Violence in Fiction: 6 Archetypes

From KMW: The dictionary tells us the definition of violence is: “Behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” By that definition, we can recognize that violence in fiction is a staple. Almost every story features some example, even if it’s “just” verbal aggression. Certain genres, such as mysteries and action, find their very foundation upon violence.

Naturally, this becomes a complex subject. To avoid violence in fiction altogether is impractical, if for no other reason than the fictive world soon ceases to be an accurate representation of reality. And yet, fiction is not only informed by reality, it also informs reality. Therefore, it behooves any writer using any level of violence in fiction to do so with awareness of its true implications, not just as part of a moral discussion, but also within the needs of the plot.

Today, I’m happy to share with you another thoughtful post from Usvaldo de Leon, Jr. A few years ago, I asked him to write a post based on an email conversation we had shared about the often dehumanizing portrayal of mindless violence in fiction. Today, he’s back with a breakdown of how violence functions in modern fiction and how to recognize certain archetypes of violence that might be showing up in your stories, so you can portray them with as much awareness and power as necessary.


In “real life,” violence is held in abeyance. It is a demon trapped in a bottle, and care must be considered before the bottle is broken; sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. For this reason, we are socialized against using it. We are taught to bury our violent impulses. “He made me so mad I could hit him,” we say, but we won’t. Once, as children, we smacked anyone who displeased us. Over time we learned to restrain ourselves.

However, an impulse repressed does not equal an impulse removed and therefore we employ and even enjoy violence in our stories. “Apology accepted, Captain Needa,” Vader says, and the incompetent underling collapses lifeless while our inner five-year-old nods admiringly.

What are we responding to when we watch violent stories? Are there archetypes of violent stories that we can use as writers? Can we respect violence as a plot element?

6 Ways Violence in Fiction Is Used Today

1. Plot Device

The primary use of violence in fiction is as a plot device and intensifier, like using a spice. Obi-Wan does not have to die in Star Wars: he could be arrested, for example. He could be called away suddenly by Yoda. Either choice forces Luke to grow up. But his death adds spice—it livens up the scene.

Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), 20th Century Fox.

2. Plot Mover

Violence moves the story along. In The Maltese Falcon, the death of Sam Spade’s partner propels him into the mystery.

The Maltese Falcon (1941), Warner Bros.

3. Third Plot Point Symbolism

And, of course, what would the “all is lost moment” be without the death of a character? This moment symbolizes death, and storytellers love to make it literal.

4. Stakes

Violence is used to communicate the stakes. In Escape From New York, Snake Plisken has twenty-four hours to find the President before tiny explosives in the blood vessels leading to his brain will explode.

Escape From New York (1981), AVCO Embassy Pictures.

If Luke doesn’t stop the Death Star, it will destroy the Rebel base, dooming the galaxy to the Evil Empire.


Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), 20th Century Fox.

In Kill Bill Vol. 1, to face her nemesis O Ren Ishii, The Bride must first kill O Ren’s personal army of 88 sword wielding yakuza assassins.

Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003), Miramax Films.

5. Conflict

Violence can also be used for conflict. In The Graduate, to rescue Elaine from her wedding, Benjamin Braddock literally has to fight off the wedding party and guests like they were a zombie horde. If everyone had calmly discussed the situation in order to resolve it peacefully, well, where’s the fun in that?

The Graduate (1967), Embassy Pictures.

6. Catharsis

Finally, violence in story can be a release. The characters are not bound by social conventions; if someone is preventing them from achieving their goal, they are free to do them bodily harm. As audience members, we are often pleased to witness others do things we would not allow ourselves to do. In High Fidelity, when the insufferable Ian Raymond steals Rob Gordon’s girlfriend, he lashes out, dispensing the beat down the character so richly deserves for a satisfying laugh for the audience.

High Fidelity (2000), Touchstone Pictures.

3 Polarities of Violence in Fiction

Violence in story occupies three axes:

1. Authorized or Unauthorized

Authorization refers to the role of the character. A police officer is authorized to use violence in the course of duty; so, too, in a different way, is a mob hitman.

