Peace and violence are daily aspects of human life on this planet. Naturally, they both appear in fiction as themes, descriptions, and genres. Writers are challenged to figure out how to integrate opposite ends of the peace-violence continuum in a particular novel. Too much peace may bore the reader. Too much violence moves the story into the grossly absurd. Different approaches are particularly visible in films which the Motion Picture Association rates to communicate a film’s suitability for various audiences. “Peace” does not merit a rating, while even a G-rated film may have minimal violence. In PG-rated films, violence may occur if it is not intense. In PG-rated films some intense violence is admitted. In R-rated films the violence is allowed to be realistic and extreme throughout the film. Novels, on the other hand, are not rated according to such a system. It is up to the writer and the reader to decide how much peace and how much violence they can abide.
Peace in Fiction
How might “peace” be defined in fiction? Peace occurs during a time of tranquility, repose, or calm. It usually refers to an absence of overt action or movement, although mediation is action taken to assure peaceful transitions. It is a state that applies to individuals, groups, and the weather. A writer can use the concept of peace in different ways in fiction. Peace might describe a personal state of being, interpersonal relationships, or societal harmony. In fiction, peace might also be used to set a scene, a time, or a mood. I just read a quote by Ferdinand Denis that I liked: “Temperance is a tree whose roots are composed of contentment and whose fruits are calm and peace.” Thus, peace is a synonym of contentment.
A description of a peaceful character could apply to a state of being or to a state of action. A peaceful person might simply be enjoying a rocking chair on a warm, windless summer day. A character may prefer tranquility to going out to a bar. Another might embrace peace as a concept and a desirable social state of being. Such a character might be depicted as a participant in a peace march, as a pacifist, or politically as a peacenik.
Peaceful interpersonal relationships could refer to harmony or simply the absence of conflict within families, friends, or couples. Societal harmony could refer to periods that were historically peaceful, contemporary moments, or future utopias.
If a writer wants to set a scene that is peaceful, a description of a tranquil day uninterrupted by sounds or strife would suffice. The scene could be a calm morning with a gentle breeze or a still evening with lengthening shadows descending over the hillside. The purpose of the scene would be to create a tranquil mood.
Social harmony usually refers to a period without or between wars. It could also refer to a cease fire during a war. To write about a peaceful time, the story could be intimate or social. A couple could be enjoying a serene afternoon having tea. A family could be spending a pleasant Sunday afternoon gathered on the porch drinking lemonade. A historical scene might reflect the harmony that follows the end of a war or the celebration of an armistice.
Violence in Fiction
When related to human behaviors, violence is usually defined as a force used to injure, damage, destroy, or as extreme roughness of action. It also refers to unjust or callous use of power as in violating another’s rights or sensibilities. Violence is also used to mean a great force or strength of feeling, conduct, or expression, a twisting or wrenching of sense or form, as in “to do violence to a text.” Regarding nature, violence refers to an intense, explosive forces such as the wind, the rain, earthquakes, or floods.
My favorite French dictionary, Le Petit Robert, adds another interesting meaning to the word violence: to do violence to oneself is to constrain oneself to an opinion that is contrary to what one thinks spontaneously. It also adds examples of the violence of feelings, desires, and manners of expression. I love Le Petit Robert because it gives literary examples of the meanings of words. For example, Rolland wrote that “Violence is the law of brutes.”
Bernice King, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, recently tweeted: “Starving a child is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical need is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence.” In other words, Bernice King clarified that discrimination is violence, as is a failure to act in peaceful, helpful ways.
In fiction as in life, violence occurs in family relationships, interpersonal relationships, and relationships between parts of society. When violence occurs domestically, it occurs along a continuum, allowing the writer to create different levels of tension among family members. It might be in the form of reserve rather than intimacy. It might be coolness, coldness, or bitterness between spouses or siblings. It might develop into physical abuse.
In more public interpersonal relationships, violence might be expressed through rejection or unsociability, a frosty expression, verbal antagonism, rancor, or deliberate inhospitality. Extreme forms of violence might begin with vicious words, forceful behaviors, then progress through various forms of aggression. A violent interaction might be verbally pugnacious, then progress to physical cruelty, brutality, or even savagery.
When a writer is depicting large scale societal violence, the continuum tends to range from local conflict between groups to area divisions to confrontations or actual battle between states. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is an example of local violence that has societal implications. The societal violence in the story of the Alamo in the area that split Texas from Mexico has generated many different historical novels. Myriad examples of novels treat the violence of World War I and World War II. Science fiction novels tend to treat interstellar violence.
Peace and Violence in Current Fiction
Maggie O’Harrell’s novel, Hamnet, has beautiful examples of peace and violence. In one scene, Agnes returns to a peaceful, moss-covered hideaway next to a river she has loved since she was a child to give birth alone and unattended. The novel also has a scene of familial violence. The father has warned his son to stay clear and safely far away from his grandfather. At a crucial point in the story, the grandson is desperate to ask his grandfather something and enters his study. The grandfather lures the child closer, grabs him, and hits him, injuring his forehead.
In The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, peace and violence are threaded throughout the novel. Two family relationships, one between a father and his daughter and the other between a father and his adopted son, form the basis of the plot. Both fathers’ relationships with their respective children are based on psychological and physical violence that carry the plot through to the end. A secondary character finds peace and quiet only when he climbs a giant tree which gives him a broad perspective on the world and the circus.
Another novel I read this past month, Finding the Bones by Avery Russell posits a return to home as a way to find personal peace, although this bliss is shattered by a violent psychological act on the part of the protagonist’s former lover.
Peace and Violence in My Fiction
One of my novels takes place after World War I, thus the violence and damage of the war has scarred the characters. Another of my novels takes place during the Great Depression in the USA, as a result, the violence tends to occur between individuals who lack what they need. And the third takes place during a period of American violence abroad which instigates daily expressions of violence at home, both of which affect the characters.
My Writing Goals for 2021
Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:
This month, I have studied more about the philosophy of this novel.
Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:
This month, I worked on a violent scene that occurs in the novel.
Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:
This month, I made a minor addition to this novel.
Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:
This month, I did not work on this project.
Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:
Boulder Writers Alliance:
I attended the Steering Committee Meeting. I also attended part of the Writers Who Read discussion of Maggie O’Harrell’s Hamnet.
Denver Women’s Press Club:
The DWPC sessions are in person this year, so I won’t be able to attend. However, I gained important information from the DWPC e-newsletter about marketing books locally.
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers:
To my great disappointment, RMFW canceled the virtual portion of their October conference. However, the BWA newsletter team collaborated with the co-chairs of the RMFW conference to feature it in the Boulder Writers Alliance e-newsletter.
Women Writing the West:
I am looking forward to the WWW virtual conference this week.
Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021
Today is October 7, 2021, I am posting my tenth blog of 2021. Fall has arrived. The air is clear and bright. Fortunately, my brain always seems clearer in the autumn than in the summer. I spent some time this month marketing my poetry book, Moon Chimes. With other non-writing projects finally completed, I anticipate having more time to devote to my own writing this month.