Blood, Guts and Goo!

I don’t often write full-out bloodbaths, but even the kind of “off-stage” blood I favor requires some intense thinking about blood, guts, gore & goo, too. Maybe it’s “Dexter” or all those police procedurals I’ve read — not to mention the big, fat forensic pathology reference books I’ve had for years — but the directionality of blood splatter, the intensity of blood pooling, the important evidence gleaned from lividity all make perfect sense to me.

I recently stepped on a piece of broken glass in my kitchen. After I hopped into the bathroom — while I fumbled around looking for bandages — I found myself noting the directionality of the blood droplets on the white bathroom tiles.

Since I’m on the squeamish side and look away when my own blood is being drawn, that I can function at all in an emergency is remarkable. Somehow I get faint AFTER so it turns out OK. (Something about adrenaline and having to focus on the task at hand, postpones the wooziness.) So, although I’m not the poster girl for blood, guts and gore, I’ve given some serious thought to how to communicate “bloodiness” in creative and realistic ways.

Lately, I’ve focused on the ooze factor and the smell. There’s a bloody scene in a story I’m muddling with right now. The stickiness of blood is a tactile factor. It is, truly, thicker than water — and tackier and somehow softer, too. My own blood on the bathroom floor was still wet when I cleaned it up, but had it taken me longer to clean the wound and bandage it, there would have been a stickiness to the drops — that half wet, half dry stubbornness you don’t find with spilled water or wine.

In mystery fiction, rooms saturated in bloody messes are always described as having a metallic aroma. Fortunately (or unfortunately for my research), I haven’t experienced that much blood in one place. So blood, in my experience, tends to smell vaguely sweet. A number of years ago when a pathologist friend invited me to watch an autopsy (yes, this is true and I’ll blog about it in detail eventually), blood was only one of the many horrible natural and unnatural aromas. And, as per my friend’s instructions, I focused on the aroma of mint chewing gum to keep myself from fainting.

So those of us who read and write with more than a drop of blood, any suggestions on communicating the bloodiness?



  1. When my second daughter was born, my wife lost quite a bit of blood. It wasn’t enough to be life threatening but it was more than she lost with our first daughter. I am not squeamish with blood and gore most of the time. But there was just so much blood. I didn’t faint but it was a struggle to stay in the room. The metallic smell was strong. This was the only time I have smelled it with blood flying in a room.

    • Candy

      So glad it was NOT a life-threatening amount of blood and that both your wife and child were fine. We forget, living in the U.S., just how fraught with danger childbirth can be.

      The aroma of blood in that quantity seems to be metallic — or described as metallic — by nearly everyone. I bow to your superior first hand knowledge and hope that my future contains the smaller blood spills.

  2. I’m trying to steer clear of too much blood in the final scenes of my novel as I’m rewriting it. I like the idea of scary suspense, but don’t know if I have it in me to be a blood and guts type of writer, but never say never. The only large amounts of blood I have encountered have been from the deer and elk my dad has killed over the years. Buckets of blood look so dark and sticky. Meat which has been left to hang to age has a bit of that metallic smell but also something pleasing about it too.

    • Candy

      Considering what people pay for aged beef in New York steakhouses, those aged cuts had better smell wonderful.

      As for the blood or not to blood in a story, I’ve always gone with the “off stage” violence, but this one thing I’m working on now really requires a bloody mess. I’m playing with different ways to handle it. I can relate to your process as you rewrite your novel.

  3. I’m actually quite squeamish, but creative blood and guts I can handle. Never in a million life times could I watch an autopsy though. 🙁 I doff me hat at you for doing so.

    • Candy

      You’ve just convinced me to devote an entire post to my “autopsy experience” and my lovely friend Kari — a forensic pathologist and a great dancer! She could be a character in a mystery. No doubt about it.

      As for the squeamishness, I just looked away during my flu shot but I’m still pretty good in the midst of a crisis. LOL… I feel woozy AFTER the threat is over. In fiction, I usually shy away but I’ve come to realize that this particular story requires me to delve into the thick of it and show the bloody scene after the murder. I will try to draft it this week. We’ll see how it goes.

      • I’m with you on the AFTER bit. I tend to cope with a crisis just fine, and turn into a mumbling wreck afterwards.

        I’d love to read your pathology I mean post.:)

        • Candy

          I’ll blog about it later this month. It was a few years ago and I’m aiming to make my one — and hopefully only — visit to the Queens County Coroner’s Office into a funny post. Needless to say, there will be a lot about how the pathologist and I became friends.

  4. I always found blood had a metallic taste rather than smell and it could set my teeth on edge. Not taste as in your friendly neighbourhood vampire either I hasten to add.
    What used to fascinate me with blood drops was in wiping them up, you would be left with most of the outer shape of the blood where it had dried even though you’d wiped up the wet centre. You could still see how it had fallen and landed.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx