading, which in turn makes the scene less intense.
  • Short sentences
    • This goes back to the idea of making the reader's pace pick up. Short sentences will add to the speed and intensity. They also can portray the fact that the characters are in a high-emotion state and are thinking a little more jerkily than normal.
  • Choreograph
    • If the fight starts inside of a house, don't suddenly have the character outside. Know where every character is throughout the fight and clue the reader into movements, otherwise you'll lose the reader. You really do want to choreograph it out--arrows on a sketched map are enough--but your characters' surroundings should be an important part of the violence. 
  • Give details
    • Don't skimp here. Violence should be heavy action with just a peppering of character thoughts. Let readers know what is going on. They want the major movements (so far as the main character is capable of seeing) and they want the movements of individuals. Yet, don't dump information. Make the description you use meaningful by making sure you find the things that pull the strongest at the characters' emotions.
    • Think the fight out until you can visualize it. Then describe all the parts that stand out most for the character. You can do this in a way that shows what the character is thinking without specifically saying it. In a battle do her eyes keep shifting to the blood and the growing pile of dead? Or does he notice the endless stream of the enemy and the way they rush? Is your character callous to it or are all the images new?
  • Only apply immediate feelings to small specifics
    • A continual reminder that a man doesn't like a battle is okay, but it will be much more memorable if you assign a specific reaction to the look in his enemy's eyes, or to the feel of slicing into someone, or to the sound or smell of blood spurting from a wound. You get the idea. Don't forget to feed these little specific feelings into the whole scene. They won't get old as long as you don't run out of ideas because you're not saying the same thing over again.
  • Dialogue
    • Adding a little dialogue can help, but don't spend time on long conversations. We're talking about a word or short sentence here and there. Speech should accent what is happening, not interrupt it.


  1. Ah violence. It used to be a killer for me. Shorter sentences help, definitely. Thanks for writing this post. It'll help the next batch of epic action scenes I get to write. =D

  2. I agree. It's more tricky than it sounds to make action scenes as intense as you want. But I'm excited to read your next book--you do well with your epic action scenes. :)

  3. These sound like excellent tips for writers who are writing violence scenes. Your advice is clear and it all makes sense to me! Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. Thanks for following me Jess! I'm glad my tips were helpful. It was good to hear from you.

  4. Hey Rachel, Kristen Cox here.
    I've moved to a new blog (which is why nothing has appeared on my old one) I wanted a fresh new start with my real name
    Here's my new blog if you want to see it

    1. Great! I'll check your blog out. Would you believe I just posted a comment on your old blog saying that I need a link to your new one?