2. Justified or Unjustified

Justification refers to just that: was the killer justified in the use of violence? In a typical story, the violence deployed by the main character will be justified and that of the antagonist will be unjustified, but not always. In Red River, for example, Thomas Dunson is never justified in his violence and it is a crucial clue for how the story develops.

Red River (1948), United Artists.

3. Orderly or Chaotic

Order or chaos refers to how the violence affects the story world. When the policeman in a story shoots the serial killer, that is restoring order. When the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises plants bombs on two ferries and tells them to blow each other up, it is an attempt to devolve Gotham to a base chaotic state.

6 Archetypes of Violence

Using this system, we can identify six possible archetypes through which violence in fiction may portrayed. Let us look at each of the archetypes.

Archetype #1: The Policeman (Justified/Authorized/Orderly)

The Policeman is most concerned with order. When chaos is introduced into the story world, it is the Policeman’s job to restore order to the world. In Dirty Harry, chaos is a serial killer stalking the streets of San Francisco.

However, the desire for order is not limited to law enforcement. In Batman Begins the Policeman is Ra’s Al Ghul. Consider that the League Of Shadows has acted as a check on human corruption and decadence for centuries. Therefore, the actions Ra’s takes are “authorized.” Gotham is depicted as a city collapsing under its own corruption, making these actions are “justified.” The end of Gotham will allow a better, cleaner city to arise. Therefore the actions are “orderly.”

Batman Begins (2005), Warner Bros.

Archetype #2: The Avenger (Justified/Unauthorized/Orderly)

The Avenger is most concerned with justification. For example, the bad guy has murdered someone close to the Avenger, and the Avenger has the ability to settle the score, returning to a semblance of “order.” The only difference between the Policeman and the Avenger is that one is “authorized” and the other is “unauthorized.”

These archetypes are slippery. It is possible for someone to begin a story as a Policeman and then to lose their authorization, turning into an Avenger. Beverly Hills Cop is one such story. Axel Foley is literally a Policeman, but when Foley’s friend is murdered, Foley’s captain will not sanction an investigation. Foley heads west to his friend’s home area as an Avenger.

Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Paramount Pictures.

Archetype #3: The Outlaw (Justified/Unauthorized/Chaotic)

The Outlaw is not interested in returning the world to its previous state. They are most most concerned with chaos. They seek to push the limits of the world—to change it. In Batman Begins, it is Batman who is the Outlaw, fighting the brutal order Ra’s Al Ghul seeks to impose.

Batman Begins (2005), Warner Bros.

Archetype #4: The Warrior (Justified/Authorized/Chaotic)

The Warrior seeks to destroy until the enemy is subdued or wiped out. The deliberate act of total war in this way is naturally chaotic, as it is impossible to know what the ultimate outcome will be. As the name implies, this archetype is most often seen in war films. In the eponymously named film, John Wick starts as an Avenger, seeking revenge for his poor dog. However by the end of the first film, his scope has expanded, and he intends to destroy Viggo’s entire criminal outfit. Devolving from Avenger to Warrior is a standard story beat, as also seen in the original Get Carter and The Road to Perdition.

John Wick (2014), Summit Entertainment.

Archetype #5: The Criminal (Unjustified/Unauthorized/Orderly)

The Criminal preys upon the order of the world because it is stable, predictable, and profitable. The Criminal may be on the wrong side of the line, so to speak, but they have a vested interest in preserving that line. Danny Ocean in Ocean’s 11 is a typical Criminal: if he has done his job properly, it will be as if he was never there. Any violence the Criminal engages in will be the minimum necessary to achieve the job. Heat is about a crew of professional thieves who would just as soon not be violent if possible, but when violence is necessary are ruthless in executing it.

Ocean’s 11 (2001), Warner Bros.

Archetype #6: The Anarchist (Unjustified/Unauthorized/Chaotic)

The Anarchist has no interest in anything but chaos. As Alfred says about The Joker in The Dark Knight, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” The Anarchist is unauthorized, unjustified, and chaotic, and that makes them singularly terrifying because it is impossible to know exactly what they might do or why.

