Short one today that’s more my irritations on a somewhat relevant topic:
People don’t seem to know the difference between gore and violence a lot of the time.
There is a difference, a significant one. See, I don’t do super well with gore. The image sticks in my head and stays there for ever and ever. But I have little problem with violence. If it’s against small children then my mom instincts kick in and it bothers me because I want to go destroy whoever is hurting the small child, but in most cases I can handle it. For me, this matters on a regular basis just because if I’m talking to some random person who doesn’t know my tastes, if they recommend something and I mention I don’t like gore, if there is violence they will tell me I wouldn’t like it.
While on a moral level I think violence is bad, as a storytelling device, I’m totally comfortable with most of it. Right now, we’re going through the fun process of figuring out if I could watch Attack on Titan – I’ve been told it’s very gory so while I’d like to be in the know of a popular anime, I can’t watch it. Course someone else said it’s just really violent, and the gore isn’t worse than FMA: Brotherhood, so now my husband’s watching it since he knows my level of tolerance.
I think it’s worth noting the difference between violence and gore when you’re writing a villain, because as villains are likely enough to commit heinous acts of violence, knowing exactly how far they’re willing to go and how you want to write it will change the feel of your villain.
Most of the dictionary definitions involve the use of the word “force” – swift force, harmful force, whatever. My definition is an action intended to harm someone or something in any way. Punching a wall is violent. Pushing someone down the stairs is violent. Heck, yelling cruelties at someone is violent. Sure.
And then gore, that’s the blood and guts.
There’s just something…crude about graphic scenes. Base, horrifying. And I feel like that rubs off on the perpetrator – for me, the more you describe violence and gore, the more that the violent person seems like a monster or a base creature, like a wolf ripping into prey more than a sentient man. Whereas, if most of the gore is implied, more focus is on the act itself, the effect is somewhat more variable. Something brutally violent will likely still have a bestial effect on the perp, but more delicate work adds layers of sociopathic genius. Things get even more warped when the perp is performing artwork with the gore, in which case description of it becomes necessary, and makes the perp something beyond beast or man.
My biggest gripe with gore is that usually I feel it’s an unnecessary cheapshot. Like, it’s an inelegantly used shortcut to horrified, cringing audience reactions. There are certainly people to whom that sort of thing appeals, though that begins to edge into gorn territory (it’s a portmanteau of two words and I don’t advise googling it if you can’t figure it out) which in a way is a different matter entirely. I mean, if your end goal is to be super gross with guts then…er, have at it, I guess? But if you’re going for a horror factor, I just feel it’s kind of cheap. Immediately jumping to the obvious, using a sucker punch method. Sometimes that’s appropriate, but again, a lot of times I feel it’s inelegant. If you’re looking for a more sophisticated villain, then blood and guts everywhere isn’t going to help that image. Probably. Maybe something like Hannibal Lecter could prove me wrong. I wouldn’t know since I don’t want my OCD to catch onto any element of the show and make me think of it forever, which is exactly what would happen, so I don’t watch it.
Anyway worrying about the sensitivity of your audience aside, when you are writing violence, or a character stumbling across a scene where violence happened, I think it’s important to think first of the feel you want the overall story to have, the scene to have, and the perpetrator to have before you decide on how much you want to describe any gore. It’s possible to get a sickened feeling without every scrap of flesh and every drop of blood detailed. It’s possible to be horrified with more focus on the act and less on the results. Don’t just assume that it’s better with more detail; figure out what your story actually needs and go with that.