I know people love reading about the darker side of life, even if they are wary about admitting it. I have read torture, talked about torture and studied torture quietly since my inquisitive teenage years. Always asking the questions people dare not say out loud. Could I endure it? How would it feel? What would it take to break someone of a certain mentality?
Okay, that last one is probably something only writers think about but the point stands. People love reading torture even if they do so with a bit of shame for enjoying that read. Here are my top tricks and tips in how to write torture.
Research The Techniques
No story is any good if you do not know what you are talking about. it would be like a colour blind person talking about colour. He/she may get it, but the rest of the world would be left in confusion. Research is needed.
This doesn’t meant you need to be an expert on torture, you just need some study coupled with common sense. That common sense should, in essence, prevent you from trying out these techniques on someone else. Agree?
Where would one find such information? Google will help, there are many people willing to discuss the darker side of life. The writing community on Deviant Art are very good at this. Also, check out Occasional Hell, this is a great starting point.
How The Research Helps
Here is a quick paragraph about torture that shows the writers understanding. From the following example, you get the feeling that the writer or the character speaking know exactly what they are talking about.
The following is an extract from Tortured Dreams by Hadena James. This is so worth the read, the audible book is great too. I have listened to it many times.
“What else could it have been?” Alejandro asked.
“A wheel, possibly, but that wouldn’t account for the fetal position or their death and it isn’t exactly portable. And they should have other injuries, external injuries from fire or spikes. I don’t see that here. A rack might account for the broken bones or dislocations, but a rack is less fatal than a scavenger’s daughter. It can kill, but that’s pretty extreme ad normally means that the limbs have become detached or the abdomen split open. Again, though, a rack isn’t all that portable. A hanging coffin might do it, but that would be weird and there should be marks on the feet, the face, and scavengers should have attacked.”Tortured Dreams Hadena James Dreams and Reality Series.
Hadena James would not have known all that information from a random conversation at some point in her life. This was researched, understood and well written.
Understand The Effects On The Body
Torture affects the body. When inflicting torture on a character you need to remember the long and short term effects of that torture on the body.
Say for example the whumper dislocated the whumpees shoulder (find out more about whumpers and whumpees here). That shoulder, many years on, will now dislocate more easily.
Or say the whumper damages a whumpees nerve. This can cause serious problems in the future, the nerve will be more sensitive, it can cause pain, numbess, tingling with just the slightest of knocks.
What about in the moment. Think of sweat, vomit, blinging pain, shaking limbs, tears that have nothing to do with emotion, tears that are all about the fear. Involuntary movement as one tries to avoid what’s coming. And then there’s the pain itself, wounds that will have to be cleaned up, blood, the taste of it, the smell of it…
Effects On Body Example
Here is a piece by Jonathan Moeller called Child of the Ghosts. This pain raged over a few pages interjected by the conversations of the evil whumpers that surrounded the girl. You can see the effects of blood loss, the shaking, the screams the sagging.
Whenever you see a … in this quote it is the conversation that is going on around the girl. It is not relevant to this post, but if you wish to read it the book is free on Kindle.
Caina shrieked and fought the restraints, her wrist and ankles scraping the steel… It hurt worse than anything she had ever known. Caina lay trembling and helpless sobbing into the gag, as Maglairon sawed the dagger back and forth. .. Caina felt a sudden sharp tingle, in addition to the pain, and for a moment her stomach clenched with nausea… Caina sagged against the cold metal table the room spinning around her.Child of the Ghosts by Jonathan Moeller
Reading this again, years after i first read it, I am cringing and my stomach is clenching at the thought of what this poor girl went through. That is a sign of good writing.
Understand The Effects On The Mind
Here we are talking PTSD. The strong and lingering affects of PTSD and what it can cause.
But we’re also talking about the moment itself.
People are not willing to just open up and talk about what they wet though even years later. What happened will hold a great bearing on how they go on to live their life, about what triggers them to be afraid, a simple word can make someone back off if that word was in any way related to what they went through. This is vital to making a believable character after they have been through something.
In the moment, what goes through the mind as they are being tortured. This is critical to writing a believable torture session. They may be trying to be tough on the outside but you can bet they are afraid on the inside.
I won’t quote a section here but I will quote a book that has a lot of psychological torture and the effects of it throughout. This is one that is creepy and left an effect on me for years. Midnight Flight by Virginia Andrews.
Show Not Tell
Be careful when describing pain, torture is often fast, you don’t want a long description breaking up the experience. There are only so many ways you can say pain. Pain is realitive, don’t give a long description on the pain, the buring the fear show the effects. Here are some things to think about.
- Hands clenching in fear.
- Looking for something to hold onto.
- Biting the tongue
- Shaking, trembling
- Not being able to support yourself
- Dizziness, vomiting
- Tears, choking, hysterics that are uncontrollable
- Moving away from the attack
- Scream, curse, swear.
This list could go on. Imagine the effects of a papercut, feel the pain for a moment before you fix it. Take notes. You shook that hand with the cut, you stuck that cut in your mouth. It hurt, it may have sparked a tear in your eye. Imagine it ten times worse.
Bottom line. Don’t tell me your character is in pain. Look at this example, it doesn’t mention that they are in pain anywhere, but you know it.
Brull held her flat as she tried to push herself up to look at the wound, warm blood running down her side. “How did you know we’d be here?” Martin repeated slowly. Kaz tried to shake her head but Brull prevented that movement also, so she closed her eyes. Breathe girl. Just breathe. Her cry this time turning into a sob as the blade cut again, following the rib above the first. “I’M GOING TO KILL THE LOT OF YOU WHEN I GET OUT OF THIS!” She cursed aloud as tears squeezed themselves out of the corner of her eyes. Another scream broke through her clenched teeth as she strained hopelessly against the bondsOutlaws: The Angel of Death
You want Your reader to cringe as they read. You want them to feel that pain, to bite their lip to put a hand to their mouth and read on in horror. You want them to be in that moment.
So take the leap. Hand that torture piece to someone you know, without any context, get them to read it, watch their reactions. They may be horrified at what you have written, that means you have succeed. Congratulations.
Would You Like To SeeMore?
Would you like to see more in-depth studies like this? Could you do with more examples, more tips and tricks, more thoughts on the matter? Is there another matter you would like a study on? Leave a message in the comments below and we shall look into it.