Violence, and Fiction

According to Wikipedia, Stoker’s Dracula is considered Gaslamp Fantasy. Someone needs to raise Mr. Stoker and tell him.

I did a little research on all that is “Steampunk,” taken from Cyberpunk, and there’s actually very little written on the subject, and IN the subject. Very little of note. I consider Jules Verne a steampunk writer, especially 20000 Leagues Under the Sea… You can’t tell me Nemo isn’t an antagonist fighting The Man.

My NaNo project falls under Gaslamp Phantasmagoria (fantasy), because I don’t lean on science and I don’t have clockwork chimneysweeps, which is apparently a requirement if you write le steam. Silly chimneysweeps.

I recently posted the first half of the first chapter of my unfinished novel on Critiquecircle, interested in seeing what people would say about it. 11 people have looked, 4 have critiqued, 3 have said, unequivocally, it’s crap because they have no idea what’s going on in the book. Point taken.

What surprised me is, two said the violence found within is unneeded and unnecessary. Which got me to thinking about violence, fiction, and violent gaslampy, historical fantasy. Is it truly unneeded?

I got my fantasy violence from Stephen King and Tolkien, and equal parts Max Payne (video games) and Dark Knight (movies). All the things a boy growing up in America sees, I saw, along with a fair amount of things that go bump in the night. I remember my second grade teacher telling me to write the worst nightmare down to tell the class. I wrote about my brothers being eaten alive by jackals in beds beside me while I listened, terrified. No. I had never seen a horror movie.

She asked me for my second-worst nightmare, which included an eyeball monster running around on the beach chasing me. Much more tame.

I’m not a violent person. I’m not prone to violence. I duck my head low, if things get iffy. I don’t pull out a switchblade or shotgun. So why do I write violence so frequently in my writing? Perhaps I’m entertained by violence, or spent a long time studying it. I find violence is a way of life earlier in our society, in many societies, and in spite of what common man thinks, the mid 1800’s was a place of more than anglophile Bostonites parading about to sexy parties and watching magicians. And those of the Dark Ages, after the final Crusade, were “worse” yet. Incorporate magic into the mix, allowing a woman to be as powerful as a man if she wished, incorporate guns and weaponry that further evens out the scales, and you get a powder keg.

Businessmen today talk proudly of how they study Sun Tzu’s Art of War to better subdue their business opponents.

I also write violence when I feel cornered by a plot. It’s an easy way out. He’s scared! Let him fight to survive! Words fail him, as they fail me! Let his/her/their fists do the talking! No Man Controls My Man/Woman/Team of Chimneysweeps.

I don’t believe a character has value to me in the story if he isn’t willing to fight. It’s ingrained. Every novel I’ve ever written has violence, cussing, and complicated subject matter–usually occultish or philosophical in nature. Writing about a guy living his life nominally, filling it with all the normal eureka moments every normal person has, bores me. I had those moments when I was young, before the age of thirteen. Sometimes I feel all the “growing up” realizations most people have in their twenties, thirties, etc., came when I was very, very young. We all die. Death is a part of life. People Are Gullible. There’s more to understanding the world than the scientific method.

Now the real life stuff I didn’t get until later: mom and dad were right, for instance. I should have studied harder to be an Engineer. I’m poor broke, still unemployed, studying the market for all those things needed to get a job.

Violence has never been a part of my external, day-to-day life. It’s rarely reared its head, ever: playground, soccer, argument with dad (which I lost miserably), bickering with brothers. All from 13 years and earlier–except for soccer.

So why is it so prevalent? It is my escapism, perhaps. I stare at my characters and have them do what I don’t (not won’t). Given the extraordinary circumstances imposed when a light helping of magic is introduced, I’d react in violence.

Men’s lives are built on violence. One’s ability to be respected rides on the ability to hurt, subdue, destroy.

Is the violence found in my Gaslamp Fantasy gratuitous? Is it needed?

My characters say yes. Absolutely. Violence has a place in all of it because they are imparting their wills against a society they aren’t a part of, against people used to winning and owning and controlling. Against police used to getting their way, always. Against powerful tycoons and miserable thugs. And in some cases, against a society that says women absolutely need to be heeled.

Very, very few people know magic in my book. Very, very few people are “good ol’ boys” in my book. The three I chose to save the world from total annihilation are three that must make choices most people wouldn’t.

But I agree with the critiquers, on a certain level: must all my characters be prone to violence? No. And they aren’t. These guys are. No whimsy, no poofy dresses concealing magic wands (actually, there is… but she isn’t dressed out of habit). Only a few sexy parties with absinthe and ales. No chimneysweeps, clockwork or otherwise.

Regular people bore me. Confuse me. I must study them! Challenge accepted, critiquers of CC. Someday I will write something nonviolent. I’ve already begun, after a fashion. Let’s hope the lack of violence improves my writing, because it makes me uncomfortable as hell.


3 thoughts on “Violence, and Fiction

  1. I think the issue most readers take with violence –and they are usually right– is that it can turn out to be too graphic and distracting from the story you want to tell. Sometimes we, as writers, try to make a point with violence by making it more and more intense instead of focusing on its role at that particular moment.

    • I agree. I’m constantly questioning my methods. Escapism is no excuse for drowning a story in violence. Unfortunately I find it difficult to take a step back and ask where to draw the line. I prefer fresh eyes for that.

      I’ll stick to my guns for now, given how little of the novel is finished. When I do the first rewrite, I’ll seriously consider the question again.

      Thanks for the comment. I appreciate it.

      • No problem.

        The best way to have a clear judgment and make a good decision on that sort of thing is to leave the draft alone for about a month or two. You will be a little detached from it, and the emotion of having finished the draft won’t affect your call.

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