Two ways to write about physical violence in crime fiction and thrillers – Written By Louise Harnby

Louise Harnby is a line editor, copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in working with independent authors of commercial fiction, particularly crime, thriller and mystery writers.

Louise provides us with two ways to write about physical violence in crime fiction and thrillers, a phenomenal blog post which I had to share.

Thank you, Louise.


Not every reader can stomach violence in fiction, and not every writer wants to go the whole hog with it. Here are two ways to approach it: compressed reporting after the fact; and showing it all as it happens.

Compressed reporting after the fact

Reporting the outcome of violence after the fact can be a superb alternative to detailed descriptions that might upset or sicken authors and their readers. This technique is used on the screen too.

In Series 5, Episode 3 of Line of Duty (BBC1), the perpetrator breaks into the home of a core character’s ex-wife. The transgressor proceeds to torture the victim. There’s a drill involved and lots of screaming. It’s gross. Well, it would be if we saw it. But we don’t. All we see is the outcome.

The ex-wife lies in a hospital bed, bandaged from head to toe. We glimpse patches of skin, her flesh swollen and angry. Her face is physically untouched though trauma is etched into it. And even the slightest movement results in a whimper and a wince; despite the medication, she’s in pain. All we know so far is that something awful has happened to her but we don’t know what.

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