The Evil Within

     No matter how cynical of a person you may think you are, there is still something inside, perhaps buried very deep, under a week’s worth of dirty clothes and fast food wrappers, that enables you to believe that there is at least a small percentage of ‘good’ that inhabits other members of the human race.  Now, before you protest and start rambling off examples of people that, in your mind or in the eyes of society, are deemed to be ‘pure evil,’ I want you really think about whomever you were going to say.  Were they married?  Did they have families?  Children?  Did they take care of an ailing parent?  Have pets?
     Then look at pop culture.  In Star Wars, the biggest, baddest, well, bad guy, was at one time a loving husband and in the end (*spoiler*) he showed that the good in him could be brought back up to the surface for the love of his son.  The show Dexter taught us that serial killers are simply misunderstood and that there are good ones among them.  (I was slightly disturbed that I was rooting for him by the end of the first episode.)  We are taught that every single one of us has at least a certain percentile of what is considered ‘goodness’ and we find comfort in that.
     We are able to close our eyes at night and sleep fit in the knowledge that our 10 year old isn’t going to slit our throats in the middle of the night.  We go to the grocery store believing that the little old lady that just scooted past us, leaning heavily on her cart, isn’t strapped with a bomb that will level a city block.  We trust the teachers at our children’s schools, the bus drivers, the fast food worker flipping our burgers.  Why?  Because there is no one that is all bad.  Right?

     But, for story purposes, what if there was actually someone out there that had no spark of light that could be conceived as ‘good’?  The thing is, this is multifaceted.  We need to push past all of our upbringing that there no one is ‘all bad.’  But, let’s say we do decide to try to create a character that is evil in its purest form.  How did this person get to where they are today?  Are they 15 years old?  25?  85?  How did they get to be 45 years of age without it being discovered that they were cold, empty, and completely devoid of any type of sympathy or empathy?  Is something like that even possible?
     Then we have to look at motive.  So much of what we construe as evil stems from an event or series of events that happened to our character to become the reason for the evil act.  A lot of people that abuse others were once abused themselves.  Others do evil acts in the name of religion.  Some people do thing because voices in their heads tell them to.  Do any of these reasons make these people truly evil?  Or simply twisted into doing evil acts based on events in their past or for psychological reasons?
     My point is that evil just isn’t as evil as it used to be.  We’ve broken it down scientifically, gave excuses, found reasons and invented drugs to curb feeling and urges that make people, well, bad.  We feel bad for them, we sympathize with them, we humanize them and strive to help them.  But how do you create a truly evil character?  Is it even possible?  Then it begs the question: what is the definition of evil?  Does the crime determine the level of evilness that someone has within them?  Can an act be evil but the person is not?
     These are all questions that need to be addressed individually, depending on the type of story that you are writing and just how deep down the rabbit hole you are willing to venture.  While creating ‘sympathy for the devil’ may be what is popular right now, I have to ask what made it that way.  Was it science?  Was it the need to be assured that in the end, everything will work out because, gosh darn it, no one is all bad, right?  Some writers, directors, move makers, think that if you throw enough blood and gore at something that it will make it more evil, more nefarious.  I don’t believe that to be true.  Again, the act may be more vile, not necessarily the person behind it.
     Just one more quick thing.  Who determines how bad a person is?  The mother of the offender?  The sister?  The wife?  The child of the victim?  The prosecutor?  I suppose in the end, it is all a matter of perspective.

     I personally believe that there are a very select few that are evil, let’s say, a 9 on a scale of 10.  But that’s an awful percentage to play Russian Roulette with.  Alas, here is the true question: how do we tell which ones are the 2s and which are the 9s and how do we use that to our advantage in our writing?

Music and Your Writing

“We can’t afford to be innocent.  Stand up and face the enemy.  It’s a do or die situation.  We will be invincible.”  (Pat Benatar) I can hear these words playing in my head over and over.  The melody of the song catches in my chest and I begin to hum.  My head lowers, chin to chest; my eyes narrow and I feel my vision sharpen.  This is when the magic happens.  The humming reverberates throughout my body: into my belly, down my arms and into my fingers.  I blink and when my eyes open I have been transported into another world.  It is not one that is unfamiliar; no, I know exactly where I am.  As I walk, a scratchy radio above me bleats out the song playing in my head.

I am now completely immersed in my world.  I can hear the sounds of cars whizzing past me, women chatting on the street next to me, and the sounds of industrial machines in the distance.  But over the sounds of the city, past the faces of the people that are looking through me, I hear the melody of the song.

Like myself, some of you use music to help immerse yourself into a particular scene, absorb the rhythm and let it flow into your writing, or perhaps simply to cover the screaming of the small children in the next room.  I have heard tales of writers that change their genre of music based on the particular chapter or scene they are writing.  For example, they play opera for a romance scene or death metal for an especially violent part in their story.  Among many others, Stephen King has stated that he listens to the band Metallica when he writes.  Who knows how his stories would change if the music did.

