I’ve been trying for the last three days to write the climactic fight scene in the latest Soulshares novel. It’s been an intensely frustrating experience, for one reason I anticipated, and one I didn’t.
The one I anticipated — action scenes are not my favorites to write. I’m guessing that this is just me; I want my action to happen as quickly on the page as it does in my head, and since visual imagery is simultaneous and words on a page are linear, the pace of an action scene is never going to be fast enough to suit me. Though hopefully it’ll be fast enough to suit my readers!
The one I didn’t — IMHO, it’s unexpectedly hard to write a fight scene that has anything like a realistic amount of violence, and not bore the reader. I cut my teeth in this genre on Sherrilyn Kenyon (more about which in a minute), and compared to anything of hers, my fight scenes feel, to me, like they convey all the urgency and danger of a moderately bad paper cut. Yet when I go back over them, I always find that they involve crippling injuries and/or serious threats to life and limb, averted only by my heroes’ quick thinking and crazy mad fighting skillz. Which ought to be good enough, right? So what’s missing?
When I leaf through any of SK’s books, it seems that I immediately find the answer. Battles with swords and knives and claws and fangs and bolts of lightning. Oceans of blood, howls of agony, jaws bolted closed (I think SK’s used that one several times), bodies immersed in acid, skin flayed from bones, ribcages split and vital organs hanging out of the body. And generally, all of this happening to immortals, so that they can (and do) endure this kind of treatment for thousands of years, until their One True Beloved happens along to take the pain away and teach them to love and trust again.
Which leaves me wondering: is there such a thing as, well, overkill? I don’t like torture or violence porn (by which I’m not referring to BDSM as I understand it, but rather to extremely detailed and graphic descriptions of extreme violence outside the context of sexuality — the “X” rating at one time was intended to apply to extreme violence as well as to graphic sexuality), but my writing experience is starting to make me wonder if at least some of what I’m reading might be in part the product of the kind of frustration I’m running into when I’m writing. When things get violent in your story, how do you make that violence real to the reader without going to extremes that would never happen in anyone’s real life?