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I'm trying to write some gory scenes. I'm having a few problems, though.

I asked around online and determined that I need to really highlight the senses when I'm writing something like this. Mostly people said to describe everything in exact detail. Also, people told me to diversify my language and to stay away from overused cliches and vocabulary. Finally, I was told to get creative about the way I describe gory scenes.

I think the last one is true enough, but some gory scenes that I remember are really...plain. It's just that the build-up made the reveal seem so gruesome that I remember the scene, but not the description. The other two I'm sort of on the fence about. I'd agree that describing a dead body is better than just saying plainly that there is a dead body, but can there be too much description? Will it start becoming a parody of gory scenes if I describe too much? And I feel as though it would become less engaging if I use words that aren't common, but repetitive if I use common words often. There's a good balance between the two, but how important is a diverse vocabulary when it comes to gory scenes?

I'd like some more tips on writing gory scenes in general or maybe even some clarification on how to utilize what tips I have now. I would ask "what makes a gory scene memorable," but that might be too opinion based. If anyone can think of any particularly good gory scenes or literature that would help guide me, that would be much appreciated too.

Edit: To clarify, the scenes I am trying to write are generally revolting. There are a couple of scenes that aren't really as revolting as much as they're just bloody messes, so I'd call them messy more than gory. There are a few scenes that I'd rather come across as scary, though.

The purpose of the scenes are... Varying. A few are endings and they happen to the main character, the player character. A few are deaths that occur right in front of the main character, and there is sufficient buildup to let the player know that the death will happen, but they will be doing actions throughout the process to try and stop the death from occurring. And finally there are scenes that the characters will just come across. Some are older than others. The player character might be scared in game but I do sort of want to get an emotional response from the people reading along too.

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Well, what is gory? You didn't say revolting, so you seem not to be aiming at making your readers throw up. Gory just means that there is a lot of blood (gore = synonym for blood). So just put heaps of blood, brains and intestines in there. Boring, isn't it? But maybe you were aiming at revolting. You could clarify. –  what May 24 at 8:26

2 Answers 2

Doesn't all of this depend on what you are trying to achieve with your guts and gore? You might be trying to:

  1. Convince readers that a murderous character (or group) is sadistic, evil, callous, etc. (perhaps so that they want to see that character brought to justice)
    • For example, if you are writing a story about a psychopath, your description of the corpse may be more technical, to suggest the dehumanization of the psychopaths's approach. You will probably also come up with repellent things that the psychopath has done to the body (however, if you get too disgusting and disturbing, you run the risk that the reader will withdraw emotionally from the scene).
    • If you are trying to build horrified sympathy for the victim, the key may not be word-choice so much as detail choice. Focus on some small, human, relatable detail. Talk about how the young victim's hand, sticking out of the shallow grave, displayed freshly painted nails because she had been having a manicure with her mother. Have your character notice and react to these things. The reader can already identify with the details, and therefore can doubly identify with the character's reaction to them.
  2. Demonstrate that some activity is dangerous (perhaps to build suspense or to highlight the protagonist's courage in continuing to pursue it)
    • You may want to emphasize that this death came without warning in circumstances that would normally feel safe (the whole, "I should feel safe there," is surely part of the effectiveness of the famed Psycho shower scene). Kill someone the reader would never have expected to die (for instance, the person who appeared to be shaping up as the love interest)
  3. Provide a kind of titillation for readers (either by scaring them, shocking them, or just grossing them out)
    • This probably goes with more "pulpy" writing, and it sounds like you are trying to avoid cliches.
  4. Communicate something about your protagonist's personality -Is there something that your character particularly fears? Perhaps someone else was killed that way.

Again, I think that you need to think about the purpose of your gory scene, and go from there. Hope this helps!

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As you mentioned, what a reader feels when they read about a gory sight - more generally, what a reader feels when they read anything evocative - is strongly influenced by what comes before. If you think in terms of horror films, the effect of the reveal is heightened by the tension leading up to it; it's why we have things like slow, lingering shots of the hero(ine) reaching towards the door handle, rather than just cutting from them deciding to search the house directly to whatever they find.

In other words, it's less about what exactly you write and more about putting your reader in a state of mind that whatever you do write (within reason, of course) will seem scary rather than silly.

In general terms, this means foreshadowing the gore, whether directly:

"As he walked towards the door, he saw a few dark red spots of blood dotting the carpet in front of it."

...or through the viewpoint character's thoughts and actions:

"He took a deep breath and reached for the door's handle, trying to push away thoughts of what might be on the other side."

...and keeping the pace fast enough to be moving towards the reveal, but slow enough to be suspenseful.

In a more granular sense, short sentences and "sharp" words can create a feeling of tension, if you go in for that sort of analytical writing.

If there's no opportunity to foreshadow the gore in terms of in-work timeline - for example, if it is a total surprise to the viewpoint character and you can't convey any apprehension beforehand - you can still create a lead-up to the reveal for the reader. A good way to do this is to describe a character's reaction before describing what they're reacting to:

"His breath caught in his throat as he tried not to retch at the sight. He wanted to look away, needed to tear his eyes away, but he could not. Add more here.

"Lying in a pool of blood in the centre of the room was..."

As I said, get your readers in the right state of mind before the gore, and they'll likely take the gore the way you intend.

In terms of not making it seem parodical or silly, I'd say the key is just to be reasonable. Use a wide vocabulary, but keep it simple. The two possible mistakes that come to mind right now are being overly technical, and being melodramatic. Don't write a coroner's report; the point is to have your reader empathise with the fear or horror felt by that character, so use the words that your character is probably using in their mental narrative as they see the gore. On the other hand, avoid overly dramatic diction; again, it's just a matter of considering what sort of words your character is probably "thinking with."

Again, empathy is key, so visceral, emotive words that show the character's response to the scene can be very effective. Overall, it terms of diction, just use your common sense; you will probably be able to see if something is becoming silly rather than serious.

If the description of the scene doesn't have a character - if a disembodied narrator is describing a scene for the reader's benefit alone - it will be much harder to get the reaction you want in the reader. That said, if you must do this, I would generally recommend using the diction that your lead protagonist would use in his/her mental narrative of the scene if he were there to see it.

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