Now that I have been back to writing fiction consistently for the past year (a nice break from the corporate writing), I realized there is an occasional conflict I face: “going there,” as in, “Oh no! He did not just go there!” It appears during the writing process when I come to the figurative fork in the road, but I typically resolve it without much difficulty. However, some instances throw me into a relentless vicious cycle of decision-making.
In fiction it’s easy for a writer to fall in love with a character, and I don’t mean romance. There are those protagonists and secondary characters that embody special traits to make the story work, whether they are likeable or repulsive. Writers love their creations; they have to. The creations take on lives of their own, living and breathing on our pages. There are those moments of reckoning, however, when a character must meet its demise. It can be a difficult thing to wrap my head around. You would think it would be easy, having no trouble portraying violence, dementia, and gore when a story calls for it. I get attached.
It’s not just ending a character’s life that can hard at times, the same conflict arises in morphing an apparently good character into something evil and despicable. I am battling with myself right now over a particular secondary character my workshop readers have expressed a liking for. Do I maintain her damaged but otherwise good-natured persona, giving her a positive role? Or does an unspeakable malevolence brew in her gut under that sweet exterior? Ultimately, I know the latter choice is the right direction for an already twisted story about a disturbed protagonist.
If I learned anything from reading Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” recently, it is that the apparent good guys can be bad, and the bad can be good. Many shades of gray define humans, not polar extremes in outlook and behavior. People do what they must in order to survive – good or bad – that’s our nature.
King’s novella also taught me to portray a scene – to show prison violence, in particular – for what it is, in all of it’s gruesome detail and the very real impact it has on human beings. He went there without self-censorship or Hollywood-style heroics, and applied a raw sense of humanity in response to it; the type of humanity that exists in beaten down characters that must be willing to endure the worst atrocities in order to survive. He painted a cruel yet honest portrayal of prison life. That alone made for a compelling story. He took the risk and succeeded.
Today, I am putting an end to that “going there” conflict, driving an icepick through its callous heart. The relentless vicious cycles of decision-making have met their demise.
Ever face this risk-taking conflict? Please share your thoughts, spill your guts – just remember to clean up after yourself.