Thoughts on How and When to Use Violence in Fiction

Violence in fiction is much like the wind blowing: the impact is not so much from the incident itself but the reaction to it. The weight of the scene is created not by the violence but by the reaction to the violence.

Humans are by nature empathy machines. As such, when someone suffers, our inclination is to suffer with them. In The Thin Red Line, when Sergeant Keck accidentally explodes a grenade, the scene becomes excruciating as he becomes weepy and delirious and calling out to his mother.

The Thin Red Line (1998), 20th Century Fox.

On the other hand, when the good guy frequently just mows down seemingly hundreds of faceless baddies, who barely get a half second for us to acknowledge their passing, this signals that the deaths are unimportant. By its very lack of importance, this suggests the violence is unnecessary. If the use of violence in fiction is enhance your story, it must be seen as necessary, even inevitable, much as The Graduate could not end without a fight.

Violence is a significant element in fiction, and its cathartic properties frequently make it necessary for a story to feel complete. But use it wisely like salt in cooking to enhance your story. Be careful not to oversalt the story and make it unappetizing.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Which of these archetypes have you used to portray violence in fiction? Tell me in the comments!

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About Usvaldo de Leon, Jr.

Usvaldo de Leon, Jr., is a screenwriter who lives in Tucson, Arizona. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for his screenplay Let Us Hold Hands and Sing Folk Songs. Most of these statements are true (Usvaldo is so obviously a fake name).


  1. Interesting essay. I agree violence should be used thoughtfully in writing, and frankly there’s way too much entertainment where it’s served up like cotton candy. Honestly, I think the main use of violence, particularly early in a piece, is to define character. I was not entertained by Vader’s killing of the general; I took this as a sign he was evil. It’s almost step one of creating a stock antagonist – have them exercise unnecessary violence. There are tons of exception, but what’s relatively rare is for a character to process the impact of their violence. That’s impossible for a stock villain, because he’d stop being “stock,” but even most good guys aren’t particularly reflective. Does Luke ever worry about those he’ll kill? No, it’s not that type of story. So, end the end, violence informs both theme and character.

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      When violence is deployed, as you say, like “cotton candy”, it’s impact is diluted. And yes, seeing a character take stock of the violence they’ve seen/perpetrated is underutilized.

    • Hi Andy, I had a similar experience with that Star Wars scene. I thought it made Darth scary. I thought if he would do that to one of his people, what wouldn’t he do? I was a kid when I saw it—seven or something, and lived in a home infected with violence. I’m wondering if you were also a kid and/or had any brushes with violence prior to seeing the film?

  2. Interestingly enough, my hero (who was a real-life person) went from being a criminal to being a warrior fighting for his country.

  3. Ah, this reminds me of the axis of Law and Chaos / Good and Evil in the Dungeons and Dragons games (at least the original Baldur’s Gate / Icewind Dale / Neverwinter Nights series). Chaotic Good was coded as a Robin Hood-type who will waylay the evil baron’s tax collectors. The evil baron is oppressing the people and bleeding them dry when not outright robbing them.

    But this hinged on the Robin Hood stopping the highway robbers if the rightful king is present and NOT milking the peasants of tax money. A Hermione Granger who normally follows the rules until the rightful headmaster is overthrown, and the evil usurper must be resisted. Whereas Lawful Good would enforce the law either way; they’d just be unhappy working for the evil baron.

    For me a bad guy who is Archetype 6 is difficult to write, because it’s too easy for “I want to watch the world burn” to be a cop out. I liked how Babylon 5 had the Shadows at least believe they were pruning and culling weaknesses in assorted species by starting chaotic wars and conflicts. My favorite type of [fictional] tyrant is the kind CS Lewis warned about, who “oppress you for your own good.” They have a discernible motive, which makes it possible to strategize against them.

