You Are Not My Darlings

First off, writing:  yes, I did.  Almost seven hundred words before I reached a point where I knew the scene would get hot and heavy and I didn’t want to get into that section and then run out of creative steam.  So that scene gets finished today, along with the chapter, and then I can move onto the next chapter, which is going to be magic heavy.  Yeah, baby:  it’s gonna be nice.

But the real reason I’m here:  the writer is annoyed.  Well, not really, but it sounds like a great lead-in.  Kinda.

There is a meme about writing that has made its way around the world, and has become so prevalent that it’s now found on mugs, tee shirts, and pillows.  It goes as follows:  “Do not annoy the writer.  She/He/They may put you in their novel and kill you.”  Because we’re like that:  volatile and creative at the same time.  Maybe this is why we do things like figure out how to topple one hundred and fifty story buildings full of people in 1991, because we need to do that for a scene.  Or maybe that was just me, because I totally did that.  (My research came from examining how various office buildings I worked at in Chicago were put together and extrapolating what I knew about skyscraper construction.  The downside was I never finished the story with that particular scene of destruction.  Pity.)

Now, basing characters in stories on real people is nothing new–writers have done this for centuries.  The comic book character Tintin was based upon fifteen year old Palle Huld who went around the world in forty-four days to win a contest.  Norman Bates was based upon Ed Gein, and Sherlock Holmes was based upon Dr. Joseph Bell.  Dirty Harry Callahan and, to a lesser extent, Frank Bullitt, were based upon Det. Dave Toschi, who later had his life turned into a few movies concerning his most famous case, the Zodiac Killer–which, it should be pointed out, was the basis for the movie Dirty Harry.  And a certain English chemistry teacher, John Nettleship, ended up better known as greasy haired potions master Severus Snape.

Harlan Ellison wrote often about how, as a kid, he’d been bullied badly by a certain individual at school whose name escapes me at the moment because all my Ellison books are six hundred miles away.  So when he became a writer he kept putting this guy in his stories, using his real name, and said bully always came to a bad end–a really bad end.  If I remember correctly, Ellison was finally contacted by this guy and asked if he’d stop doing that, because it was getting embarrassing to hear from friends that the Jewish kid he used to beat up every day for lunch money had just written another story where the character named after him had his spine ripped out in a convenience story by a fae he’d pissed off.  If you know Harlan, then you know his response was probably . . . pleasant.  After all, we’re talking about a guy who received a B in a writing class at Ohio University, along with a note from the professor telling him he had no hope whatsoever of ever becoming a published author–and after every story sale Harlan made, he’d send said story, along with a copy of the note, to the professor in question.  I’m sure there was another note included as well, but I doubt very much that it said “Nener, Nener, Nener.”

But as far as characters getting put into a story because they annoyed the writer?  I know there was a novel–and I’m blanking on the name–where the bad guy in the story, who happened to be a murderous pedophile, was based in whole on a critic who’d panned the author’s last work.  I also know of one instance in a movie where characters were based off of individuals who’d pissed the creators off:  the 1998 Godzilla movie by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin.  The mayor of New York City and his closest aide were based upon movie critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who had been, shall we say, less than kind in their reviews of Emmerich and Devlin’s last movie, Independence Day.  There wasn’t even an attempt to hid who the characters were:  they physically looked like Ebert and Siskel, were named Mayor Ebert and Gene, and at the end of the movie, to show his displeasure at all the mayor’s actions, Gene gives him a “thumbs down”, something that Siskel and Ebert were famous for doing on their review show.

Being a writer I’d do the same, right?

No, probably not.

When you create characters, you are giving them life.  If you base those characters off of people you know, then you are, in a way, giving your friends a life beyond their own.  And if your work becomes wildly popular, then you’ve granted your characters–and by extension, anyone they were based upon–a form of immortality.  We know that Huckleberry Finn was based upon a close childhood friend of Mark Twain, and one hundred years after Professor Nettleship has left this mortal coil, people will remember who Professor Snape was based upon.

