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A person is born with a certain amount of mana, which increases with age and peaks at a certain point. Individuals are born with all the mana they will ever have, but it can be refined with practice and training. This will determine how well it can be controlled and used to perform spells. However, there is a way to cheat this process. Mana is transferable through a dark ritual that ends in the death of a host. Through this process, a renegade witch can absorb the mana of others, making themselves stronger. These witches are called crones. . Mana that has been honed with training gives crones the most power, making competent witches the most sought after targets. At a certain point, a witch would achieve apotheosis and evolve into a higher life form. However, absorbing mana from others leads to physical changes in a crone, eventually losing all resemblance to humanity. Therefore, crones must operate away from society, and use proxies to obtain victims for them.

This is meant to be the most monstrously evil acts in the world's setting, represented as something that is separate from regular murder and goes beyond traditional acts of criminality. This would be easy to show visually, but harder to show the true horror of it in written form. How can I emphasize it in written form without the benefit of graphical images?

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    Have you considered that a crone must become close to their victim, emotionally, before harvesting them? – DPT Apr 21 at 0:30
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Less is more.

The reader will imagine enough horrors if you give them broad brushstrokes to work with.

If I were writing this scene, I would choose to use the intermediary as PoV. The crone will be inured to this process and see it as but a necessary stepping stone to her ultimate rebirth as something so much greater. The victim will be terrified and struggling, which the intermediary can observe.

Davyn approached the door, raising his hand to knock and it opened. She always knew he was coming. He looked at her, knowing the transformation was incomplete, but had altered her from the woman she had once been to this vessel of power, this half demon, half goddess who stood before him - impatient as always.

Glancing down, he said, “The amulet worked. I captured a practicing witch before she could cast to defend herself.”

“All is prepared?”

“Yes, mistress.” He watched as the azure lightning cracked and they were at the inner sanctum. Her power was growing, her time was near.

The witch lay on the altar, struggling against her bonds. She wasn’t screaming now, a faint whimper as she saw the crone was all she had strength for. “Soulless one...”

The words had barely faded into silence when Khysha placed one hand on the witch’s head, caressing the back of her skull where the mana lay. She spoke the words and the woman screamed - a howling wolf dying in a trap - and the silence fell. Turning from the burnt out husk on the altar, she felt the new power course through her, melding with the mana she had, both naturally and otherwise obtained.

Or something more intimate, from the victim’s point of view.

She was trapped, no time for remonstrance now. She had believed Davyn, remembering him well, but he was changed, different and dangerous. Her spells had been useless, her power inaccessible and she knew a fear she hadn’t felt since her childhood.

Flashes of blue light, shifting along the spectrum, both puzzled and alarmed her. Such power could only mean one thing - the crone had come for her. Death was a woman for a reason.

Unable to look away, she saw Davyn and something else take form in the chamber. No, not this way. Her power sucked from her, draining and slaying her - destroying her soul.

Looking at Davyn, she’d known him well, she saw no hope for her nor for him. There was a terrible eagerness in his eyes that chilled her. The creature approached her - had it once been human? Nothing remained - just this thing, this monster. It stopped by her head. She could not move, could not struggle. Her faint whimper came from her body’s recognition of impending death - her soul made no sound.

The thing cradling her head, she heard the ancient words rumble from its throat and the agony engulfed her. A rending of body and soul to harvest her mana, her power, her life, her soul. She screamed.

She was looking down at the empty husk, burnt by the power, that had once been herself. Only her lesser self. She was not alone; another soul hovered near, “No time to mourn your death. We must leave before Khysha senses us. If one ever learns to harness the power of souls, there is no stopping them. Come”

She listened and knew it was true. The fight had changed but she was still a warrior, still free to oppose and destroy those who took power beyond mortal boundaries. She followed.

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Don't describe the scene, describe the reaction to the scene.

There is no need to explicitly "show" any more graphic details than you choose to. Simply focus on the most important thing in the scene: the reader's portal to the scene itself, which is the character through whose eyes they are experiencing it. The literary version of the movie trick where an awful scene is going on, and the director reverses the shot and shows us nothing but the face of the actor reacting to what must be going on. Our imaginations fill in the rest with worse things than the director is probably capable of showing.

In a novel, this is primarily done through showing us the characters' emotional reaction to whatever is happening. Snippets of stream of consciousness, explaining their feelings, etc, all serve to very effectively transmit the horror without needing to tediously explain the entire tableau. In fact, a grisly magical ceremony is likely to be very detailed, with a lot going on, and if you simply tried to describe the scene itself, in all it's gory detail, it would most likely come across as boring. You can only read so many details of anything, even blood and guts, before it becomes a list and your eyes glaze a bit.

On the other hand, if we relate to the characters in some way, just showing their emotional turmoil is itself almost enough to elicit a similar reaction in the reader if done properly.

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    I personally would recommend that the PoV character be in hidden and thus not in a position to see the ritual but the sounds (screams, the incantations, terrible sounds of things that they couldn't attribute to any source in the setting and must result in some kind of magic) and smells (whatever happens, it smells of Brimstone and burning flesh, or has an iron smell like that of blood). It achieves that the spell is being cast, it's all manner of wrong and sick, and let's the reader's imagination run away with the gory details. – hszmv Apr 22 at 14:35
  • @hszmv, I would probably not have a PoV character unable to see everything. One of the things that makes good stories compelling is basically the paradigm of setting up a character, making them relatable, torturing the hell out of them, mixing, and repeating. If the PoV character doesn't have to fully experience the bad thing, it takes away the emotional impact on the reader. Later on, you can't easily justify their being scarred, messed up, etc, which are all very interesting things to readers. You hide things from the READER, but torture the hell out of the CHARACTER. Much more powerful. – JBiggs Apr 26 at 17:47

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