I wrote a book a while back called The Girl Next Door which opened with the line, “You think you know about pain?” Personally I’m no expert so far–knock on wood–though as a kid I had my share of broken bones and various other less than delightful body-surprises over the years: a cortisone shot into an inflamed tendon, my upper jaw peeled and scraped — did you know that pain can be a sound? — and a fall, stark naked, through the branches of a tree that left me looking like something out of 100 Days of Sodom. (Curious about that one? Too bad. You’ll have to wait for the story.)
But the point is that if you’re writing about violence, you’re writing about pain. Somebody’s pain. Maybe not yours but somebody’s. And my preference is to face it squarely. As honestly as possible and very much up close and personal.
I’ve noted this elsewhere but it bears repeating here: the great director Akira Kurosawa once said that the role of the artist is to not look away.
That pretty much defines what I try to do. There are plenty of ways to look away and bad writers at some point have found all of them. We’ll get to some of the more disastrous ways later but right now let’s just stick to violence.
Remember those old Hays-Office-era cowboy movies where everything is completely bloodless, where people get shot with a rifle that would stop a bear for god’s sake and fall down and die as neatly as Baryshnikov executes a tour j’ete? Then along came Bonnie and Clyde and The Wild Bunch and blew all that away forever. A little later, horror movies kicked some dirt over the grave.