    To me Archetype 6 as a corporeal villain forecloses all possibility of negotiation, because they are unreasonable and predatory. Like a savage animal, they are chastised only via pain [violence]. I picture them failing the gom jabbar test of a Bene Gesserit. I can also see a hero break bad if they treat every opponent as an Archetype 6. I specify corporeal, because a monster / demon suits that archetype in a way that makes sense to me while still challenging the hero. For me, anyway.

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      Yes, I don’t think I could write an archetype 6 because I find them difficult to understand.

    • I think the trick to writing a good Anarchist, is showing how they have rationalized their beliefs/ideals at least with themselves. While “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” doesn’t make sense to most people, convincing the audience the Anarchist believes this is the only solution to the problem will create an interesting and somewhat appealing character. Tyler Durden from “Fight Club” comes to mind as the best example of a well-written Anarchist archetypes.

      • Usvaldo de Leon says

        Fight Club is a tremendous story. What I love about it is that Durden seems appealing in the first half and then takes those ideals to a terrifying end. It’s a great sleight of hand trick and as you say a great example of the Anarchist.

      • Heather Willis says

        I love these kinds of characters. My main character starts out an Anarchist, but he thinks he’s an Outlaw. How he uses his backstory to justify his unjustifiable actions is what interests me about his character. I don’t know if this would work for a whole book (he arcs out of Anarchy pretty quick), but it creates lots of external and internal conflict to delve into.

        • Usvaldo de Leon says

          Yeah, Heather, an MC who was an anarchist the entire time would certainly be a challenge to accomplish, lol. Good luck with your story!

    • J.A. Partridge says

      I also saw the D&D alignment connection and thought it interesting how they added a new axis to distinguished between a social authority and moral authority.

      Regarding Archetype 6, one of reasons I liked The Dark Knight’s version was because of how they subverted the stereotypical villain origin story and made it clear that the events that might have led up to his world view didn’t matter. There are no neat, easy-breezy answers here. He’s not a person to be related to or reasoned with but a force of nature that has to be dealt with. He’s a purely thematic force.

      As refreshing as that was, however, I also appreciate the painful Warrior–>Avenger–>descent into Anarchy arc when it is done well. (As Lucas ultimately *tried* to do with the Anakin to Darth Vader arc.)

  4. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Usvaldo!

    • Curt Wellumson says

      And thank you too!

      • Curt Wellumson says

        Ooops- Here’s what I’d hoped would post before I hit the wrong key: It’s almost becoming expected for me, that when I receive your latest postings, it’s what I most need to learn. I’m there in my current wip, and now have some added ‘punch’ if you will, to spice up this portion.
        I can now call my protagonist an “Avenger” type 2 – as he brings order back and in so doing, creates a catharsis for the situation and another main character! Sincere thanks once again. I’m back to my keyboard now, need to decide if the bad guy is merely knocked down, or…out.
        Regards, Curt

        • Usvaldo de Leon says

          Hi Curt, I’m glad that you found this useful! One thing that just occurred to me reading your comment: what happens to the avenger once there is nothing to be avenged? Good luck with your story.

          • Curt Wellumson says

            Hi Again Usvaldo. This avenger will no doubt find another good cause to defend! Thanks for asking & Good luck to you also.

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      Thank you for having me!

  5. #7 Natural Catastrophe (Unjustified/Inunauthorizable/Chaotic)?
    I couldn’t find a name for #8 which would be unjustified, authorized and orderly

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      So I had to grid this out to make sure I got this, lol. Yes, there are 8 combinations. The two I didn’t mention would be Authorized/Unjustified/Orderly and Authorized/Unjustified/Chaotic.
      The first I consider to be an oxymoron – there is no way for a person authorized to act violently to do so in an unjustified manner and have the result be orderly. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I don’t see it as possible.
      On the other hand, Authorized/Unjustified/Chaotic is possible and I believe this would be a shadow archetype of a policeman: the Bad Cop, if you will. A show like The Shield comes to mind as one exploring that.
      A natural catastrophe, unauthorized/unjustified/chaotic, that would be an anarchic situation and probably unpleasant to boot, lol.

