Writing Gruesome Scenes

I’m at the climax of MURDER CASTLE at the moment, writing my way through the final scenes of the book. It’s an interesting position to be in, because usually at this point, I find myself just blazing through the word count each day. I know what needs to happen. I know how the characters behave and react. All I have to do is sit back and let it happen.

And that’s the case with this scene, but it’s not writing nearly as easily as it usually does. I would worry that’s a symptom that I’m not happy with the climax and that I need to revise it, but in this case, I think it has more to do with the actual content of the climax. The main character is now in probably the worst situation I’ve ever thrown a protagonist into. This is a book about a serial killer who brutally murdered dozens of women in the late 1800s. When your main character is a woman who’s trying to take that killer down, I don’t think it should come as much of a shock that at some point in the course of the novel, things aren’t going to go too peachy for her.

And that’s really hard for me to write. It forces me to think in ways I don’t really want to think. I have a hard time telling if I’m dwelling unnecessarily on details, or if I’m zooming through it all too quickly. Difficult scenes can take a long time to write, so they naturally feel like they’re just lasting longer than they ought to. Ironically, those same scenes can be some of the fastest to read, so readers might feel like they were over too soon.

Ideally, I want the tension to rise and rise and rise. I want to cram plenty of suspense into this, and that takes pages. So I just tuck my head down and barrel through the descriptions, putting myself into my main character’s shoes and trying to see things through her eyes. Which, like I said, isn’t a fun thing to think about when you’re sick in bed day after day.

The book is solid, though. I think I’ll have to go back through and add in some more details that bring characters to life, but the actual actions of the book feel good to me after this first pass through. I’m really hoping my main character lives to see the end of this, but at the moment, I’m not sure how likely that is. I know what I want to happen, but sometimes once you’re in a scene, you realize that what you wanted to happen as an author . . . just can’t happen. You’d figure you have all the control in the world over your book, but it doesn’t feel that way. Not if you’re doing it right.

Your characters have abilities. Strengths and weaknesses. For Etta (the main character in MURDER CASTLE) to get through this alive, she’s going to have to dig deep. She’s got real nerve, though. I think she’s got a fair shot.

And now, back to the grisly details . . .

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