So, I’ve read Homer, and after the scenes outside the walls of Troy, what can anyone actually hope to add to that? In just a few hundred lines of poetry, the creator of the first major written epic covered pretty much every variant of violent battlefield death that I ever needed to think about.
And yet, here I am, writing about events framed by a war, in which blood was spilled and guts were occasionally strewn. What to do?
For the most part, I’ve made the conscious decision to this point to keep such action at a distance. My characters recollect the horrors of battle from time to time, and stories of specific incidents so notable that they have persisted in the historical record also pop up.
I have yet to write a direct account of battle, however, and I freely acknowledge that this is a somewhat chicken-hearted approach to the problem. For one thing, as I said above, it’s been done to death, by everyone from Homer down to our modern-day cinematographers, whose loving renditions of the personal costs of war can be emotionally overwhelming.
For another, I’m fortunate enough to have largely avoided any but the most prosaic and well-controlled episodes of blood and gore in my personal life. The births of my children and raising and slaughtering my own chickens, along with the typical injuries of a basically sedentary lifestyle, are the sum total of my own exposure to real-life bloodiness.
So, in all honesty, I don’t know that I have a lot to add, and for the moment, at least, I’m happy enough to just tell my characters’ stories through their reactions to the horrors that they’ve experienced. If I ever did sit down and try to write a realistic battle scene, I suspect that I would give myself nightmares, and that just doesn’t sound like fun at all.
Better to leave it in better-equipped hands, I think.