Rules of Gore . . . in Storytelling

Al Gore

Al Gore

I have a confession: I’m not a big fan of gore.  I get squeamish easily, so this is topic that comes from a person who has a low tolerance.  I’ve gotten better in my old age, but I couldn’t even make it through a Yahoo Image Search for ‘Gore’.  So, you get the above picture in order for me to handle this post.  I’m sure some people find that scarier than the bloodiest horror movie, but let’s avoid politics here.

A few weeks ago I found that there were more Youtube videos of an Anime Music Video mash-up called AMV Hell.  I watched the latest one and saw one clip that had monsters devouring people with a lot of blood.  Now, I’m an anime fan and I remember the spurting of Ninja Scroll and the gore of Elfien Lied.  I made it through that, but something was odd about it.  Apparently, this was a series called Blood-C and it had a habit of upping the gore with every episode.  In fact, some people said it was all gore and no plot until the last two episodes.  I’m not here for a review, but I did check out episode 9 . . . I don’t have it in me to post it:

Basically, the main character is a girl with a sword and can go super powered to kill these monsters.  In the episode I found, a monster is at her school where her class is the only one there.  The first half of the episode is the butchering of every character, except the main one.  Blood, screams, and body parts are everywhere, which was really gross and so over the top.  Yet, it wasn’t funny over the top.  It was disturbing over the top because I saw no reason for it to happen and the main character simply wouldn’t use her powers to put a quick end to it.  Not until everyone was dead, so you add bad character usage in here to make me sick to my stomach.

This made me realize that many people use or see gore as a powerful tool when it comes to storytelling.  It shocks the audience when it occurs, but there is a limit.  Eventually, a person can become desensitized to it.  For a reader, it means they get bored with the death and start seeing it more as a joke.  For a writer, it can lead to upping the gore and methods of demise until it’s so far over the top that it hurts the story.  One has to remember that you can’t keep pushing the same button on a person without it wearing out.

So here are some quick rules about gore that I just thought up:

  1. Do NOT use it every other scene.
  2. Do use it sparingly to get the proper shock value.
  3. Unless you’re making an anime or a comedy, try to remember that blood is not a highly pressurized liquid in the human body.
  4. There is not enough blood in the human body to spurt fifty feet for an hour.  At least I don’t think there is.
  5. Try to stay with only one beheading, one loss of limb, and/or one evisceration per story.  Exception is if beheading is the only way to kill characters like in Highlander or Supernatural’s vampires.
  6. Never replace plot and character development with massive amounts of bloodshed.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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36 Responses to Rules of Gore . . . in Storytelling

  1. This reminds me of years ago, when I was heavily involved in Pern fandom. A club member had a character background with so many tragedies that it became ridiculous. Her family and home hold had been wiped out by bandits, so she went to live with her Grandfather who got sick and died, and then her pet fire lizard was killed while protecting her from a wild wherry. I told her to pick one trauma and go with it, but three were just too much.

    In the same way, using too much gore has the potential to drive away as many readers/viewers as it attracts. I guess that authors have to decide what their target audience is, and try to match that taste. I agree, though, that too much “bottom this” without plot or character just sounds yucky.

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    • I agree with the too much tragedy issue. I can only think of two ways that could work. The character is cursed and it’s part of their plotline or it’s entirely for comedy. I had a friend who played a character in a D&D game that would reveal a past tragedy every game session, but it would be so over the top. For example, we defeated some goblins and then he told us of the time his family’s carrot crop was destroyed by goblins using the farm as an outhouse.

      I’m going to have a challenge with my second series since it’s vampires and I don’t plan on skimping on the blood. Deciding on a target audience is a great idea though.

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  2. sknicholls says:

    I can’t do gore. Even reading it in some historical fiction, sci-fi…just makes me cringe. I’ll keep reading, but I’ll skim.

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  3. MishaBurnett says:

    I have been thinking about this a lot in my current WIP, because the scene I am writing now involves a really horrifying character.

