Writing About Acts of Violence

As an editor who has seen countless first pages over the years, I’m familiar with the go-to scenes (and cliches) that often end up there. Alarms buzzing, phones ringing, and sun shining through the bedroom window make for common and often boring openings. In an effort to avoid that everyday boredom, some writers end up on the other extreme: sexual violence, murders, fatal car wrecks. They can pose some of the same problems—because they’re used so often and without distinction.

In the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, writer Kim Brooks discusses how her creative writing students have been producing stories with shootings, stabbings, overdoses, and other TV-inspired physical insults. When she asks her students to avoid adding to the body count, their response: “Violence is interesting.”

But is it? Brooks explores the issue:

[Violence can be] too sanitized, too tamed into a generic, pre-packaged mold, and so it can’t yield the kind of interesting questions or meditations readers crave, and writers must eventually confront.

Read her full essay.

Also in this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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2 Comments on "Writing About Acts of Violence"

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Sandra de Helen

I thought this was going to be a “how-to” article. I think that would be useful for many. Some of my own work contains physical and emotional violence because I have experienced both. How we write about it is important.

Venus

I agree. Sometimes I’m not sure how to start out books and stories because the ideas I get are too boring, and I don’t want to start with violence.