Jerry and Junior: Two Ways of Writing Violence
For me, since I almost always write in the first person, the style in which I write a scene of violence is dictated by the personality of the character narrating. The narrators and protagonists of my two published novels present two very different ways of experiencing violence. In “The Wowzer,” the narrator, Jerry, is a sociopath, so he has little, if any, emotional reaction to violence. In “The Good Life,” the narrator, Junior, a relatively well-adjusted person when you consider all he’s been through, hates violence, but sees it as a means to an end.
I’ve said before that Jerry is the kind of guy you’d like to have on your bowling team, but only because of what you don’t know about him. I mean that he fits in nearly everywhere, no matter what he sees or does, no matter what happens to him. He can kill a man after breakfast and then bowl two games while talking about last night’s Razorbacks game with a buddy. Then he can go to his victim’s family’s house in his official Sheriff’s Deputy uniform, inform the widow of her loss, and be a shoulder for her to cry on. Nice guy to know, as long as you’re valuable to him in some way.
Junior, on the other hand, is affected by violence. Even though he’s experienced it from very early in his life, he has a problem with it every time he sees it—even if he’s the one doing it. Junior has a gut reaction. He knows it’s wrong. He trusts that what he does, when he roughs someone up, or even takes a life, is the lesser of two evils. He accepts his discomfort, be it insomnia, nightmares, always looking over his shoulder, or just plain indigestion, as part of the cost of what he does.
As for the actual writing of the prose, again, it depends on who’s experiencing it. From Jerry’s perspective, violence is really no more stimulating than exercise. He derives no more pleasure from violence than he does from his morning jog. He doesn’t seek it out unless it benefits his situation in some way because he understands the risks involved. So, really, for him, it’s just another chore. Writing about it this way, I try to make the scenes dry and technical. Jerry isn’t bored, per se, he’s just hyper-focused on not screwing something up. Every detail is about getting it done right, and in a safe (for him) manner. Jerry’s all about self-preservation.
From Junior’s perspective, a scene of violence is an affront to his ideals. It is a contradiction he must live with. He seeks to preserve Order and Peace, and ultimately eliminate Violence, but he must apply a certain amount controlled violence to accomplish that. Every person Junior has to hurt reminds him of his own hypocrisy. In Junior’s scenes, he is angrier at himself than the target of his aggression. He is aware of the fragile beauty of life, and often, during these scenes, he notices these details. He will see the bird perched on the pole in the distance, or the prairie grass shaken by the wind. And these things amplify his remorse for the necessity of violence.