I realized this morning that, as I write all of these lists, there are several points that I omit because they’re difficult for me to write about, and probably somewhat controversial. So, since today is an off-day in my posting schedule, I wanted to take some time and write about writing with my filter off entirely. And bonus, it’s not going to be a list!
Okay, so onto what is probably the most significant point that I’m going to make. I’m a sadist—and a masochist, and a psychotic, and probably schizotypal as well. In order to write about characters that I believe are real, and maintain any sort of stories, I have to hurt them. I have to hurt myself (since, after all, every character shares aspects of my personality).
Don’t get me wrong, I kind of enjoy it. Not the pain, but the catharsis after. When terrible things happen to my characters and they manage to thrive anyway, I like to think that that’s a part of me that’s survived the ordeal. And when the villain’s thwarted, one of my own inner demons is as well.
Because writing evil is impossible without knowing evil; pain without pain; sorrow without sorrow. A good writer must have, as Nietzsche put it, “a chaos inside to give birth to a star.” The more I read the work of other authors, and my own, the more I discover that the majority of poor writing comes from a lack of knowledge. Cutesy or archetyped villains come from authors who either haven’t ever known any true villains, or refuse to go to that place when they write.
Examples… The world thrives on examples. Well, here you are. When I was in eleventh grade I had a friend try to take his own life, by shooting himself in the head with a handgun. Then, I found out the summer after my senior year of high school that two more of my friends had, at times the previous year, attempted the same. That was… A bit of an eye-opener, and it still brings tears to my eyes.
When I encountered a clinical novel about the “real reasons” behind cutting, citing psychosis and pressures to be thin, I couldn’t take it. Because the book was wrong—from my perspective, anyway. If anyone’s curious, the reason people hurt themselves is incredibly simple: they’re trying to reconcile their seeming physical health with an intense mental pain. It’s difficult to feel torn apart inside, but look completely whole to everyone else. But anyway, that’s how I came up with the idea for Torn. As a novel, it was intended to show the humanity and misunderstandings surrounding self-harm. When I get the courage to face that a bit more, I’ll be able to finish.
I started The Clique after setting Torn aside, and I was searching for a villain. My beta readers will know that I didn’t find him until about seven chapters in, in the form of Devon. Devon isn’t some character from my past—rather, he’s a creation of my very own, a perversion meant to show myself how disastrous infatuation can be. He’s as much a part of me as the protagonists of the novel, maybe even more. After all, who hasn’t wanted to say a big “screw you” to someone who turned them down? That’s what Devon does, and he does it by taking revenge for a slight that never actually occurred.
On the other hand, I get to write protagonists as well. I’ll admit that almost all of my protagonists are better than myself. They all have their problems, but they all have one quality that I admire more than any other: a certain form of masochistic hedonism that allows them to say “I know things are bad, but let’s freaking enjoy life anyway.” I may try for that sometimes, but I’m never nearly as successful as my protagonists.
Their foibles are my foibles, as well. They indulge in activities that can only hurt them, are too shy to make friends, or perhaps trust too much. Admittedly, the case for too much trust as a foible is a thin one. But what it comes down to is that I put as much of my good and bad into characters as I can.
So, is it impossible to write without knowing that chaos? Can authors without a dark side make it? I don’t know. I know that I tried to write without tapping into that part of myself, and during that time I hardly got any accolades. The writing I’ve done by tapping into the chaos isn’t perfect, but I’ve gotten a lot more praise for it. And it’s so much easier to write.
In the end, just like you can’t write clever characters unless you’re clever and you can’t write funny characters without a sense of humor, you can’t write demons unless you have your own. Feed them, pet them, put them in a very small cage, and every once in a while bring them out to show the world.