Tag Archives: writing advice

Sex & Violence

Sex & Violence

Of all the scenes to ever trouble the weary fingers of the career author, those which rely on sex or focus on action and violence are the most difficult to write—and, from the writer’s own perspective, often the least satisfying. Both involve the same two hang-ups: action, and intense and passionate emotion, which can be difficult to convey in swift and sudden fashion.

This, of course, is how you often want the heart of an intense scene to progress: buildup aside, you want things to proceed briskly, rather than getting lost in the details. The mind of the reader needs just enough to work with so that they can fashion an image of what’s going on for themselves.

With that in mind, how should you go about conveying this kind of imagery, ensuring that enough bridges the gap between writer and reader—without knocking the reader’s head against the wall, just to remind them that it’s there?

Pace Your Scene

The Devil is in the details… so avoid them. Use the buildup to your sex or action scene to establish atmosphere. Describe a few important details; when you visualize the scene itself, what stands out? Is it the color of the room, or the texture of a wall—perhaps as someone’s fingertips run along uneven masonry? Does the creaking of a bed remind your main character of the treehouse that their long-vanished father built for them as a child? Establish atmosphere before reaching the heart of the scene, using colorful, vivid, but increasingly clipped detail.

Your audience will remember the atmosphere. Now, it’s all about the action. Think of it as the foreground to the atmosphere’s background.  Describe actual action in minimalist terms—whether it’s combative, or sexual… or both, if you’re into that sort of thing. Be sparse with your description, but make sure that what you do use is well-written and relevant. As a rule, you shouldn’t describe superfluous detail that stands starkly in contrast to the atmosphere you’ve already laid out.

With the conclusion of your action sequence, hearken back to the atmosphere briefly, just to tie it all together. Make a final, departing reference to the texture of the wall, or the creaking of the bed, before you continue with your story. Unlike the buildup to an action scene, the ensuing story can return to its previous pace abruptly—not without acknowledgement, but some of the most accomplished authors in existence manage this with a short paragraph, if not a single sentence.

The transition from the main force of an action scene, back to dialogue or narrative, can be as abrupt as the action itself.

Know What You’re After in Advance

sex violence action scenes writing
I’m 60% certain that this falls under “sex.”

The broad strokes of this are obvious (“it’s a fight sequence with the villain,”) but let’s take things one step further than that.

By overcomplicating an action sequence, you risk giving your reader too much to absorb. Sudden changes, such as points that profoundly affect the narrative, need to be indulged quickly—or else they run the risk of interrupting the scene. That’s sometimes a desirable thing, but certainly not always.

Suppose that you’re writing a tense Victorian crime thriller. Your heroine is a young heiress who spends her night fighting for London’s impoverished lower classes—mask and all, although her primary tools are her father’s dueling pistol and her brother’s rapier. You’re writing a scene where she finally comes upon the villain she’s been pursuing. The setup is quick; there is both cause and vengeance at steak. You’ve laid the groundwork: a fiery intensity of emotion, a keening Warrior Princess cry that leaves her foe backpedaling, and our femme fatale draws first blood.

In so doing, she unmasks her foe—revealing the face of her brother, whom she had thought dead, and for whom she had been seeking vengeance all along.

I’ll even give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that there’s more to the story than that, Shyamalan. Her brother, as it turns out, isn’t the villain at all: he’s been working against the same forces that she’s been fighting, the whole time, but he always did his best to hinder her progress and—in so doing—keep her out of harm’s way.

He’s less interested in the greater good, and more in avenging an unfair slight against his family’s honor. He’s done terrible, horrible things in the act of pursuing his vengeance. Your heroine is confused, and she wants answers, but that rage is still there—she knows what he’s done. She’s seen him do it. The righteous fury of the cause rises to the surface…

It’s a bit much, isn’t it? To be conveyed during a fight scene?

You’ve got two choices here. Progress the action scene for a time, giving your reader some satisfying, adrenaline-pumping excitement, before the unmasking of the noble heroine’s brother. The foe can appear to be toying with her, only to have it later revealed that he was simply trying to avoid doing her any harm.