      • I identify Authorized/Unjustifed/Orderly with The Assassin. Maintains the status quo, works in a precise and organized fashion, and is sanctioned by the tyrannical powers-that-be.

        • Usvaldo De Leon says

          I can see that, sure. Makes sense.

        • I like the Assassin as Unjustified, Authorised and Orderly. I think the 8th one (Unjustified, Authorised and Chaos) could be the Dictator/Cult Leader, who authorise themselves and set to create a new ‘order’ which is usually only looks like order on the surface.

          • Usvaldo de Leon says

            Makes total sense to me! What the dictator perceives as order is usually just fear, which is inherently a chaotic state.

        • J.A. Partridge says

          I can also see this as a good definition of the inhuman impersonal institutionalized injustice story. Sorry, but that’s just how the system works.

          • Usvaldo de Leon says

            Reminiscent of The Trial by Kafka, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Kesey or even Catch 22 by Heller.

      • Authorized/Unjustified/Orderly would be the Tyrant archetype? Evil Stepmother or Hitler…

      • Authorised/Unjustified/Orderly would be a maverick policeman type – think “Demolition Man”, perhaps – in which the violence is authorised and meant to restore order, but frequently taken too far. Unleash this hero only when desperate!

        Authorised/Unjustified/Chaotic would be the deranged psychopath given licence to fight a bigger evil. Like the maverick above, their violence would be taken too far, but they’d revel in the chaos it causes. “Suicide Squad” is a possible example here, and there’s an argument for “Deadpool” as well.

  6. Christie Powell says

    Interesting. In both of my current projects, the male characters are avengers and the female characters are outlaws. I guess the females are more motivated to change a status quo that stifles them.
    I noticed that the six archetypes don’t leave room for any Unjustified but Authorized behavior. What would those be? Some kind of dystopian government?

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      It seems to me that to be Authorized but Unjustified is a shadow archetype of the Policeman. To my mind, though, if someone authorized commits violence that is unjustified, they then lose their authorization. In Beverly Hills Cop, for example, at the beginning of the film he is arranging a buy and the crook steals the delivery truck. If Axel were to shoot the driver, that would be authorized. But when he is in Beverly Hills, none of his actions have any authorization.
      So I see the archetypes as essentially devolving one into the other. Axel was the policeman but devolves into the Avenger because his captain refuses to grant authorization.

  7. Interesting. In both of my current projects, the male characters are avengers and the female characters are outlaws. I guess the females are more motivated to change a status quo that stifles them.
    I noticed that the six archetypes don’t leave room for any Unjustified but Authorized behavior. What would those be? Some kind of dystopian government (orderly) or a mercenary/assassin (chaotic)?

    • I was thinking The Brute (Unjustified/Authorized/Chaotic) for the character that uses violence whenever they want because they can, without any real agenda behind it. Basically, any Bully in any story you’ve ever read. On the flip side, the other missing archetype would be the Enforcer (Unjustified/Authorized/Orderly) using violence to meet an agenda even when it’s not really warranted. Many of the Star Wars/Imperial villains meet this persona. Just my thoughts.

      • Usvaldo de Leon says

        Feel free to take my thoughts and use them best as you believe works for you. But I think The Enforcer as you term it IS justified. I’m thinking of a film like Killing Them Softly, where Brad Pitt is called in to find out who knocked over a card game and eliminate them. So for the characters of that world, Pitt’s presence is Authorized, Orderly and Justified; these goofs stole from the wrong people and an example needs to be made. However, if you want to look at it from a larger societal standpoint that murdering a thief cannot be justified that’s a valid viewpoint, sure.
        Now your point on The Brute is well taken; I’m reminded of Daniel Craig’s character in the Road to Perdition, who sows a very chaotic, unjustified path but under the protection of his father.

  8. Cool essay! I feel people who have experienced violence tend to process fictional violence differently. I find it cathartic when it’s done well, as you said, with the reaction being shown, as opposed to mindless violence, which I can find triggering if I’m not on guard for it.

