Violence Is Ice Cream

a guest post by by Jabe Stafford – @OculusWriter

Books are dessert.

Violence is the ice cream topping.

When you go out to dinner and you find three scoops of vanilla on your sushi, you know someone is friggin’ around or pranking you instead of making sure those flavors go together. Ordering a medium sci-fi waffle cone, then getting a triple-bloody sci-fi horror romance with zombie sprinkles feels as bad as it sounds, especially when you didn’t expect it. Ice cream ain’t the only weapon in a food fight, so if the point of the story you’re writing is violence, then it better be used extremely well or the story’ll melt like it fell out of the freezer and into Hell. The Seventh Circle. With the flaming rivers.

Want readers inhaling the brain food you spent months or years writing? These responsible violence tips will help you get readers to say, “Whoa, did you see that?” instead of, “Ugh, did you see that?”

Never stop writing.

Readers come in knowing their all-time favorite genres and the genres that cause involuntary cookie-coughing. Genre labels help writers and readers gauge how many scoops of violence they want in their brain food. A horror novel will need more violence and vivid descriptions of that violence at times. For urban fantasy, fantasy, and sci-fi, one scoop of violence will do unless the specific injury or expression of that injury is critical to the plot. Sub-genres are helpful, color-blasted labels too. A slasher is gorier than a thriller. Thriller would be gorier than a police procedural. And romance probably ain’t gonna have gore at all. Same concept applies to age range. A middle-grade story will contain an ounce of violence to spice up the action and the stakes, while an adult story can benefit from slathering half a gallon of violence on the right scenes. Picking out the right genre and sub-genre for your work in progress can guide you to the right flavor of violence. You want readers gobbling your book down and not up-chucking bad reviews or abandoning the book outright, right?

Don’t ever stop writing.

Who hates being tricked, deceived, or lied to? I just made you stick your hand up like back in grade school. The violence in your story is in your hands, so it’s up to you to set up audience expectations like domino ice cream sammiches. Use your first chapter as a sample tasting. The amount of owies appearing in chapter one should be somewhat proportional to the overall amount appearing in the whole manuscript. Starting with romance only to lead into multiple serial killer murder competitions is like putting squashed roaches underneath the yummy flavor the reader ordered. Don’t actually do that. With the roaches. They’re endangered. And gross.

Never ever stop writing.

(We’re not saying Jabe is a dark magician, but this IS the picture he sent us.)

Over-the-top nutball violence can be part of a story’s charm once a writer establishes the right genre and sets up the right expectations. Name two of your favorite crazy-violent movies or books. Go! That dark utopian sci-fi with legalized violence under certain circumstances? Yep, they did it well. The classic medieval action story where severed flying limbs reveal the spirit of the story? Yep, they did it well too. It was meant to be gratuitous and they still told a story. If it ain’t believable even in the context you worked your rump off to set up, then it’s too much. And we’ve all read books that hit that Too-Much moment. Want to write a cheesy action horror, a brutal comedy, or a farce? Layer on the bloo-er, ice cream, but remember that no one can eat from an overflowing bowl. Seek out those beta readers as crazy as you are and ask them, “Is there too much murder-death-kill going on and why did it hit you wrong?”

Take a break once in a while, but dadgummit, keep writing.

Stories and *ahem* ice cream can multi-task better than a futuristic supercomputer with ten genius brains. Violence makes for rare, emotional moments in some genres and it paves the characters’ paths in others. Prior proper planning prevents egregious exsanguination. A murder-burner-page-turner of a story can flow like an elegant river from your manuscript, or it can smash the levee down and drown you and the reader in “ugh”s. Take responsibility for your violent scenes, read across multiple genres, and ask people for feedback on your story and the ice cream in it. Books are dessert, so get to know the best toppings.

Confession: This whole blog was a self-nag as well as a helpful sharing session. We’re all working to build the right amount of villainy into our stories together. Let’s do this thing and keep writing!


Jabe Stafford enjoys writing stories about alcoholic angels and drunk demons. He likes chatting ’em up after they’ve had a few, and the stuff they say is so bizarre that it makes his life of writing and office work sound mundane by comparison. The demons seem most interested in his years as a martial arts instructor, but then they brag about magic and challenge him to arm wrestle. Don’t arm wrestle a drunk demon or a sober one. Just read about ’em.
His wanderings have taken him to the UW-Madison Writer’s Institute and the Write-By-The-Lake Retreat. He writers with the Middleton Creative Writers, where his fellow authors hear those stories about the demons he tried to arm wrestle. He’s earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from UW-Madison, a Teaching Certification from Edgewood College, and a first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.