Many writers have found a weird correlation between writing about violent acts, and experiencing violent acts. Some people can watch violent movies for hours and go play with their kids on the playground, while others of us end up disturbed and bothered the rest of the day. The same thing happens, I’ve found, when a writer like myself actually sits down to imagine, then write on paper (virtual or otherwise) a violent scene.
I’m writing a script now about a very disturbed group of people. Not long ago I wrote a key turning point scene and had a really bad day because of it. Part of that was because, in conceiving it, I had to go to my own dark side and dig these things out from my own psyche. I had to live through the dark moments before I could express them to the reader and viewer.
Stephen King has often spoken about writing scary scenes and how they gave him (often wonderful) chills. I wonder how he felt after writing some of his ultra-violence, like Cell or Survivor Type. Is he bothered for the rest of the day? Was Tarantino giggling during the writing and filming of the ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs? What about Romero? Was all that blood spilling (and sinew-chewing) fun to create in his movies? I suspect so, but there’s a part of me that cringes when I think about the sheer horror of what he’s creating. It must be really hard to walk away from something like that unmarked. What about Cormac MacCarthy and The Coen Brothers? Were the writing and filming of No Country for Old Men‘s darkest scenes easily accomplished?
I remember an interview with Stephen King (yes, I love him; he’s pretty much a constant presence in my household) where someone asked him about the glory of his own imagination. He agreed that it was cool, but it was horrible, too. Whenever he worried, for instance, about one of his children in a car accident, he not only saw the crumpled car, he saw the kid, in bloody detail — wasted and devoured by metal. Imagination is great, he asserted, but it’s terrible, too.
When I compose my own ultra violent scene(s), my adrenaline pumps, my heart rate is up, and I feel literally awful. I like my characters. I want them to succeed. I want the bad guys to lose. But when things work out the other way, I can’t imagine other writers are gleeful, or at the very least, unmoved by those terrible events. Granted, as storytellers, we do what we have to do to tell the stories we want to tell, but that doesn’t mean we don’t suffer for at least a little while afterwards.