When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.
I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own.
As some regular readers here may know, I’m currently in Month 3 of four consecutive months of intensive writing challenges (April brought CampNaNoWriMo and the Blogging from A-Z Challenge, May was Story A Day, and this month,for JuNoWriMo I’ve returned to Kifo Island to complete the draft of Generations, and begin Sea Changes.
But sometimes writing challenges me in ways that don’t have to do with word counts, worldbuilding, plotting, dialogue, or any of the usual suspects.
Sometimes, the biggest challenge is writing characters I don’t like…and there’s never been one I liked less than Howard George, the antagonist in Generations. Howard commits repeated offenses against others, for his own gratification.
He excuses himself, because he’s suffered. I want to be clear on this – his suffering is real, and shouldn’t have happened. I understand that, and I know why he does what he does – but that doesn’t mean I approve of him, or it.
He chooses to inflict suffering on others, rather than deal with his own pain and the wounds caused by what was done to him.
He chooses to harm others – many others, over the years – and to justify it by setting a stopping point beyond which he would be wrong. That stopping point shifts to allow him to do whatever he wants, whenever he has the opportunity to bully or abuse another.
He doesn’t consider the harm he’s doing, or the damage and pain being inflicted upon other innocents, wrong. He justifies that away. Everyone else should feel lucky they didn’t have to live his life. Howard’s perspective doesn’t allow him to accept that others may have their own pre-existing damage, and have lived lives that would make his seem very good, in comparison.
I know where he comes from, and that’s part of the problem I have with him. He comes from my own life. He’s an amalgam of things I’ve lived and stories I’ve been told …he’s not always the worst part of those memories and stories, but his collected attitudes reflect a specific mindset I’m too familiar with.
Howard uses others as a means to vent his pain, when he could choose to face it, eradicate its power over him, to not spread the dysfunction that created it…
He could choose not to inflict it upon others, as though his pain matters, but theirs does not.
I recently wrote his most – well, for want of a better word, icky – scene. It wasn’t fun – and the things he did…he justified them, to himself, but they were unequivocably wrong. I didn’t want to write this scene. And yet, I did. It’s long, and the detail is…uncomfortable, to say the least. I won’t say the most it was.
This begs the question – why did I write this, if I didn’t want to? I mean, I’m the writer, the one in charge, right?
Well, not quite. I didn’t consciously create this character, and, when I began the scene, I had only a sketchy idea of what was going to happen, and how. I knew why he chose these actions, and what the end result would be, but the specifics turned out to be quite different than I’d expected – different, and more disturbing, because he delighted so in violating the rights of others in ways I never imagined, until I lived a few days in his fictional skin…
I’ll be cutting much of this scene in revisions, and I even know how – but I had to write it, unpleasant as it was, because I needed this character to show me where his bottom is. It turns out that there’s more darkness, and more ugliness, in him than I suspected – by a long shot.
I’m getting through the yuck as quickly as I can, but that means taking frequent breaks to live my own far more peaceful life. Part of me wants to just blitz through the slimy taint, and then take a dozen or so long hot showers…but I live with people who need me not to disappear too far into his sliminess…