Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: storytelling

Pacifism and My Violent Book

     I’m a pacifist. Not a passive-ist. A pacifist. I am against violence in all forms for any reasons. Strange, eh?

     I wrote a book that has a lot of violence in it. Bad guys killing and harming good guys. Good guys killing and harming bad guys. Alignment-unknown guys killing and harming … everyone. Blood and death and harm and stuff. It almost makes you wonder how I reconcile that with my beliefs.

     I also tend to enjoy media that has violence in it. Game of Thrones is probably my favourite show in TV right now. And if you’ve ever seen a more violence show, I’d be surprised. And I’d ask what kind of sick cable channel you are subscribing to. Most of the books I read have violence. Every video game I play involves blowing something up.

     So what gives, Matt? You some kind of ridiculous hypocrite or something?

     Probably. But not for that reason.

     I find violence reprehensible because of the suffering it causes and the damage it does to the violent’s soul. But I cannot deny that violence has been a part of the human experience ever since we crawled out of the goop. I’d be willing to bet that everyone has an ancestor who took lives through violence. It’s engrained in us. That’s one of the reasons most people find the idea of pacifism so repulsive.

     Art is not idealized life. It’s elevated life. Art (literature, paintings, performances, TV shows, etc) needs to show every true aspect of life. And one of the most basic and foundational truths about the lives we live, is violence and death. Like Hemingway said, “All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.”

     A writer, or any other artist, has no right to keep from his or her reader those things he disagrees with. That’s one of the reasons why I find it very difficult to reader Christian novels. They are sterile. There is no shit, only poop. And it’s not poop that ever hits the fan.

     I hate violence in any situation. But it’s a part of life, so it needs to go in the stories I make. Just like I hate malice and conflict and suffering and sickness and cancer. These horrid things are all around us. The writer who leaves them out of his book had better have a good reason for it.

The Problem with Cliche

    They’re too big for their britches (Mua ha! Irony!).

    You ever notice how many times the word ‘said’ appears in a novel? Or ‘the’? Nope. You haven’t. Haven’t noticed at all. But if a book repeated a different word, like ‘noticed’, you’d notice. You’d notice fast. But you didn’t notice ‘the’ or ‘said’. Because those words are invisible. And that’s a good thing, because it’s kinda hard to write much without those words appearing on nearly every page.

    Cliches are invisible. That sucks, because the concepts packed into them are mind-bogglingly powerful.

    Armed to the teeth. Give yourself a mental picture there. That dude is seriously armed. His freakin’ teeth have weapons! Too bad it was written in a cliche and you didn’t notice it.
    He did it religiously. Religious people are generally unstable. They don’t listen to reason. They refuse to compromise or slow down. Anyone that does something religiously is suddenly an interesting person. Unless you use this tired cliche to describe them. Then they’re boring.
    The elephant in the room. Another great mental picture that has lost all of its power just because it’s been used a billion times. Though in The Kite Runner it made an appearance that breathed new life into it. Don’t ask me where, just go buy the book.
    What Would Jesus Do. Seriously?! Have you ever read what Jesus did? Don’t freakin’ use this unless we’re talking about someone who devoted their life to spreading love around everyone he met, preached a wild doctrine of love toward enemies and then embraced non-violence so much that he allowed a corrupt religious system to torture him to death all the while forgiving them. Seriously. Just don’t.
    On thin ice. Ever been on thin ice? It’s freakin’ scary. But if you read that you won’t be scared. Because it’s a gutted cliche. So there.
    Raining cats and dogs. Check out the mental image. Be blown away from that kind of rain. And think of a different way to express it.
    Smart as a whip. Whips smart, friends. They smart a lot. Just ask anyone who’s been whipped.

    All this to say that cliches are packed with power. Their substance is wonderful and I love having a list of cliches handy just so I can dig into them and feel their depth. But when it comes time to express their meaning, I have to pack them in a different box. Because they’re invisible. It’s like those preachers who use their religious words so often that, suddenly, they become invisible and no one has any clue what they mean by gospel or word or saved.

    So walk away from cliches, friends. Avoid them like the plague.