Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Quick take: Violence = consequences

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Feb• 11•15

I’ve worked on a number of manuscripts where violence happens on the page and the story just sort of moves along. Violence requires consequences–injuries, trauma, legal repercussions, banishment. It also requires enough back story to support the character committing violence. If a sweet young thing punches out an adversary, we need to believe she’s physically capable of doing so and that something  wounded or unassailable in her background or personality led her to lose it.

Godfather shooting scene     Lately I’ve been mentioning examples from The Godfather  here, so let me add  another one. When Michael Corleone, war hero and Ivy League grad, guns down Sollozzo, the family’s enemy and McCluskey a police captain, the consequences matter big time. He doesn’t just drop the gun and saunter back to the Corleone compound in Staten Island as if he’s untouchable. No, he hightails it to Sicily where he hides out, complete with bodyguards and fitting in with the local customs.

And another thing–Michael’s double homicide is the midpoint reversal in the story. It’s a set piece and comes after he visited his father in the hospital and realizes that the Don is again being set up for murder. Later, back at home with the family and their captains around him it’s Michael’s idea to take down Sollozzo–because he’s the least likely to commit murder. In the film version the camera closes in on his battered face (McCluskey had decked him outside the hospital) and he brings up his idea in quiet, steady voice. He realizes that the assassination attempts on his father are going to continue unless they make a dramatic stand.

At first his brother Sonny mocks him, but the plan is adopted. And Michael’s character arc is taking place before our eyes. The lethal, ruthless part is beginning to show. In the next scene there is a close-up of a gun and Clemenzo teaching Michael how to shoot point blank.Godfather Michael and Clemenzo

So if your character commits violence, how does it change him or her? If it doesn’t, the reader or viewer needs to know why.

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