Once he is unmasked, have the heroine stagger; convey a cold, hard shock, and shift things into a tense dialogue to explain what’s going on.

The other option is to continue the fight. In place of cold shock, there is the fiery anger of betrayal; the heroine redoubles her efforts against her treacherous brother, who is not so unwilling to do her harm that he is willing to risk his vendetta by falling to her sword. The two continue fighting, but there is brief, clipped dialogue intermixed with the action—don’t use four words, when three will do, and only cover the broadest possible details. Major revelations should pause, if not end, the scene.

Too many people get lost in the scope of the detail with an action scene that’s important enough to have more at stake than the simple result of the action itself. They try to introduce new plot elements mid-fight, to change the atmosphere entirely, or to introduce lengthy, interruptive dialogue in between every act involved. This kind of thing bogs an action scene down, and is better reserved for the consequence of a scene—not the mid-point. Full paragraphs and a sudden mood change is a transitory point, not something to indulge in while the bullets are flying.

Pace your Writing

We’ve gone over pacing a scene, but there’s something else to remember about pacing: it applies to your actual writing habit. The greatest writers all say the same thing: “just write.” Sit down, and write. Write until you don’t have anything else to write. Write until you’ve hit the end of your ideas and you’re rambling—then ramble some, before stopping.

Never, ever “edit as you go.” Editing as you go is writer’s block waiting to happen. It’s 100% assurance of dissatisfaction with your own work, and for something as important as an action scene, you don’t want to second-guess yourself unto eternity.

With sex and violence, it’s more crucial than ever that you just… keep… going, until you’re done, and then don’t let yourself change anything right away! Continue writing your story. Write it until the end. Write subsequent action scenes; during the editing process, what you’ve written later may inform some minor tweaks you want to make to what came before, but you’ll be far more likely to be happy with what you’ve written in context. Editing sex or violence as it’s written is the surest way to wind up mired in what I like to call “porn syndrome:” too much detail, not enough reality.

Trust Your Reader, Trust Yourself

This point is critical, but is too often overlooked: you need to relax. Your reader knows what they’re after in a story. Have faith in yourself, in your ability to convey the desired imagery for this scene in the same way that you’ve held your reader’s attention thus far. By the same token, you should also trust that your reader is enjoying your story; if they’ve made it to the sex, or the action, they want to appreciate the scene—but they also want to know what’s coming next. It’s very unlikely that anything you’re likely to do, if you relax and let the words flow, is going to shatter their immersion or ruin their appreciation of your work.

By staying true to yourself—to your vision, your established style, your existing techniques—everything will most likely turn out fine, without a lot of hassle.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

As a writer who has spent the last couple of years trying to transition into new genres and mediums, I’d be very interested in what you have to say about this, or any of my other articles concerning advice for writers. If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to share them in a comment below.

If there’s anything I’ve left out, such as some strategy which has worked well for you in the past? Share it in a comment as well—for the benefit of anyone else who might come along!

The Devil’s Bean?

The Devil’s Bean?

Currently, this article condemning Red Bull is #trending on Facebook. It is an example of #fakenews. It contains shoddy, limited, and low-effort research. The low-quality graphics and basic errors in grammar show a lack of careful editing, which also manifests itself in the subjective content.

Here is why you should read such content with a critical and otherwise well-informed eye, and never accept it as the sole source of input for your opinion.

The Source Article has Nothing Specifically to Do with Energy Drinks, Let Alone Red Bull

Nothing about the article has anything to do with #RedBull, or even with “energy drinks” in any general sense. The content relates, solely and entirely, to the effects of caffeine. Important natural processes, which are always at work in your body, are cast in a villainous light, thereby making the effects of caffeine appear far more insidious and pervasive than they actually are. The Church of Latter Day Saints, one of the most notorious advocates against the use of caffeine in the modern world, even clarified its policy five years ago; they now explicitly allow Mormons to drink caffeinated soft drinks, some of the least healthy caffeinated beverages in existence.