So here I am sitting in Panera, and if some annoying asshole should approach me and start getting in my face with stuff like, “Whatcha doin’?  You writin’ a book?  A blog?  You blog?  Is it about sex?”, I’m going to give him or her–probably a him, sorry to stereotype–the Michonne Side Eye, turn up the music on my computer, and finish what I’m doing.  I’ve been fortunate not to have that happen, probably because I scare people sitting here behind my gigantic laptop, but that’s a good thing, right?

Would I want to put this person in my story just to kill him or her off?  Nah.  First off, I know who my characters are, and right now I can tell you who dies before the end of my current work in progress.  Hint:  it isn’t one of the main characters, but people do bite the big one.  And more than a few people in the story are based, in part, on real people I know.  People I know.  People I even love.

It’s my hope that this will be their form of immortality.

And annoying buttheads will never share the stage with them, even as cannon fodder.  The best thing to do with them is forget they were ever speaking to you five minutes after they leave you.

There’s always this to remember, too:

"I should make this guy the one who spreads the STD all over the world by sleeping with an advark--except he'll never buy the story, so what's the point?"

“I should make this guy the one who spreads the STD all over the world by sleeping with an aardvark–except he’ll never buy the story, so what’s the point?”

Ain’t it the truth.

Hurting the Ones You Create

For a while I when got up The Burg looked a bit like London.  There was heavy fog in the street, and even the well-lit hospital and parking garage across the street were hard to see.  Now, twenty minutes later, there is fog, but it’s not that bad.  The Weather Channel is telling me that we will have dense fog until nine AM, and there’s black ice on the highways.  Good morning!

About last night’s writing:  yes, it was good.  Yes, I finished one scene and moved onto the other.  Yes, I hurt one of my students badly–

How badly?

Eh, I just electrocuted him a little.

My black magic woman–not a gypsy queen, mind you–had something she wanted to test.  I can’t tell you what that is, because in all likelihood I won’t write down that reason for a couple of days.  Helena was going on about how she liked the spell Electrocute, and . . . she tried it out.  On Kerry.  Several times.  By the time she was done zapping him he was slumped over his desk moaning and crying.  With that Helena whisked him off to the hospital to leave him under the tender mercies of Nurse Coraline, who is going to get Helena an ass chewing before she leaves.

I knew this was coming, because I’ve thought about this scene for a while–more than a month, more than a year, actually.  It wasn’t suppose to be a nice thing, and as I said there are reason why poor Kerry needed to get his finger stuck in the magical light socket.  He’ll be all right;  I mean, it’s not like I’m going to kill him off this soon in the novel?

I have a bad feeling about this . . .

I have a bad feeling about this . . .

Or will I?  Bwah, hahaha!

Go on, get that look off your face.  I haven’t killed anyone–yet.  But the whole idea that I was going to feel bad about bringing major harm to the character–naw, not a bit.  It was planned, thought out, and finally written, and the biggest trouble I had was figuring out how to write it so it didn’t drag, and described what was happening.  Because sometimes you gotta hurt those characters.

Whacking out people for the fun of it isn’t my style.  But if I gotta get down on someone’s butt–even if they’re eleven years old–for the sake of the story, then downing will commence.  You have to keep things “real”, even in a science fiction story (and even though this has magic it in, yeah, I’m calling it science fiction, ’cause I’m rolling that way), and people are going to get hurt in interesting ways.  There will be pain, both mental and physical, though I won’t dwell on the physical aspect.

Your characters are your babies, but some times you gotta get hard on those kiddies.  Sometimes you do need to need to point at one and think, “Yeah, in the grand scene of the story’s universe, your time has come,” and you drop an elephant on them. (A term I learned from my role playing days.)  Since you are the writer, sometimes you gotta drop more than one elephant on a character–or a few elephants on a number of characters.

Sometimes you gotta look at what you’re creating and think, “What my story needs is a Red Wedding.  With a bit more death.”  Naturally.

