What gives a fight scene a brutal feeling without just being gratuitous violence?

SonicSouls

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I understand that fight scenes need to have a purpose in the story. However, there is a point that a fight scene becomes so violent that it just becomes gratuitous. Assuming a fight scene is relevant to the story, what is the point that it just becomes gratuitous violence? I’m currently on a draft of a fight scene whose brutal violence is necessary to the story. For your information, the story is in the young adult genre. I’m curious as to what your opinions are. Thanks.
 

Wayne Mack

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In general, there is too much violence if any sentences can be crossed out without losing the intent of the scene. If the main character is brutal or sadistic, more violence may be called for. Likewise if the main character is supposed to go over the edge, it may be called for. One paragraph of punching, kicking, etc. will probably be sufficient.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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You might also want to consider whether you are actually writing YA fiction, or just fiction for adult readers but with young main characters.
 

JS Wiig

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In a draft, write it as bloody and gory as you like!

You can always tone it down later if necessary, after you have a chance to see how it fits in with the rest of the story.
 

Steve Harrison

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I had a number of extremely violent scenes in my first novel and tried to focus on the brutal reality of the violence on the people involved and the motivations of the perpetrators. Within the context of the story and setting, I felt I found the appropriate level and tone, but I spent a lot of time mulling over this aspect and tinkering with those scenes.

But out of all the reviews, only one reader included her opinion that the novel was too violent, so I have assumed I got it right!
 

sknox

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>, there is a point that a fight scene becomes so violent that it just becomes gratuitous.
I don't think this is correct. The violence is gratuitous when it is not important to the story--character, plot, theme. Even "minor" violence is gratuitous when it doesn't matter. Same goes for descriptions of a meal, what someone is wearing, etc. It's not about the violence, it's about the story.

I admit the parameters change a bit with YA.
 

The Crawling Chaos

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It all comes down to how you write it rather than what happens. If your scene reads like a checklist of detailed graphic injuries that is entirely disconnected from the context of the story or the characters' perception of this violence, chances are I will think you were more interested in venting out some personal frustrations or kinks rather than allowing me, the reader, to get inside the characters' heads and live that moment alongside them.

So it's down to your choice of words, the rhythm of the sentences and trying to focus on the psychological impact of the violence rather than depicting it in a disembodied way. There is no amount of violence that will make the scene gratuitous or justified, it's all about how that amount of violence is put into words.

I'm not sure whether the audience you're writing for changes that though, I'm not familiar with YA fiction at all. But even child fiction sometimes depicts violence in a traumatic way. As an example, I found the climactic scene in Disney's Beauty and the Beast when Gaston stabs the Beast extremely traumatic in how it depicted the act: Gaston's satisfied look as he inflicted the wound, the simultaneous flash of lighting, the blood on the Beast's abdomen... On the other hand, I never had a problem with other similar scenes involving knights in shiny armor mowing down their enemies with a sword.
 

Toby Frost

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Well, human beings are surprisingly fragile, so not a huge amount of violence is actually needed to incapacitate or kill (one blow of the hand can suffice). But it probably depends on the style of the story and, as @The Crawling Chaos says, the dramatic context. The violence in a Bond film is very different to that in a thriller like Marathon Man or a kung-fu film.

There are a lot of factors that determine if the violence is too much. Off the top of my head you've got: how "light" the tone of the story is (Bond is quite light, Bourne much less so), how skilled or superhuman the fighters are, what the fight means in terms of the drama of the story (the heroes of Watership Down are just rabbits, but their deaths are really traumatic), how much the villain has "earned" their fate, who is meant to be reading the story and consistency with the rest of what's happening.

Some older writers were very good at this. Because they couldn't include much violence, so they used suggestive phrases. In King Solomon's Mines, an elephant is described as tearing a hunter in two, and the rest of the gore is up to your imagination. Likewise, the hero in Rogue Male throws an assassin onto an electrified rail line, and all we hear are screams and a sizzling sound. Nice.
 

paranoid marvin

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Personally I would say that the gratuity comes in the mind of the reader. It is also in context with the rest of the novel. Of course it also has to be appropriate for the audience you are writing for.
 

zmunkz

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Why is the violence necessary? Depending what you are trying to accomplish, there are different ways to go about it. In some cases you’ll want the explicit violence, but in others you can achieve the same thing in more subtle ways.

For example, if your goal is to completely overwhelm an inexperienced character, you can achieve this just by choosing your emotional descriptions carefully. The first chapter of Way of Kings (after the 2 prologues) is an excellent example of how to make a battle terrifying and brutal, without just throwing violence at the reader (so is the bridge run a couple chapters later).

If you are sure the violence serves the goal, then just remember to keep the scene—however gory—centered on the character and their experience. When the scene becomes about the violence, instead of about the character’s experience/reactions, you’ve gone too far IMO.
 

Wayne Mack

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I sort of like the pattern that Lee Child uses in the Jack Reacher series. Invariable, part way through each novel, Jack Reacher has an encounter with a group (usually five). First, he rationally explains what he is going to do and how the opponents will react. Then he does what he just described with a short fight scene. The lead in description provides most of the tension and the actual fight scene does not need to be extensive. The juxtaposition of rational thought followed by violent action makes it work.
 

tinkerdan

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Violence and death happen and I can't dispute that; in the same token real life is boring and most authors try to avoid showing too much of that, so If you are using the justification that his is what happens in life then you have started to draw some pretty screwy lines when you start showing so much sex, violence and moral depravity just because it's what happens.

It really needs to be integral to the whole story to be justified and even then you have to begin to ask how much you should show and how much to leave to the reader to imagine.

Usually if it is for shock value then it is probably also now gratuitous.
But I'm equally certain someone will come up with a justification for the need for the shock.

So I'd say if it shocks the reader then maybe you don't need it; however if it explains how the main character is shocked and debilitated then it might need to be there to help the reader get into the character's head.
 

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