As a writer, particularly of speculative fiction, I’ve got a few eccentricities. I did break fantasy, and dump a ton of rock and roll and computers into the cauldron. I realized yesterday, though, I’ve got friends, and many of them may be under the impression that I’ve got *leans in to stage whisper* issues. Y’see, a fellow author mentioned her research on ways to decimate global food crops, and as soon as I posted my response, I realized one thing. I sound, at times, like a megalomaniac sociopath. Here’s the 6 reasons for that.
1. I research. A ton.
It’s an addiction. An obsession. Geography, Chemistry, Biology, Genetics, Psychology. I also talk to other people who do a ton of research on a million topics at once. Once I’ve curbed my craving for a bit, I’ll let the new ingredients in my intellectual stew simmer and marry, and all at once, I’m sitting in 8:30 am Human Biology 101, looking at diagrams of osteons and BAM! I know how to assemble a Draconic skeleton and dual vascular system that will help solve the lift problem of a creature the size of a house, so long as it is coupled with a tertiary lung filtration system that singles out lighter than atmosphere gasses and deposits them in one specialized portion of said vascular system. Hello? Still there, or did I just get too technical?
I get it. I’ll cool it a bit on the tech stuff. However, it’s the broad spectrum of research about everything that keeps me grounded in realism, even as I craft tales of Elves and Dragons, Giants and Dwarves, and the world of Rock and Roll. After all, how the heck are Halfbloods supposed to make sense without at least a rudimentary understanding of genetics? Plague without Microbiology? Any character at all without context from Anthropology, Sociology and Psychology? Doesn’t happen, folks. Not well. And writers reading this? I don’t care what genre you write. Cultivate the research addiction. Please.
2. Yes, I can think like a sociopath.
Or a narcissist. Or a megalomaniac. Really, the most terrifying villains contain aspects of all three, and the underlying knowledge of basic abnormal psychology. See, the villain is a person (Coming soon: 10 Edicts of Excellent Villains). As such, if they are simply an “evil mirror” of the hero, the story is old. Boring. Basically useless. If the villain sees himself as the hero of his own story, has his own persona independent of the hero’s identity, THAT’S when things get interesting. Imagine, the villain is an assassin, just doing his job, no personal investment in any particular job. The hero learns of this assassin, and hires him to kill one of the greatest evils of the world, only to turn and refuse to pay the assassin. Well, this killer for hire has a code. Part of it? Don’t break the contract. Don’t do it. Thus, what started out as a simple job becomes a vendetta, a hunt, and the hero, who refused to pay the assassin as she believes none one should be paid to kill, but couldn’t kill the great evil herself, has created her own biggest problem. She’s not in for a good run. Not really.
The best stories are built on genuine conflict, rather than manufactured. If your villain is just a hero’s foil? Can you say manufactured? However, like the story above, there’s a genuine conflict of interest. Or, in the case of my current novel (coming to you before the end of this year), the guitarist can’t stand the singer, mostly because the singer is a racist jerk. Yet somehow, they still make the jam sessions work.
3. Yes, I will tell you how to end the world in three easy steps.
Okay, maybe four. It’s actually not that complicated.
First, decimate the population. Famine is best, necessitating a need to poison the crops world wide, particularly in high export areas. Those sending food goods to needy countries are prime targets, but the test run would need to happen in a third world country no one would notice. Now, groundwater can be tainted with certain levels of minerals that are fatal to crops but have little noticeable effect on human life. Additionally, the use of water-carried plant diseases, and finally, introducing seed crop containing plant diseases. Another writer and I had this discussion yesterday, in our writers’ group. Oh, did I say I’d give you three steps? No, no. I’m not telling you the rest of the plan.
Bottom line, I came up with the triple redundant method of crop destruction within ten minutes of hearing what her story needed. Yes, we are terrifying. No, we are not likely to tell you in casual conversation. We’d lose our friends.
4. Tragedy is awesome.
Natural disasters, plague, magical disease, loss of limb, death of a friend or family member, curses, incapacitation, amnesia, or any other massive, heart scorching problem. How else is your character going to learn anything? It’s like I said Wednesday. Our Inner Demons are great teachers. In point of fact, those demons are born of our reactions to tragedy, emergency, and pain, in any form. Our heroes have them. Our villains have them. Our friends and enemies off the page have them. How can we as writers expect you as readers to connect to a paper doll of words? Our characters must be made of flesh, bone, blood, pleasure, joy, and pain. Everything that is the human experience. How else will we relate? So yes, tragedy is great. Trial, tribulation, difficulty are wonderful.
Hardly means we are incapable of compassion. Number one may be true. That doesn’t mean we are sociopaths, as anyone who genuinely is will tell you. We watch our friends suffer and struggle, and we hurt with them. At the same time, we revere the elements of a universal story, and we understand that, without those elements, we are left with black sound symbols on grayish paper that will be shredded and used as toilet paper. So we embrace the wonder, the beauty, and the terrible in our world, and share it with you, dear reader.
5. Torture, extortion, assassination and other moral evils are necessary to the plot.
Now, now, now, calm down. Come back. I’m not saying it’s necessary to torture your agent or editor or friends, or that jerk kid from high school you never liked. We’re still talking about writers writing stories, here. Think about it. When was the last time you saw a genuine news article from a respected source about something other than corporate or political scandal, homicide, suicide, rape, or any of the other dark, terrifying stuff we avoid in our own lives, but love to read about from a stranger journalist about someone else? As writers, we get up close and personal with this stuff. Some of us let you, our reader, see that on the pages of our books, or in the posts of our blogs. Others, like me, keep the darkest bits locked in the safe of my own mind, only giving you the bits necessary to carry the story. And get your blood going.
Regardless, I know about everything from most prudent body-hiding practices to medieval torture devices and uses that are best left in the dark, unless you’ve got a strong constitution and less empathy for figments of our imaginations. Be assured, I doubt I could stomach doing that to a real person.
6. Taking us seriously is a double-edged sword.
Are we talking about the hero’s latest plight? Or have we actually lost it? This one is actually quite easy. Ask us. If we’re talking about our story, we’ll readily admit to what we’re planning, at least as much as saying, “Oh, I’m working on my next book.” Some of us might then elaborate on how our MC (Main Character) is caught in a web of deceit and a double agent masquerading as second in command of a front gang acting as a cover for a necromantic conspiracy. Some of us will simply leave it at telling you we’re working on a book.
We writers know that the inside of our minds contain terrifying territory. After all, not many professions can be mistaken for serial killers in 13 different ways. That said, try not to panic the next time we hang out and I drop hints about dark cults ending the world. It’s just a book. I promise…