How to Write Violent Scenes

Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Updated Sept 4th, 09

So I was reading Michelle's post on violence and it got me really thinking. How do you write a violent scene without getting too violent?

The short answer is balance. Plot wise, the villain's evil needs to be balanced by the hero's goodness. The blood and gore by the hero's attempts to stop it. It's all in how your character reacts to the violence, how it affects them, what they think of it. If you're truly in deep POV, it's not too hard.

In the actual scene, space out the violence with descriptions, thoughts, random interuptions (keep reading for an example). Make sure you use all the senses (Taste the blood, hear the ribs crack, feel the gun jump in her hands, smell the powder, etc0. I also like to throw in some random thought. So though your character might be in a fight for his life, he sees a car drive by, the driver oblivious. A dog might bark. These elements all help balance the scene.

If you find it gets too intense, make it so your character can't handle the gore. They cringe and look away etc.--simultaneously sparing your reader.

For example, here's something from my WIP. The scene is incredibly violent, but my character, Ilyenna, is fighting for someone else--Metha, a pregnant woman whose lover is beating her because she dared defy him. I'll color code the violence with the balancing moments. See if it works for you.

Balancing elements (like descriptions)

Metha spit in his face.

The thin line of spittle ran down his cheek. He daubed it with his fingers, gazing at it in shock. Grabbing Metha, he threw her to the floor. Drawing back his foot, he slammed it into her stomach. Metha gasped in shock and pain, curling protectively around her swollen belly. He kicked her again, and again.
Ilyenna’s mind refused to accept what her eyes saw. Time seemed to speed up while the rest of her slowed down. And then she remembered the Argon babies. The ones she had tended. The ones who even now might be dead. Like Metha’s would be.
Rage boiled in her like a gnashing monster. She threw open the door and screamed, “No!” She shoved Darrien.

Without taking his eyes from Metha, he backhanded her so hard that blackness curled in from the outside of her vision.
The blackness receded. Tiny sparks flashed. Shaking her head to clear it, she saw Metha, her face screwed up in agony as Darrien pounded her—his features contorted by a bottomless rage. He wouldn’t stop until she was dead. He’ll kill both her and her baby.

Without thought, she threw herself over Metha, screaming as loud and long as she could, “Rone!” A kick to her already bruised ribs stole her breath. Another made her whole body clench in protest. Another and a scream of pain tore from her throat. Her whole existence revolved around waiting for the next kick and the next explosion of pain. She realized her folly too late. She hadn’t saved anyone.

He’s going to kill all three of us.

Something cracked. It sounded like lightening. At first she thought something inside her had finally snapped, but she didn't feel it. And then the kicks finally stopped.

Ilyenna rolled off Metha and vomited again, and again, and again.

When her wretched finally stopped, she managed to look up.

Rone had come.
He had Darrien underneath him, his fist working the other man into pulp. She tried to shout, but her words came out as little more than a hoarse whisper, “No, Rone, don’t kill him. They’ll execute you.”

The opposite door flung open. Wide eyed, Undon barreled into the room, shouting for his clansmen. But they were already in the room. They must have heard her screams. It took four Tyrans to pull Rone off. Even then, he strained with every fiber of his being to reach Darrien. In his eyes, murder gleamed bright as a newly polished axe.

She realized her hand was wet and looked down. Bright blood pooled beneath her. For a moment, she thought it was hers. But then she remembered Metha. Barely holding on to consciousness, she leaned over the woman. Blood gushed between her legs, soaking everything around her.

I’m a healer. I must help her. But she hurt so much. She couldn’t reach through the pain to her thoughts. Every time she moved, she wanted to scream. But screaming would only make her hurt more.

Undon’s daughters hurried to Metha, grabbing the woman and hauling her out of the kitchen, leaving nothing but a trail of blood as testament to what had happened.

Ilyenna watched them go, trying force herself to get up and help them. Unable to do so.
A face appeared before her. It took a moment for Ilyenna to realize it was Narium. “The dead protect me, what have they done to you?”

Ilyenna tried to shake her head, but it hurt too much. “It’s not my blood.” But she tasted blood in her mouth. Then again, maybe some of it was. Not wanting to make herself sick, she spit it onto the already stained floor.

Narium glanced up. “Get her to the women’s house.”


  1. Cool!

    My favorite line is about murder gleaming as bright as a newly polished axe.

    Violent scenes, especially fight scenes, are difficult to write. There's so much buildup that has to happen!

    Thanks for sharing this! It's a good example of giving enough detail to get us through a tense situation with getting too queasy.

  1. Oh, I wanted to say that sometimes the violence being caused isn't always being caused by the villain. My hero is often the cause of the violence, and I'm afraid my readers are going to get upset with him, hah. Still, it's a balance, like you say.

  1. Glamis: This particular book is very violent. It also deals with a lot of darkness.

    I'm not sure about the hero being violent. I think I would have to read it and see what I thought. I liked Hunger Games. Kat was violent, but only to protect herself. So it worked for me.

  1. I think you're right about the key being balance. I don't have anything like this in my book, but I have some battle (or post-battle) scenes that are pretty dark. I tend to lighten such scenes with a little humor. Not that I'm recommending you do that here -- you've got exactly the right tone, I think.)

  1. Laura: I have a book that I lighten the dark stuff with my character--who is very sarcastic. I love it when authors do this.

    I'm glad you two seem to like it. I have a hard time writing fight scenes without them seeming a little redundant.

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