The more I read with a writer’s eye the more I see things from a writer’s perspective. I was on a panel a few years back and an audience member asked what kind of writers we were. Struggling was the first thing that sprung to my mind, but that wasn’t the answer the questioner was looking for. At the time I was just writing. As soon as story idea struck, I wrote it. I never felt that I had an agenda or a platform to perch my work upon. But when I examined my stories, I saw a common theme running through them all. Predicaments seemed to play a central role in my stories. Usually an unsuspecting person, an average Joe by every definition, is put on the spot. A situation arises that my protagonist can’t walk away. The reason they are there is usually their own fault. Sometimes it falls into the no good deed variety, but usually, the story’s hero has done something to get them ensnared. A tryst. An indiscretion. A little white with a black edge. A past mistake. These factors are subject to Newtonian psychics. For every action there’s an equal and opposition reaction. It doesn’t matter how minor the mistake my characters have committed, there’s a price to be paid. Things come back to trip my protagonists up. This means my heroes are starting off on the back foot. They are struggling with desperate times where failure means the destruction of their comfortable way of life. So my stories are told from a nightmarish stance. My protagonists are desperate when the reader meets them.
Where do these characters come from? Why have I chosen storylines like this? I think it’s because I can identify with these people. I live a pretty ordinary life, but I can see how fine a line I walk. One bad decision and my life could change forever. There have been several instances in my life where something I’ve done has come back to bite me. Some instances have been caused by some very innocuous actions. So when my what-if synapses kick in, it usually centers on a minor action that will snowball into something large. My short novel, The Fall Guy, demonstrates this. A guy gets involved in a fender bender, does a runner and ends up indebted to organized crime. Life has a funny way of turning mean when you’ve done something wrong. Ask Michael Richards.
I see other writers express themselves in similar ways. I love Ruth Rendell when she writes under her Barbara Vane pseudonym. Guilt raises its ugly head in virtually all of her Vane novels. For those that have read her, just look at A Fatal Inversion, Gallowglass, The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy, No Night Is Too Long and The Brimstone Wedding, to name a few. The characters have done something wholly terrible and they want it kept quiet, but no matter how depth the truth is buried, it finds a way of rising to the surface. At times, it’s hard to like these people but I can empathize with them. Luck sometimes keeps us from falling down a crevice of bad decision-making. I’ve noticed that Peter Straub often deals with a past injustice that only come to light generations later. When I notice a common thread, I wonder what the root cause is for the theme. What’s the source of the muse that created all these great books? What locked boxes do these authors have? Maybe none. Maybe I’m transferring too much of myself into the situation and reading things that aren’t there. But I hope not. 🙂
The reason for this blog is Lee Child. I’m reading Killing Floor at the moment. Child’s hero is rough, tough Jack Reacher. He kicks butts and takes names. He’s a force to be reckoned with. Bad guys watch out, Jack’s in town. My leading characters aren’t like this. None of my characters come from a comfortable place. They aren’t masters of the situation. They’re vulnerable and it shows. But that’s because I’m a not a very self-confident or self-assured person. After reading page after page of Jack’s kickassedness, I thought, wouldn’t it be neat to write a character like this—mad, bad and dangerous to know. Although I enjoy writing about vulnerable protagonists, I’m wondering if I should break my own mold now and again. I hanker to write about a tough guy with a bulletproof personality. As they say, a change is as good as an arrest.
Merry Christmas to one and all,