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Violence isn't good story telling

Atlin Merrick

Okay. So.

There's a lot been said about a scene in series four of Sherlock. One was how in "The Lying Detective" it was necessary that John Watson beat Sherlock Holmes—punching and kicking him, brutal and relentless.

The scene was thematically necessary, it was said, so that Sherlock would need to forgive John, just as John had to forgive Sherlock for vanishing for two years and la la la blah blah blah no no no NO NO NO.

In storytelling as in real life, in all the all that there bloody well is, tit does not mean tat, balance is not a universal prerequisite, and at no point is horrific physical abuse 'thematically necessary,' a fetching plot point, or a necessary evil. Not as part of ‘pay back’ not as part of a process of mutual forgiveness, not as part of storytelling, not as part of anything.

Here's the thing, here is the absolute unmitigated truth of the thing:

Writing that sort of brutal scene is easy. I know the absolute fact of this because when I first started writing long fiction I wrote about horrific things, I detailed terrible things happening to human bodies. Because I wasn’t very good at writing and so I wrote what was easy to write. Abuse is seductively easy because it’s like a runaway train, it goes headlong of its own accord, it carries the momentum of the story all by itself and you don’t have to be a skilled writer to make people feel. They’ll always feel horrible when a character is beaten or used, you don’t have to have good prose, you do not have to be a good writer.

It’s much harder to tell hard stories without the set piece of a beating or a rape (because that's how they're so often used, they're gorgeously framed, framed close close close). Hurt may happen to a character, sure yep, but the suffering pornography, the loving detail of it? It's lazy writers like Mofftiss who love suffering porn. Why do you think so many women are raped and children killed in films and books? They're shorthand. Crib notes. No-brainer ways to make us feel, to 'move the story along,' to give the hero pain as motivation. They show us the blood of abuse so we excuse the hero who goes on to abuse.

Lovingly detailing suffering isn't skill. Breathless close-ups on misery are not good story telling. They're lazy. They're what we do when we don't have much else in our writing arsenal.

We must have better arsenals.



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