The Violence Dilemma

Let me start with a confession.  I abhor violence of any kind, the violence of a modern-day street fight with guns and knives or that of a medieval battle scene with swords and spears.  If I’m watching a movie or a TV program where violence occurs, I will be the first to hide my eyes until the murder and mayhem are over.  If I’m reading a book where violence is described in gory detail, I’ll skip over that passage.  Thoughts of those horrific scenes, whether real or imagined, come back to haunt me at night when I’m trying to sleep.  And who needs that?

Well, apparently writers of historical fiction need that.  It is difficult to write about the fifteenth century, and more specifically the events now known to us as “the Wars of the Roses,” without encountering a battle or two.   And you can’t ignore them.  Important things happen in those battles.  People are killed, sometimes even a major player in the plot line dies in combat or shortly thereafter.

I was lucky (more or less) when I wrote The Protector.  The seven-month period it covered had no pitched battles, except perhaps of the psychological kind.  True, there were a couple of events that I had difficulty recreating and still have some difficulty reading, even today, but I wasn’t required to construct a scene with mass casualties while describing at least some of the particulars.

When I decided to write The Neville Inheritance, I knew I would not be so lucky a second time.  In fact, two great battles would decide the outcome of the struggle between York and Lancaster, at least for a while, but I had no idea how to go about writing them.  I decided to do something I had avoided until that time:  watch Game of Thrones on TV.   George R.R. Martin’s reimagined medieval world contains a number of battle scenes along with other cruelties inflicted by some characters on other characters.  I’m not saying it was easy watching.  Parts of it made me want to squirm and sometimes I just couldn’t bring myself to look at the screen, thereby defeating the purpose of my self-imposed indoctrination.  But there were the good parts too, great stories, marvelous acting, incredible production values.

As for my own writing of the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, I immersed myself in the strategic and tactical elements of the conflicts and decided to focus on those while telling the story as much as possible from the vantage point of a participant of each side.  Without giving too much away, the historical record shows that strange things happened in both battles, and in neither case did the force with the most fighters prevail.  That in itself was a story worth telling.  For the rest, I can only hope I did them justice.  But violence of that sort never was and never will be my thing.

Categories: Writing

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