Blood and guts and gore

Help! I am at a point in my draft where there is no way of avoiding a bloody hand-to-hand combat, where several men chop at each other with assorted bladed things and then die. Without boring you with the details, it is one of the things that absolutely has to be in the book. Leaving it out would be a bit like writing the story of the Titanic but omitting the iceberg. And the ship.

The problem is that, despite frequent blurring of the boundary between assertiveness and aggression in my own communication - I don’t like violence! I don’t watch violent films, and I skim over violent things in books. I have been known to hide my eyes during certificate 12 films, and my children have to censor my viewing.

How do you write about things you can’t bear to read or to imagine? (Not just because it’s gory, but also because it bores me.) Can I resort to having bystanders relate important details, and just skip the rest, or is that a cop-out? Is an enthusiastic cop-out better than a wimpy pastiche (which is what I fear my battle scene would be)?

Well, Siren, you say you can’t even bear to imagine it, yet you also say it’s necessary, so you already are imagining it.

I’ve never written a battle scene, though I have written a certain amount of unpleasantness (I write crime and horror fiction). Blow by blow accounts don’t work, though flashes of the explicit can be very effective. Think of the first Alien film, if you saw that, where they Alien was seen in strobe lighting, or in grainy flashes of the TV monitors. Worked really well.

Or check out this link, the Dos and Don’ts of Battle Scenes:

You don’t have to go into gory detail to get a good battle scene. If it’s not critical to the story to lay out exactly how they fight, all you really have to do is state that they had a fight and who won.

And it’s important to give a feeling of tension, as well as a sense of being out of control.

Wow, I really like that. Would you mind if I nicked this idea for a fun short story some time or other?

If it bores you, it will probably bore the reader. Besides which, a detailed blow-by-blow is usually boring to read even when done well. Too much detail, and you have a manual of swordsmanship, not a novel. Detailed description also raises point of view issues, since any character involved in the melee will be too busy to keep track of exact details. Movies are much better at this sort of thing.

Giving a highlight reel courtesy of bystanders sounds fine to me.


using copious amount of really filthy, vile adjectives, just have your protagonist shouting out what they each intend doing to the others.
Theres no need to choreograph a scene from Nabuco, in order to get the image across. Just think: filthy and vile filthy and vile filthy and vile ad nauseum :wink: I think filthy and vile all the time(well at least when tinlaws are around), dead easy.


I’ve run into somewhat the same problem. In one novel, I had to kill off three different people and it was germane to the plot that their deaths be particularly unpleasant. In one, I showed the death scene – jagged rocks at the bottom of a cliff – without zooming in on the body. In another, I had the protagonist sympathizing with one of the rescue workers who discovered the body. In the last, I had the protagonist trying to save the life of the third victim, so that the focus was on the possibility of survival rather than the brutality of the death.

Not sure that it worked perfectly, but at least it was something I could deal with myself while making clear to the reader what had happened.


I am no expert on fighting and violence, I probably have a similar attitude to you (never genuinely been in a fight myself).

If one of the people in the fight is an amateur, it can make it easier, as they don’t need to be technically accurate… “I swatted at his face” works just as well from this POV as any technical terms about swordsmanship (I know none). Technical details in fights are boring, as is a fight from the POV from any character who thinks he knows it all. I have read a few fight scenes like that, and they are absolutely hideous to read.

I got about 10 pages into a book called “Choke Point” by Barry Eicher (I think that’s right, but it may be off), where this guy was meant to be some super martial arts assassin guy, and I put it down because I couldn’t stand the fight scenes.

“I did my XYZ move, and then he came back at me with a TUV. Man he was good. If I wasn’t the most magnificent specimen in the world he would have me beat” type crap.

Since it clearly isn’t your thing, I think you should skim over it with minimal details. Your book will probably be better for it. What does have to go in, do it from a non-expert view, because then you can get away with writing anything. Use analogy, distance yourself from the details (just describe character’s reactions, for instance). From a usually non-violent person’s POV, you can more easily strip it back so it has the tension build up and emotional impact without overwriting it. Spend more time describing pre and post fight and less time describing the actual fight.

As for the gore itself, keep details minimal: mention severed heads, but not how they came to get that way, or how they roll around on the ground afterwards.


PS - As for writing about things you don’t want to imagine… I have a complete aversion to vomit. Can’t even type the word there without feeling sick myself. But I have had to write about it a few times. Just wrote as little as possible. I can even read it back without feeling too bad (although one passage I wrote and have never read over again).

nah! nah! nah!

filthy and vile! filthy and vile! Thats`s the way to go!

You guys are great! Those replies are brilliantly useful, and have helped me decide on a plausible approach.

I’m going to skip the initial gore-fest, and just describe (in about one sentence) how the bystanders see a body-strewn field developing. The important details of the earlier stages of the battle will emerge in later scenes, revealed by the bystanders, where they are needed at all. There is one vitally significant scene at the end of the fight which I have to cover, and I will do this more from an emotional perspective (trying to evoke a sense of “filthy and vile” without too much detail, if my writing is up to the job). With any luck, the leap in time might help generate some sense of tension. I’m not sure I’m any good at writing extreme tension, but I’ll give it a go. As my sister said on the phone this morning, when I described my predicament - how can you type if you’re hiding behind the sofa? :slight_smile:

So, thank you, everyone!

Oh, and Jolanth - if you can make anything of the Titanic-minus-iceberg-and-ship scenario, you are more than welcome to the idea. I certainly won’t be using it myself. :slight_smile:

PS …and loads `n loads of gratuitus sex. Always a seller, sex.

Thanks a lot! I’ll give it a try eventually and keep in mind vic-k’s sex-mantra as well, of course.