April 30, 2013

Writing About: Torture

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post is for literature purposes ONLY to help aspiring writers. I do not condone, support, or recommend torture in any way! And if you need to act out what your characters do in this sort of scene, I feel it is my duty to tell you not to do it to another human being or with weapons. Thank you!
And with that stated clearly...

The best tip that I could ever give you, or any writer who needs to write a torture scene, is to think about what you are afraid of. What are your phobias? What are your nightmares? What would be the most agonizing pain that you could imagine? What do you believe would be the most horrible thing that someone could do to another human being? Make a list of your answers and then pick the method of torture according to what would fit best with your story.

You will also want to tap into your reader’s fears. Ask your family and friends about their worst fears and see if you can incorporate one or two of the ideas you get from them into the torture scene.
Here are 5 phobias that many people have: 
1. Arachnophobia: The fear of spiders. 
2. Ophidiophobia: The fear of snakes.
3. Acrophobia: The fear of heights.
4. Trypanophobia: The fear of injections.
5. Pyrophobia: The fear of fire.
 If you use one of those then you will surely frighten a lot of people!

The next thing you could consider is whether or not tools or weapons will be involved. There are thousands of tools/weapons out there and you might find one that could make this scene in your book more horrifying. Just think of that sledgehammer Stephen King used in his book “Misery”. I still get goosebumps when I think about it!

When you have all the details and are ready to write about torture, the most important thing for you to remember is the characters. Whether the protagonist or antagonist is doing the torturing, you’ll want to get into their head. What is he/she thinking as they torture this other person? Are they excited? Are they thinking about what they want to do next? Are they laughing inside because they are getting their revenge or feeding their mania?

What does he/she feel while they are committing this gruesome act? Giddy. Angry. Desperate. Vengeful. Does the sound of the other person screaming fill them with joy? And, of course, why are they doing it in the first place? Is he/she doing it because they have no other choice or because it brings them pleasure?

Don’t forget to share what the person being tortured is thinking and feeling too. When you’re describing what is being done to them, share their pain, their screams, and their tears. Tell your readers about their fear of the person hurting them. Reveal their thoughts about death.

What do they see? What do they hear, smell, and even taste?
Finally, you need to figure out how you’re going to end this scene. If you’re writing a mystery or horror novel about a person who is kidnapped and living through this agony every day, you can obviously keep on going with the torturing, but it will have to momentarily end until the next time. In that case, you get to do this all over again.

If this is a onetime event in your book, you’ll have to consider why, how, and when the torturing stops. Does someone come to the rescue? Do they escape or are they killed? Does the person doing the torturing (possibly the protagonist?) leave after they get what they want?

Think it all through. And try not to frighten yourself too much!

SHARE: Your tips for writing torture.


  1. Thank you! I am a young, aspiring author and I really enjoy this website! I have been looking for tips on torture scenes, as I am writing a fantasy series that involves lots of that sort of thing, so this was very helpful, as well as everything else on this blog! c:

    1. I'm glad you stumbled upon my blog, and that my tips are useful to you. :)

  2. I was looking for tips on writing a torture scene and stumbled across this. Amazing tips, thanks.

    Basically I'm writing a fantasy short story, I'm only 20 but it's a nice hobby that I've picked up recently. One of my main characters Ash is torturing a man because she believes he has information concerning a woman she knows is sleeping with her husband. She wants to know all about the woman, her name, address and anything else. In the end he can't give her much so she kills him. She kind of kills people for her own enjoyment as well as trying to get information but this page has been so helpful.

    It's a pretty important scene as it leads to the arc of the story so I have to get it right. Hopefully people will like it :) Sorry I kind of ranted on a bit there lol

    1. I'm glad you found this helpful. :) Good luck with your short story!

  3. Thanks for the help. I'm writing my torture scene as a flashback for one of my main characters. He goes on a mission alone to find a werewolf (when he is eight years old in body but fifteen years old mentaly due to not aging for seven years) that has been terrorising a small Japanese town and he is captured by the werewolf before he is tortured. I make the werewolf torture him enough to almost bring his darker personality out even though the main character decides to let the werewolf live when he could have used his magical prowess to rip the werewolf limb from limb. The main character (in the present) then tells his vampire boyfriend (who knows that the main character is a werewolf) after he (the main character) has been drinking a lot of Vodka (which he owns due to owning a pub/nightclub/tavern).

  4. Thank you so much for these tips! I'm an avid story writer, but it's my first time doing a scene like this. Do you or anyone else out there have any good tips for starting this scene as the beginning of the story? Thanks again!! :)

  5. I think that this advice is pretty critical to writing a good torture scene, so thank you for bringing it up to consider. Currently, I'm writing a section of a fantasy collaboration with a few friends where my particular characters seems to be quite hard to get right. This blog helped with that a lot.

  6. Thank you so much for this! I'm currently writing a book where the protagonist is taken by an organisation and the idea is that they torture him until his mind breaks but I couldn't think of anyway to do this. This has really helped!

  7. I'm a young and inexperienced wanna be author and I'm attempting to write a scene where one of my story's main characters is tortured but doesn't give the information asked of him. My character is only eighteen, rather young and very inexperienced. I want him to resist the torture but I feel as though that would make him seem to unlikely and heroic and maybe a little less human. I mean, the guy's just a kid, he shouldn't be able to withstand torture. I'm thinking about someone interrupting the scene or the torturers being called away or something, but I'm not sure how to do it. This article was really helpful though, thank you.

  8. Hello Chrys!

    I've recently come across your blog, and I must say: it's really helpful!

    I'm a young aspiring writer, and I've written many books. I had a question to ask, if you don't mind:

    In a book of mine, the main character is a fifteen year old girl. There are many times where she is tortured by the antagonists. It also includes sexual/rape torture. I want to write a scene, but not one that makes the readers too uncomfortable. Do you have some advice?

    1. If the rape scene is essential, few details would be best, but even a minimally detailed rape scene will make readers uncomfortable. Can the story work without rape?