To get my writing mojo going, I like 80s pop ‘fight’ songs as I call them.  So much of my fiction writing is based on anti-government, anti-society, and revolutionary thought and there are quite a few songs in that genre that play into the emotion I want to tap into for my story.  I pull a song up, close my eyes, transport my psyche, and unleash my fingers.  Sometime after the first part of my scene, the music runs out or gets turned off and I just keep going.  At worst, a sprint of words is conceived; at best, a chapter or new story line is born.

Incorporating music can be beneficial to creating mood and rhythm, but it can also be a slippery slope.  I come across a song that I think will help jump start my writing and I jot it down in the margins of my notebook so I can come back to it later.  We don’t want to fall into the vicious cycle of overly researching something that should be secondary and taking up the time that is necessary for writing.  If you aren’t sure, listen to some music one day while preparing dinner or getting ready for work.  Take a mental note on how it makes you feel and if it would make your character feel the same way or if it is something that you could see playing on the radio in place where your characters live, work, and die.  Do the words or melody invoke feelings of love, heartache, playfulness, or desperation?

These emotions can be used to inspire or motivate you.  But wait…there’s more.  Just because you may be listening to death metal, for example, it doesn’t mean that your scene will automatically be one of immense violence and death.  Music can be used as a type of metronome as well.  Rhythm is a base in music, poetry, and most other forms of writing.  It helps the pace along, giving it momentum to move forward.  The beat is what marches our stories on at a steady, even pace until its final conclusion.

Using music to influence your writing, get you in the mood, or pick up the pace is not the only purpose for it.  Use it to spice up your scenes.  Does your victim hear the sound of a radio playing softly in the bedroom next door?  What about a commercial jingle blaring from a television in the window of an empty barber shop?  What about when your character gets in their car and the radio screams when the car gets turned on?

Music is a medium you can use to brighten up (or darken) the painting that is your story, no matter the form you use it in.

Traditionally Nontraditional: Thinking Outside What You 'Know'

We have been grossly mislead into believing that the things that are now, always will be: mating rituals, family units, transportation, sustenance.  And while readers do need some familiarity to anchor and immerse themselves into your story, maybe sometimes you need to color outside the lines just a bit.  Not the reds, they stay in the lines; but the blues and greens can stretch their legs for a spell.

This idea fits more neatly into certain genres, however.  Science fiction, fantasy, paranormal and horror get more of a free range than, say, romance or true crime.  That doesn’t mean that every genre should stay as it always has been.

For example: transportation.  How would inserting a new type of car, boat, motorcycle or flying contraption affect your story?  Not necessarily to change your storyline, but to make your characters more colorful.  How would a scene where your character interacts with some new or foreign type of technological transportation?  Now, I’m not a technical writer.  I don’t know the details of how my car does what it does, but I can describe what it looks like, what it sounds like, and how it feels to be in it.

Another example: family units.  Tradition states that a family is a mom, dad, and kids.  But what if it isn’t?  What if a ‘traditional’ family is two moms?  Two dads?  What if it’s only the husband and wife and the kids are sent at birth to another facility?  Or perhaps marriage is outlawed and polygamy is the standard?  Now, I’m not saying you should make your story politically correct or try to take advantage of trends in the news, but so many times writing does reflect society and the political temperature of the age it is written in.

What about mating rituals?  Do people kiss or hold hands in your story?  What if they patted each other on the cheek or sniffed each other’s ears?  I know, it sounds silly, but that’s what I’m talking about by thinking outside of traditional, standard thought when it comes to what we ‘know’ about society and our interactions with people and things within it.

Not everything I’m mentioning here has to be put in your story.  Not all of it is for fantasy, science fiction or paranormal.  Use them as exercises and see where it goes.

Yet another example in context: Your main character goes to a car show with the love of her life.  The manufacturers are displaying their newest, shiniest prototypes for the coming year.  The love of her life climbs in and…

Fill in the blank.

Does he start it and grab her, pulling her recklessly into the car and takes off like Bonnie & Clyde?

Does he fall and give himself a bloody nose, requiring her help, thus bringing them closer together?

Do they sit, side by side and imagine themselves cruising the Italian coast, thus sparking a conversation about their future and what they want out of it?

Do they spontaneously buy the car and drive down that very day to Las Vegas and get married?

Does he tell her that he wants to spend their savings to buy this car and she explains to him that it is quite out of the question due to the fact that she is with child and the money just can’t be used for a new sports car?

In setting up your scene, describe the car.  The color, the lines, the plushness of the interior, how it smells.  Is the car low to the ground?  Is it a tall, full sized truck?  Make it your own!  Make up the name of the car manufacturer.  Does it have fancy, new-fangled features like a coffee maker?  Be creative!

