Writer in Residence

On Writing Violence - An Addendum

By Kevin Hardcastle

I’ve been receiving a lot of positive feedback and some questions about one of my first posts for Open Book, “On Writing Violence.” One reader, Susan, asked me in the comments about how this all might apply to a third person perspective, instead of the first person scene in The Sun Also Rises. I originally posted a reply in the comments section, but it was quite lengthy, and I figured I’d put it all up here as a short post and sort of addendum to the original piece.

As far as that little scene from The Sun Also Rises, I think it would be much the same whether Hemingway wrote it in first or third person, given how his sensibilities bled over into both POVs (in that it is still all very matter-of-fact and activity based). Nonetheless, here is another third person example, from Cormac McCarthy and Blood Meridian this time, as it seems fitting:

Blood Meridian Wagon_0

"...He drained his glass and went out. There were boards laid across the mud and he followed the paling band of doorlight down toward the batboard jakes at the bottom of the lot. Another man was coming up from the jakes and they met halfway on the narrow planks. The man before him swayed slightly. His wet hatbrim fell to his shoulders save in the front where it was pinned back. He held a bottle loosely in one hand. You better get out of my way, he said.

The kid wasn't going to do that and he saw no use in discussing it. He kicked the man in the jaw. The man went down and got up again. He said: I'm goin to kill you.

He swung with the bottle and the kid ducked and he swung again and the kid stepped back. When the kid hit him the man shattered the bottle against the side of his head. He went off the boards into the mud and the man lunged after him with the jagged bottleneck and tried to stick it in his eye. The kid was fending with his hands and they were slick with blood. He kept trying to reach into his boot for his knife.

Kill your ass, the man said. They slogged about in the dark of the lot, coming out of their boots. The kid had his knife now and they circled crabwise and when the man lurched at him he cut the man's shirt open. The man threw down the bottleneck and unsheathed an immense bowieknife from behind his neck. His hat had come off and his black and ropy locks swung about his head and he had codified his threats to the one word kill like a crazed chant.

That'ns cut, said one of several men standing along the walkway watching.

Kill kill slobbered the man wading forward.

But someone else was coming down the lot, great steady sucking sounds like a cow. He was carrying a huge shellalegh. He reached the kid first and when he swung with the club the kid went face down in the mud. He'd have died if someone hadn't turned him over.

When he woke it was daylight and the rain had stopped and he was looking up into the face of a man with long hair who was completely covered in mud. The man was saying something to him.

What? said the kid. I said are you quits?


Quits. Cause if you want some more of me you sure as hell goin to get it."


Now, that's a long one, but it's got everything in it, and in a different tone and voice than with the Hemingway example I quoted. Still the same principles hold true. In good violence, and good action, you are often going to notice that this kind of writing supersedes the POV, or at least it should. If it's first person, as mentioned in the article, they are going to see it as a series of actions that they don't quite understand and will describe as such, and if they do understand, as a character the knows violence, they will still see it as a practical application of a skill that they know very well. This will still tend toward just describing the actions matter-of-factly. At least, this is my interpretation when it really gets down to it.

So, I hope that might interest some of you who were thinking along the same lines, and wondering if that philosophy of writing violence applied to other perspectives. Unless there is a very specific stylistic reason to approach it differently, or to have characters ponder the violence in some sort of pseudo-realist passage, all of the elements discussed in the original post will apply whether the writing is in first or third person point-of-view.


A few more posts are on the way in this, my last week as Open Book Writer-In-Residence. The next one will be up in a day or two. Thanks for reading and for all of your feedback and comments on all of these. I hope that they've been useful or informative in some way or another...

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Kevin Hardcastle is a fiction writer from Simcoe County, Ontario. He studied writing at the University of Toronto and at Cardiff University. His work has been widely published in journals including The New Quarterly, The Malahat Review, Joyland, Shenandoah and The Walrus. Hardcastle was a finalist for the 2012 Journey Prize, and his short fiction has been anthologized in The Journey Prize Stories 24 & 26Best Canadian Stories 15, and Internazionale.

Hardcastle’s debut short story collection, Debris, was published by Biblioasis in 2015. Debris won the 2016 Trillium Book Award, the 2016 ReLit Award for Short Fiction, was runner-up for the 2016 Danuta Gleed Literary Award, and was a finalist for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize.

His novel, In the Cage, will be published by Biblioasis in Fall 2017.