  9. Pat Partridge says

    As the 25th anniversary of the Columbine shooting approaches, I am thinking about writing a somewhat fictional-somewhat autobiographical story about it. (I had three sons at Columbine then; none hurt, but friends killed, and they knew the shooters.) One of the killers was, by all indications, an 18 YO psychopath; the other was an accomplish whose willingness to go along made it possible. A strange and powerful dynamic. The psychopathic one was clearly an Anarchist (per the model above), but I can’t make up my mind about the other half of the duo. Plus, the pursuit of fame–rather, infamy–played a role that sits alongside the archetypes described.

    BTW, I’m still not sure I’m up to the story. It was a hard, hard time.

    • Pat Partridge says

      I chuckle now at my mistyping “accomplice” as “accomplish.”

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      Wow, this sounds like a heavy story, even after all this time. I would say that both boys are anarchists viewed from our POV: they are unauthorized/unjustified/chaotic. That’s simply how the violent actions happened. And of course it is awful, one of the darker days of American history. To me it feels like it was a turning point , a harbinger of foreboding.
      The one young man who was the leader was clearly nihilistic and the other bought into that world view. the pursuit of fame played a role – I know both the boys names, as do millions of others, no doubt.
      We are creatures of story and real life events like Columbine we want to turn into a story as much as possible. We want it to have a beginning, a middle and an end, much like how the commission Report on 9/11 is paced and structured like a story. Because we can understand a story, we can process it. Raw, tragic events that have little rhyme or reason, that arise and dissipate like a tornado, it’s very hard to live with that. But that is why, as mentioned, the anarchist archetype is so terrifying.
      I usually wish people good luck with their story but for you, instead, I think I will wish peace and closure for you, however you achieve that.

  10. This is fantastic! It gives me a lot to think about as I finish out my fantasy series which ends with a war. While I think the conflict needs to be there because the overall theme I’m trying to convey, but maybe I need to go about presenting it differently.

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      Stories are symbolic and the battles characters back almost demand violence. If your story involves protagonists who are good facing antagonists who are evil, it would likely be unsatisfying if the two groups did not have a final conflict. In story, the things that we want to achieve are often things we have to literally fight for.

      As theandyclark commented, don’t forget to have your characters take stock of what happens. The lack of any kind of acknowledgement or reckoning with the violence makes character seem flat. The scene with Woody Harrelson in The Thin Red Line starts off as kind of a comic beat- at first it feels a bit like a cartoon. But soon enough, as the character begins dying, it is his platoon mates reaction and their reassurances and words of comfort and empathy that give the death it’s full weight.

      Good luck with your story!

  11. AnneLouise Feeny says

    Your post was most valuable–thank you. I needed to write a dueling scene for Book Two of my historical novel series. In truth, I never identified it as writing violence!–especially since I abhor it. My hero, who was justified, would win. My biggest concern was focused on not making it sound stiff and boring. My solution was to hire a fight choreographer, who with her incredible talent for changing/adding just the right words/actions brought the scene to life.

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      I’m glad that you found it useful! And what a clever idea to bring in a fight choreographer to make sure the action was gripping. If we need to have violence in our stories to symbolically resolve our differences, then let’s make sure it is not boring!

  12. If I think about it there are three or maybe four types of violence in my current WIP.
    One is control of the working class, by class violence in both propaganda and the weilding of power via wealth i.e. the charity hospital maintains control by subjugation of the workers/ patients, if they do not conform health care is withdrawn the same with work if they do not perform or are unable to perform they lose their livelihood.
    Two violence by the antagonist out of greed. He and his sister have no compunction in murdering their father and planning to do the same to his subsequent heirs, including a child, in order to gain an inheritance.
    Three the inner anger of the protagonist, which grows with the injustice which pervades the society in which she lives, to the point of making the terrible decision to abort the foetus she is carrying.
    The fourth a violent rape by her ex-husband to satisfy his need for control.
    I totally agree that we are all capable of violent thought, provoked in many cases by anger about an injustice. It can be as simple as becoming annoyed by something that someone does, intentionally or unitentionally that provokes anger and a desire to get even. And it is a constant battle to control the desire to react in one way or another.
    Even though one might profess to be pacifist the automatic trigger of anger is always there.
    So to have violence in fiction is as you say unavoidable. How one treats it is crucial to the plot and needs to be consistant with the theme of the book.