Why does it have to end in tears?

Because the universe inside your head won’t let it end any other way.

Start Your New Life the Bad Way

The Butthurt Days are over, and it’s back to some serious work.  I shouldn’t put it that way, but by nine AM yesterday I was ready, just like Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, to take a flamethrower to more than a few places.  Things happen, you know, but dealing with the butthurt isn’t one of those things I enjoy.

Needless to say, I was able to power through the events, and after an afternoon of fooling around and generally not doing a damn thing, I got to my Foundation story.

Last night was death time.  I’d performed my set up, got my players where they needed to be, and decided it was time to turn shit loose.  I’ve been teasing the bad times for almost twenty thousand words now, and it was time to write up or shut up.

So I made someone’s head explode.

It was simple.  First, I had someone’s heart jump out of their chest.  It’s not that obvious, but if you read between the lines you see it happened.  Then it was time to take out a student.  So one moment their head was there, attached to their body, and the next moment–oops, lost your head!  Sort of made it vanish so there was a nice, even misty spray of blood to cover the fact of the student standing next to her.

This, of course, sets up a quick little conflict with the bad guy and the remaining student, and if you think the student ran upstairs to get away and get trapped in the bathroom, you haven’t been paying attention . . .

It was a long, fairly detailed scene, and by the time nine-thirty rolled around, I’d written exactly sixteen hundred and fifty words.  Not wanting to head to bed with less than two thousand words in the bank, I added another three hundred and fifty words leading up to some more death, and called it good.

Then I went to bed and had dreams I can’t remember, but I was dreaming, I know that much.

The topic the other night was, “Do you have problems killing your characters?”  After last night the answer has progressed to a definite “No!”, but this opens the door to another question:  “Do you have a problem putting your characters through hell and letting them live, and not feel bad in the end?”  Hell, no, I don’t have a problem.  A couple of character in particular are seeing some nasty stuff up close before it’s all over, and they’d come out of it a bit changed when they walk out of whatever nasty fire that surrounds them.

Killing off a character is pretty easy:  just ask George R. R. Martin.  Oh, sure, the writer might profess they were a bit upset because they blew away Fred with a wall that just happened to explode while he was standing there minding his own business, but in the end Fred’s still dead, baby, Fred’s dead.  Was it this, and the near-death of another child, that made his mom go all La Femme Nikita on a certain Crazy Lady?  Maybe.  Probably.

I know I would have done it that way.

Though if given the choice, I’d have gone with an exploding head.  Always go with an exploding head.

The Blood of Thine Characters

Today, probably by sometime this evening, I’ll have breezed past the fifteen thousand words mark of The Foundation Chronicles:  The Scouring, and perhaps have even crawled into the sixteen thousand word range.  After seven days of writing I’l have moved beyond the half-way point of my novella, and if my stats are correct, I’ll finish NaNo Camp next Sunday with thirty thousand words plus of a lead-in to my November NaNo Novel.

Then I can rest for a little while.

This gives me time to read some of the things out on in the Facebook NaNo group, and ponder the human condition.  I’ve started following it more closely these days, smiling at several of the questions, ignoring others, blocking a few (when someone comments that “science is a religion”, you’ve succeeded in pressing my You’re An Idiot Button, and I have to stop following them from that point on), commenting once in a while, and even assisting in the hijacking of one thread, which brought out the Evil Dominatrix Empress from within and saw a soft “Bwah, hahaha!” being uttered.

I’m so proud of myself.

There was a question today that was actually a good one.  Someone asked if anyone ever cried when they had to kill certain main characters.  It is a good question, because writing can be an emotional experience, and it entirely possible to get caught up in the words you weave.  I’ve cried as well, usually at the end of a story–two in particular–because there were feeling passing between my characters that were feelings I pulled deep from within.  There was a time when I couldn’t write like that; that time is long past.

But what if you have to off your characters?  Doesn’t that get you down?