You Always Lose Valuable Nutrients When You Urinate

This is why animal waste (ours included) makes such an effective fertilizer. The digestive process is simply not that efficient. This is a point that is regularly raised to make soft drinks, energy drinks, and alcohol look worse than they are, but it would happen even if you drank nothing but crystal-clear mountain springwater. Meanwhile, anything that *isn’t* water (including milk, soy milk, almond milk, and fruit juices) will suck more nutrients out of your system than water will; such is not the exclusive province of caffeinated beverages.

Releasing Sugar Into Your Bloodstream Is Part of Your Liver’s Vital Function (You Need This to Be Alive)

Your liver’s normal, everyday function includes the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Insulin is used to turn sugar into chemical fuel, so more is produced in response to more sugar. This is how you get more energy and stave off exhaustion, which most of us are trying to do when we drink caffeine in the first place.

Blood Sugar Spikes Happen Every Time You Consume Anything Edible (Again, Necessary for Life to Exist)

When you consume anything edible, your body turns part of it into sugar. This sugar is processed into chemical energy by your cells, and used as fuel. This is where all of our energy comes from; supplementing with B-Complex Vitamins doesn’t “give you” energy. Instead, it makes the process more efficient; you lose less of what you’re already taking in. If what comes out of your bottom doesn’t look like what went in at the top, that’s because part of it was chemically altered to produce sugar.

Your Body Naturally Stores Chemical Energy as Fat

Excess chemical fuel is stored as fat when its energy is not needed. The article implies that this is some diabolical twisting of your body’s systems by caffeine. This is how your body normally works. The problem, here, isn’t what you’re taking in: it’s how much of it you’re consuming, and what your daily routine looks like. You shouldn’t drink energy drinks if you’re sitting around on your ass all day. You also shouldn’t eat a lot, or drink anything but water, if you’re sitting around on your ass all day. While we’re at it, you shouldn’t sit around on your ass all day. That is unhealthy in itself. These processes, the way in which your body creates and stores chemical energy, are why that is unhealthy.

Let’s Talk About Red Bull, Since The Source Didn’t Bother

Red Bull does have a lot of sugar, but the total amount (including processed sugar) is no greater than the total amount of sugar found in an equivalent volume of fruit juice.

Its sugar content is roughly equivalent to the maximum daily sugar intake advised for an adult human. That’s in one normal-sized can. It’s equal to about 4-9 teaspoons of sugar, depending upon how high you heap those teaspoons. Many of us put that much in 1-2 cups of coffee, and we’re otherwise generally very careless about our sugar intake regardless (on average, we consume 2 times the recommended daily intake), but that doesn’t objectively make Red Bull any better.

The issue here is the accessibility of that sugar. Processed sugar is easily accessed, and quickly stored (often, I’ve found, in the hips).

Except, there is sugar-free Red Bull. There are also sugar-free varieties of most other energy drinks.

You can restrict your energy drink intake to when you actually need that extra energy, which will burn more sugar without storing the excess as fat. The American Heart Association’s maximum daily intake advisement is based on averages in both body size and daily activity levels. A person with more non-fatty tissue can safely consume higher amounts of sugar. A person with unusually high activity levels, such as someone who gets 30 minutes or more of physical exercise in a given day, will burn through substantially more calories.

The average intake advisement only involves 100 – 150 calories per day, maximum. It is so restricted due to the necessity of making room for calories from other important nutrients *within the average daily allotment of 2000 calories*. An amateur bodybuilder, someone who works out for 1-2 hours per day, may consume 2-3 times as much. It’s all about healthy activity levels and well-informed habits.

Energy drinks are not the Devil. Caffeine is heavily consumed by countries with some of the highest life expectancies on Earth, including the US and the Nordic countries. Articles like the one I’m referencing present a woefully incomplete and deeply skewed angle that is designed to mislead. This is so they can trend on sensationalism, which is exactly what this article is doing.