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      “To have violence in fiction is unavoidable” This reminds me of the film Parasite, which has one of the best midpoint changes I’ve ever seen. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it but suffice to say my immediate reaction was “Oh, you’re just going to have to kill them – because story is heightened and dramatized. No one can ever “agree to disagree” in a story; it’s zero sum and that will be expressed somehow violently.

  13. I think you would profit from reading Jack Donovan´s essay “Violence is Golden”

  14. I’m now approaching the end of my 100,000 word novel with scenes in the 1860’s and the 1970’s. There are two very different violent scenes that define my protagonists.
    The first portrays the violence of the “hornet’s nest at the 1862 battle of Shiloh, in which the hero miraculously survives.
    The second scene is in the 1970’s where the protagonist, a woman, is caught up in a torrent where in the flash flood she is saved at the last minute from near drowning and hypothermia.
    Both scenes are defining moments for both of my protagonists lives and has significant impact on other characters brought into the story subsequently.
    The events of the two centuries come together in the end. Thus, without these examples of violence my book would lose all impact.
    By-the-way, both of these scenes are based on real life happenings.

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      “Both scenes are defining moments for both of my protagonists lives and has significant impact on other characters” – when this is the case, we are using violence as a plot element wisely. Best of luck with your story!

  15. I agree that violence is generally overused in some genres of storytelling, and that it should be used as responsibly as possible. I think a good example of violence being treated with some weight is surprisingly the original Japanese anime adaptation of Trigun. (Mild spoilers for that series ahead) While most of the violence is cartoony slapstick at first, it’s established that the main hero, Vash, is an idealistic pacifist who hates violence; thus, all the Wild West-style shootouts come from the villains who mistakenly think he’s dangerous. Vash never purposefully kills anyone until later in the series, and from what I remember, he laments every single life he takes, including those of villains. I don’t really know what violent archetype I would classify Vash as, if any of them. In fact, I think a lot of Japanese anime heroes defy common Western media hero archetypes (at least the ones for seinen/mature audiences; shonen/teen anime protagonists fit in pretty well). For most Western media, though, I think these violent archetypes you’ve presented are quite useful for classifying characters. Thanks for the post!

  16. Talking about violence in fiction, there are over 50 books involving school shootings. It’s almost become a subgenre.

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      I can’t imagine it, but for the new generation of writers, setting a book with a school shooting probably gives instant authenticity and a frisson of catharsis.

  17. Interesting post! I see people have various label for the type of violence which is Unjustified / Authorized / Chaotic, and I think I’d named it as the Narcissist. The victim in a sense authorizes the narc by submitting to their power. Or The Abuser, whether that is an abuse of power or abuse within relationships.

    What’s interesting is how they helps in designing the protagonist and antagonist, either as complete opposites on all axes, or just in one axis to make the difference between the two characters slight.

    Another interesting thing is if you use Robert McKee’s four quadrant thematic square, you can separate the sides further by the type of violence they use.

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      Those ideas, to incorporate the violence into McKee or along axes are really fascinating! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  18. A few years ago I had a chance to watch (most of) “John Wick” on the telly. I was struck by how much it resembled the anime series “Noir” in that the protagonist leaves the corpses of hordes of faceless baddies in his/her wake. Cartoon violence. That’s all it is. Oh, and “Kill Bill” as well. I chuckled through most of that film (skipped over the part where the bride was being abused). Yes, the public loves simulated violence, but we’re a notch above the ancient Romans who needed to see real bloody violence. But what can you expect from a people who felt the need to invent a word for “kill every tenth man”?

    • Usvaldo de Leon says

      Yes, it does make one wonder what that society was like that they needed to view hand to hand combat for entertainment purposes.

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