When I did theatre, the directors, most of them, were fascinated with the idea of raw, shocking emotion. They wanted to abuse the audience, essentially, and force many bodies to feel unexpected (and unpleasant) things.
Because They Thought It Made Them Powerful
Good theatre, of course, is like great sex; two people (one of whom represents the actors, and the other the audience) come together and do interesting things to each other, and end by feeling cozy and close in their hearts.
Yep, Victor, You’re Weird
There’s a clear emotional exchange; just as in sex, theatre can turn ugly very fast, and physical brutality, aggressive sexuality, and general indecency of language are the usual methods employed by terrible directors and shitty producers.
‘Cause They’re Not Classy
On the other hand, raw intimacy (hand-holding, bodies wanting each other, but not quite touching, the promise of a kiss without the act), choreographed violence (vicious fights, sudden actions, and vivid physical motion), and authentic sharing (true language, however swear-y) are the opposite, very good side of this potential bad, and make for glorious, unforgettable theatre.
Now, For Gore In Fiction
To see how you are handling your violence, sex, and coarse language, it is important to first examine the reason for it being there.
I imagine you’ve seen films before where a lady is unnecessarily undressed, or a person hits another for no other reason than that the director thought it would make things pop more.
Because Empty Action Pads The Script (I’m Serious)
Shakespeare brought heads onstage, and severed limbs; he gored out eyes, and openly referenced incestuous rape and the dismemberment of women and children. One of his plays occurs almost entirely in a brothel, in fact, but you will find, in any worthwhile production of Shakespeare, that there is no immodesty in his language, or in his actions directed for the stage. (Embedded stage directions; it’s a long story.)
People Who Ruin Shakespeare Should Be Given Paper Cuts On Their Faces
People, shitty people (yeah, I’m looking at you, buster-oldy George) love to mangle Shakespeare, to add brazen fondling and breasts, and weirdly orgiastic violence that is not in any of the plays. They also like to add little scenes–to make the action more realistic, or more compelling to the modern viewer, they think.
All Of Which Sucks, Almost Always
Now, on to the subject of the day (or night, as the case may be): raw gore, and the manipulation of flesh in the service of whole fiction, is cathartic and pure, when it is handled with grace and modesty.
The Greeks, for all their blatant phallic pieces, had dignity and respect for suffering in many of their tragedies. The purpose of Oedipus putting out his eyes, and Jocasta hanging herself, is to bring the audience to a pitch of pity and existential terror.
The Bringing Of Emotional Climax Is The Function Of Fiction
And now, since the Greeks and Shakespeare do not always scratch the itch of contemporary genre fiction, here is some blood, and a bit of gentle violence.
A Sample, As Promised
Ethan the cyborg, having cut his metal down, is carving up a couple of his fellows, and stealing their alien inserts. Observe:
“What you are holding is a base insert,” Ethan said, grimacing as he began to wedge the other cyborg’s insert into his own thigh. Mary’s eyes widened, and her lips parted. He seemed to be working the insert in between his own muscles; the shape of his thigh moved in deeply unnatural ways as he worked. “I already have base inserts; I need the top pieces.”
“You put your top pieces into me,” Mary guessed.
“Not all of them, but some,” Ethan said with a smile.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” she demanded, watching him force the end of the insert deeper into his upper thigh.
“Not as much as you’d think. You get pretty numb, after the first four dissections,” he said. He made a small sound, like a tense man relaxing into a bath, and the insert folded neatly into the top of his thigh. Ethan sighed and pushed the bottom of the piece the rest of the way into the slit. Mary thought that it was like watching someone try to move a large piece of furniture through a narrow doorway; first the top made it in, and then the bottom was swiveled and forced into the opening.
“Are you all right?” she asked. She began to feel increasingly squeamish.
“I’m fine,” Ethan said. The insert went in with a strange click, and he extended his leg with a deep sigh.
“And now the next one?” Mary asked. Ethan’s restored leg looked oddly out of proportion to the rest of his reduced body. He began to cut open the second cyborg’s other leg, and Mary went to the first cyborg and stared down at his open eyes. “What about them?” she asked. The squelch of the knife in the second cyborg’s leg made a wet echo in the corridor.
“What about them?” Ethan asked. He put the knife in again, and then again.
“He’s still alive, isn’t he?”
“He’ll be dead soon,” Ethan said, as if commenting on the weather.
“But he’s a person,” Mary replied. She felt a hollow outrage, and she could not bring herself to do anything about it.
“They aren’t people, Mary. I keep telling you that. I’m not a person, either.”
“You’re a person,” she said angrily.
“Well,” Ethan amended, working his hand into the cyborg’s leg, and beginning to wrench the insert loose, “I wasn’t a person before I met you.”
“I think you’ve always been a person. And I don’t know what you mean by saying these men aren’t people. They’re alive.” Mary felt a hot flush of fear and anger on her neck; she felt powerless and irritated, and she didn’t know how to stop the bloody work and still get the old Ethan back. “Can’t we use the dead bodies of the other cyborgs?” she asked.
“No,” Ethan said.
“Why not?” she asked.
“I would have to prime the metal,” he said. His voice made a squeaking whine in the middle of the words; he had freed the top of the insert from the cyborg’s base now. Mary took the bottom piece, and Ethan pushed the top of the insert into his other thigh.
“That looks so painful,” she said. The two insert pieces she held were hot and slick in her hands; she found, quite suddenly, that she didn’t mind the blood, but she minded the heat.
“It’s very good to get my old shape back,” Ethan grunted, working the metal deeper under his muscles.
“What do you mean when you say you’d have to prime the metal?” Mary asked. The top of Ethan’s new insert locked into place, and he began to work over the bottom half.
“To prime the metal means exposing it to blood, and live pain,” he said. His voice still sounded tinny and strange.
“Why do you sound like that?” Mary asked. Ethan groaned, and forced the rest of the insert into place. He stood upright, and looked down at himself.
“That’s better,” he said. He sounded ready to laugh with giddiness. “I have deep machines running, to keep my inserts open,” he told her.
Interestingly, tasteful swearing, and modest use of nudity, violence, and raw language and action opens the reader’s heart, and makes them receptive to the story, and the characters. I am not in any way suggesting that you take your gore out; in fact, you probably need more of it, and the other things.
What I am saying, most emphatically, is that the gore must serve a core plot purpose, and be fully justified. Gratuitous violence, and all the rest, cheapen your work. If you need to cut someone’s head off, and prance around the page with the blood, make sure you’ve paid for the privilege of violence with narrative context.
Gore is a necessary part of deeply-cathartic fiction, but just as in deeply intimate bonding, respect for your partner (in this case, the reader) is paramount.
You’re reading Victor Poole. I have to rewrite almost the entirety of my cyborg sequel, because Vicard turned interesting, and developed unexpected backstory that I now get to incorporate through the threads of the previous parts. Reading my self-published fantasy series is almost guaranteed to make your editing-brain bleed; you’re welcome.