You can add nontraditional items to a traditional story allowing readers to stretch their imaginations without losing track of the plot.

Using Other Authors Quotes to Create New Works

So many successful authors made their way to the top by using - and modifying - the ideas and excerpts from other works of writing.  Sometimes they use the general story line to create a sequel, other times they reuse the characters and place them into alternate plots and situations (Wicked by Gregory Maguire; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Steve Hockensmith; Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austin and Ben Winters).

One of the most prolific examples is that of the fairy tale "Childe Rowland".  Shakespeare used this reference in his work "King Lear" although it has no direct reference to the fairy tale.  Although not the main story for "King Lear", it still added dimension to his writing and inspired still others to create great works.  The poet Robert Browning may have used the line "Childe Rowland to the dark tower came" from "King Lear" or from an 11th century French chanson de geste titled "The Song of Roland" as inspiration for his poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came".

This poem by Robert Browning is directly responsible for Stephen King's Dark Tower series in which he retains his main character, Roland, who searches out the mysterious Dark Tower.  It may never be know exactly how many books, poems, songs, paintings, or plays have been derived from this one fairy tale, but the fact remains that great works have been born from just one sentence or only one character.

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Thomas Moran

Most, if not all, of these pieces have nothing to do with one another or even the original fairy tale.  The story lines and plots are different, the characters demeanor and attitudes, the settings and place in history even to the extent of taking place on a different world shows us that we should also be thinking multidimensional.

Perhaps you are stuck.  You need need new material for a new story.  Or you've just come across a truly inspirational piece of work.  Maybe you just want to take the creating side of your brain out for a jog.  Occasionally I will take a one liner from the era that I am writing my current story in and immerse myself in the language, absorbing myself into the style and rhythm of the words.  I'll write a few paragraphs incorporating some of the words, not the setting or the characters, just the language, before continuing with my own story.

For example:

"She was a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee.  And evil was the hour when she saw, and loved, and wedded the painter.  He, passionate, studious, austere, and having already a bride in his Art; she a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely then full of glee; all light and smiles, and frolicsome as the young fawn; loving and cherishing all things; hating only the Art which was her rival;"

Now, before I tell you who wrote this and from where it came, I want you to open your mind and reread the words.  Yes, you know it.  Here come the questions.

*Who was she?
*Who is he?
*What makes her beauty so rare?
*What type of Art did he create?
*What made the hour she and he were wed "evil"?

Take only one of those answers.  For now let's choose "what makes her beauty so rare?"  Is it her fiery red locks?  Green eyes the color of the ocean?  High cheekbones set under her pale, flawless skin?  Long, delicate eyelashes?  Let your mind wander.  Set her in a different setting...let's do 1920s New Orleans.  How would this affect your character.  She is beautiful, but is she out of place in this setting?  Why?

Oh, I almost forgot.  This is a quote from "The Oval Portrait" by Edgar Allan Poe.  Does this change how you view your newly developed character, setting, or perhaps even story line?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Perhaps your next work will be forged from something you never considered giving a second thought to.

Happy daydreaming. :)

What to Do When Your Character is a Pain in the Ass.

I have this character.  To protect her privacy, I will call her "Jane".  Jane is a pain in my ass.  She rarely does what she's told; in fact, she often does the exact opposite, I assume just to piss me off.  She does not play well with others in my story and often I find her wandering away from the main plot, taking the uncharted path.

Quite frequently I get the attitude from her that I need her more than she needs me, and, to a point, she's right.  I can't just expect any of the other characters to jump right in and take her place: that's not in their job description.  Jane is like an unruly child and she likes to upset the apple cart just to get my attention.  Well, more like set the apple cart on fire, actually.

But what does all this mean?  Am I a bad writer/parent?  Does Jane do these things because I don't give her enough attention?  How can I discipline her?  I can't very well put her in a corner or send her to her room.  Or can I?

There are a variety of things I try to do when Jane gets out of hand.  First, I take a look at my writing.  Has it gotten sloppy?  Lazy?  Overly descriptive?  Sometimes that is the case and I try to correct my mistakes and move on with the story.  Am I giving Jane enough attention?  Sometimes I stray from the plot too much and I do need to be put on the right path.  Other times I find that I give Jane too much attention and it spoils her.  If I find that I am giving her too much attention, I will, in essence, "send her to her room" meaning I veer from the story slightly and do some character building of one of her fellow characters or more background into the plot.

It's a delicate balance trying to raise your characters right.  You hope that you have done all you can to help them grow into mature, complex, and unique individuals.  Sometimes you need to hug them and sometimes you need to bend them over your knee.  Sometimes we worry so much about the plot that we don't stop and consider the feelings and development of our characters.  We gave them life, it is up to us to ensure that they thrive.

Most of my characters are very well behaved, but there's always that one in the bunch...