World Fantasy Report #3: The Last Resort (A discussion about violenceused in SF genre writing)

Is violence over-used in speculative fiction?

This was the question faced by panelists of "the Last Resort." It was moderated by Mark L. Van Name, who had an amazing amount of knowledge and sensitivity in regards to the subject of violence. Also on the panel were Sue Bolich, Peter V. Brett, Alan DeNiro, and Joan Spicci Saberhagen.

I found the discussions and comments thoughtful, insightful, and illuminating. It helped me reflect on my own writing. There were so many interesting things being said during the panel that I couldn't get it all down. I've tried only to put in quotes those sentences that I feel I was able to capture completely as I listened. In areas where I felt I may have missed something, I've summarized. Again, if I've accidentally mis-quoted someone and you would like me to pull it off the post, please let me know. My goal of this post is to share the content of what I felt was the best panel at the convention.

Some quotes jotted down during the panel:

"Violence needs to fit with the needs of the story." -- Peter V. Brett

"Society creates a class of people [soldiers, policemen, firemen] to deal with things that no one else wants to deal with." -- Mark L. Van Name

"Violence done out of profession is different than violence done out of weakness of character." -- Mark L. Van Name

"Culture and personality effect the level of violence." -- Sue Bolich.

"Violence is hard-wired into all of us." -- Peter V. Brett

"Culture decides what's violent and what's not. Society decides when violence is justified." -- Joan Spicci Saberhagen

Question from Mark L. Van Name to the panelists: "How does your personal background effect your approach to violence?"

Answer #1: Sue Bolich served in the army, though she never went to combat. Her characters are not the aggressors. Violence is a reaction to a scene or setting. This is a reflection of her own reaction to violence.

Answer #2: Joan Spicci Saberhagen is from a big Italian family. She says they were always one step away from real violence, though there was never really follow through.

Answer #3:  "The party with the fewest rules will win the violent fight." -- Mark L. Van Name. In his fiction, Mark likes the explore the following question: Given the same situation to live over, would the character do the same thing? He says that as a society, we should not judge so harshly those who do things in certain situations.

Question from Mark L. Van Name to the panelists: "What's the moment in fiction where you feel it's okay to resort to violence?"

Answer #1: "That moment of tension that needs resolution." -- Peter V. Brett

Answer #2: "Depends on the character.  Your reason needs to be true based on an individual character. It needs to arise naturally." -- Sue Bolich

Answer #3: "Violence could be a function of world building." -- Alan DeNiro

Answer #4: "You don't have stories unless you have obstacles." -- Joan Spicci Saberhagen. She explained that violence takes different forms in different stories. For example, in a Jane Austen story, a person stalking out of a room would be considered violent. The setting determines what is and what is not violent.