I do imagine of the times when it’ll become necessary Blood of Thine Enemiesto kill characters in stories.  I mean, I could justify doing it by pointing to this picture on the right and saying, “Substitute ‘main characters’ for ‘enemies’.”  It’s gonna add some character to your writing, piece by piece–get it?  Chirrup chirrup.  Oooh, tough crowd.

As I usually do, I think about my characters and where they are going.  I think about their past, their presents, and their futures.  They don’t tell me where they’re going:  I do that for them, because they are figments of my imagination, and I own their asses, not the other way around.  If I say they’re going to get married, they do; if I say they’re going to retire, they do.

If I say they’re going to come down with a horrible, degenerative illness, or get their legs blasted off in an explosion, or die in a fairly hopeless fashion because they didn’t listen to advice, it’s gonna happen.  They got no say in the matter.

The things I’ve mentioned above, they will happen to characters I’ve written about.  Two of those events, in fact, will eventually happen to characters in this story I’m writing for Camp NaNo.  Am I trying to crawl my way up The Wall to stand next to the Master of Destroying Your Favorite Character Just to Make You Feel Bad, George R.R. Martin?  No.  For one, none of these characters are your favorite.  Maybe they’re mine–well, yes, all three are.  I love them.  I cherish them.  I want good things for them.

But everything dies.  Everything.  Even my favorite characters.  Oh, sure:  they might live on in your memory, or in the memories of your readers.  But they can die on the page.  Sometimes their deaths will be good, and other times they’ll suck hard.  I can promise I won’t ever stuff someone in a refrigerator just for the hell of it, but everything else is up for grabs.

Besides, I’ve got about forty characters to bump off in my current story this coming week.

Who’s got time for tears with that much writing?

The First Ember of Regret

Last night I reached a point that I didn’t think I’d ever reach in my writing.  Was it perfection?  Hardly.  I’ll never be a perfect writer, no matter how many millions of words I string together over the next twenty-five years.  Was it a feeling of ineptitude?  Nope.  I’m not an inept writer; I’m learning the craft every day, understanding what can and can’t be done.  Was it hopelessness?  Naw.  I start feeling hopeless enough on things that aren’t writer related that I don’t need it for my writing life.

No, what I felt was regret–over a character I had to kill.

It’s like this:  there is a chapter in Part Three where Jeannette–she who has been chased all over the city so that someone can mount her head on a pike and laugh about it–has finally gotten the upper hand, and has decided the only way to keep people from screwing with her is to lay down her own Hammer of the Goddess.  With that she figures out a way to find the people who’ve been making her life hell–a word only she uses–she goes after them . . .

With no let up, and no mercy.

This means turning her forces loose, and engaging in the magical version of The Chicago Way:  “They bring a wand, you bring a gargoyle.  They blow off one of your arms, you consume them all in black fire and smile as they die screaming.”  She knows it’s the only way to make the best of a bad situation, and she knows there comes a point where she has to get her own hands dirty in order to make a point.

In the end she decides to take out this guy–

Only . . . he’s not that bad.

Yes, he’s on the wrong side of the line here.  Yes, he’s giving counsel to the bad witch, but for the most part he’s seen a someone standing on the sideline, marginalized by one too many egos in his group.  So in terms of being a bad guy, he’s not that bad.

Still, he’s on the other side of that line, so when the time came for him to die, I smoked him.  I at least gave him a clean death, a warrior’s death, and not the “Imma Cat and I’m gonna make you die horribly” death I gave another character.  But dead is dead, and the dude went down for the count pretty fast.

Right after I edited the scene, that was when the feeling hit:  where I go, “You know, I really feel bad killing this guy.”  The character even admits he escaped death once before, so he knew how not to pee in the wrong pool.  Still . . . it was part of the plan to have him die, and he did.

Case close, even if I did feel a little bad about it.

Maybe I’d have felt better if I’d had a dragon burn his face off.  At least then I could say it wasn’t my fault, blame the dragon–

Naw.  That’s been done.

Though dragons in the story would be cool . . .