One of the things that I’ve always worried about with my writing is a prevalence of gratuitous violence. I never try and pack in the violence into my stories in an attempt to increase interest. Any violence in my stories is there because I feel it’s necessary for one reason or another.
If you’re uncomfortable reading one of my stories, it’s probably because I want you to be uncomfortable. I try and keep the discomfort to a mild level; say, the level of chewing on tin-foil.
As I discussed in an earlier post (earlier from today that is), a big part of horror is maintaining tension. There are a few ways of doing that. You can constantly hover the threat of death or violence over the more likable characters. But, in order to keep that tension up, you have to deliver on that threat on occasion.
That’s what makes Joss Whedon a more effective storyteller than some; he’s willing to pick off the more popular character and third stringers. If you’re worried that he’s going to kill off your favorite, you’re going to be more invested in the characters.
If you don’t want to invest a lot of time in a character in an attempt to make the audience like them, you can also threaten them with truly egregious violence. No matter how the audience feels about the character, they’re going to identify with what’s about to happen with them. It’s a cheap and quick way to get your audience to give a damn about the characters. No matter how they feel about Stan, being devoured alive by gold fish, piece by piece, sounds awful, so your audience is going to wince and cringe and wish that Stan will avoid this, even if they don’t care about Stan.
It’s something that I’m worried about leaning on too much. I’m worried that instead of creating interesting characters, I’m just creating nightmare scenarios to dispatch blander characters.
I’d rather make nightmare scenarios for likable characters and knock them off, one-by-one, to really get the audience mad at me.