I had to take a break after finishing a chapter in my first draft last weekend, and I realized that maybe, just maybe, I crossed a literary line. So now I’ve got to ask myself, how much blood is too much blood in a book?
Let’s Get Drenched
A certain amount of violence is to be expected in certain types of stories. Can you imagine “The Princess Bride” without the exciting swordfighting? How’d you like to read the Harry Potter books without the wizard dueling? Or maybe you’d be jazzed to crack open a copy of “Divergent” without all the battle scenes and training? Of course not, there would be nothing left. So sometimes, a little bit of violence is required. Or even a lot. But plenty of books don’t get gruesome about it. That makes it tricky for other authors to find out where that line is located. Do you know where it’s at?
It’s one thing to kill a character and now everyone’s sad. It’s another thing to see that character get ripped apart by a rabid pack of wolves, or whatever. Violence is easier to digest, I’ve found, when it’s not so graphic. So just how graphic can you get before you start crossing lines and potentially making your readers sick?
Believe it or not, there is a simple answer. When your readers want to put the book down because it’s too much, that’s when you’ve crossed the line. You’ve gone too far the moment it puts a reader off of your book. It’s okay to get a little graphic, sometimes. It’s fine to let the readers see the blood dripping, sometimes. When you want them to feel horror, when you want them to feel fear, when you want them to react, blood can actually be a very helpful tool. But when you make your readers want to turn away from you, you’ve used too much blood.
Use your beta readers, your family, your friends and your own good judgement. Find the line between necessary blood and way too much. You may want to drench the pages in buckets of blood, but sometimes a few puddles will still get the job done. Write bloody...but don’t get too bloody while you’re doing it.