    I think that she’s a solid character, and makes sense in the context of the world, but I suspect that a lot of people will be revolted and feel that I’ve crossed the line into torture porn. That’s a chance I have to take. I’m being honest and following the story where it takes me. I also have to be honest that I enjoy writing things that are completely over the top, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. At least, I hope not.

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    • I’ve been at that point with a new villain in my series. He’s so much more violent and monstrous than the others. I do fear that people will think I’ve gone too far with him. It really is a risk, but it feels disturbingly natural for this character. As you said, it’s solid and makes sense for him. Let’s hope it pays off for both of us.

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  4. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! And since I include gore in my book, this is very timely. I’m about to revise, so I could use all the help I can get.

    I’m not a fan of gore, but if it’s done well, I can see the purpose. For example, movies like The Silence of the Lambs, The Fellowship of the Ring, Se7en were well done. Too much gore, as you mentioned, desensitizes a viewer or reader.

    I haven’t seen the anime you mentioned. I think I’ll avoid it.

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    • Yeah. I wasn’t impressed with it. Though, my mind went to this one called Ninja Scroll. My friends and I thought it was one of the funniest things we had seen in college. Sex and violence everywhere with little understanding of the plot.

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  5. Embrace me: an open letter to books, a post I did recently, was inspired by you. I mentioned your site but you’ve been busy so I can’t remember if you’ve seen it. I admire your hard work.

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  6. twixie13 says:

    Ah, gore. I will admit to being a fan of some of the gorier stuff out there. That being said, I also prefer seeing it when it makes sense within the story or for a character than just as a solution to everything. I tend to use quite a bit of gore in my writing…but then again, one of my antagonists is a serial killer, a few characters are assassins (though the cyborg’s the worst of the three in this department), there’s a cannibal somewhere (that disturbs me…not an easy feat), and one of the main characters has a tendency to die frequently. So, gore’s sort of part of these characters’ nature. Definitely agree on the quantity and pressurization of the blood aspects. Especially quantity.

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    • I was thinking of a response as I read this, but my mind isn’t straying far from ‘one of the main characters has a tendency to die frequently’. I’m very curious about the back story here. 🙂

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      • twixie13 says:

        Well, he has a regenerative ability and very horrible luck. He’s likely to curse out his killer upon returning from the dead because, well, pain. The regeneration is a byproduct of him undergoing a hefty amount of genetic engineering. The horrible luck, on the other hand, just comes to him naturally. Though he does sometimes bring it upon himself (like continually calling that arms dealer with a hook hand and eyepatch a pirate when she was clearly holding a gun)…

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      • Sounds like a fun character to watch. I like how he brings some of it on himself.

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  7. I am like you. I avoid gore when I can. I more or less have the gore take place off stage so to speak. Good list.

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  8. #1. What, you don’t want to see a new Gore genre? (Neither do I…) 🙂

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  9. aldreaalien says:

    I’m not one for excessive gore, but I always find numbers 3 & 4 hilarious, even when it’s not meant to be.

    I think the goriest thing I’ve done is have two separate characters rip a man’s head off with their bare hands, one was a vampire whilst the other was magically enhanced by threat to offspring, one even took the guy’s spine with the head (which, of course, completely freaked out his son).

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    • 3 and 4 always have me laughing too. Imagine what would happen if you combined that with CSI where they’re always looking at blood spray as evidence. They’d be so lost.

      I had a gory death in my third book where a bad guy was exploded from the inside. There really wasn’t any clean way to take him. I’m saving up more violent deaths for my vampire series in a few years.

      Head tearing off is a classic. Predator would be proud of that second one.

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  10. Bastet says:

    I don’t like splatter and won’t read it and certainly won’t write it, liked your post and those Gore(y) images…nice set of rules you pulled up!

    Like

  11. mrsgillies says:

    I can’t handle gore. When entrails start flying is when my head is in a bucket.

    Like

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