If you’re a writer, you’ve probably been there once or twice. If you’re a writer of horror fiction you’re familiar with the neighborhood. If you’re a writer like me* you’ve got a passport to the Land of Weird and you don’t have any trouble crossing the border. It’s where you grew up and where you are most comfortable.
Other (mainstream, regular, normal) people don’t get that.
You write something strange… odd… or downright disgusting. Sometimes you do it for the plot, sometimes you do it to get an image or setup out of your head, and sometimes, as Stephen King once said, you go for the gross out.
There will always be a place for movies that accentuate the disgusting; look at the SAW franchise. There are big bucks there. Normal people can get their little fix of “Eww that’s gross!” and then carry on.
If you come up with strange twists of fate or gruesome scenarios for a living (or hope to make a living doing it) you are weird. If you describe death or suffering in delicious detail, if you write about a violent assault or a rape or brutal emotional torture, sooner or later you will get the look, the uncomfortable, questioning look others (normal people) will give you when they wonder about you; how can you think about upsetting stuff like that? And how can you think about it in so much detail? You are weird.
I don’t know how it works with other writers, but I’m fine with blaming any atrocities on my characters. It wasn’t me, I didn’t do that, I just wrote it down. They said that. They did that. I just watched.
To hell with how many words you can type in a minute. Watching and listening are the essentials. Most writers are really just voyeurs. We watch real people talk and walk and argue and fight and kiss and make up and we store that away in our heads. Appearances, accents, attitudes, it’s all story fodder, resources for our characters to use when you are ready to put the machine in gear and drive.
Writers like me watch and listen to things unfolding in the real world, and then they watch and listen as the story unfolds inside their heads. And when bad things happen in my stories, it isn’t my fault. Blame my characters. It’s true with me, and it’s true with many other writers. And it makes you sound completely fucking insane.
Which of course would make it all the better to be able to make a living writing this kind of thing. You know. Being paid to be insane.
When I write I do plot my stories to varying degrees, specifically the opening, the ending, any major moments and key scenes, and of course any gross stuff that I’ve been dying to get on paper. It is all very fluid, very flexible, with lots of room for change and revision. It has to be.
Usually my characters will begin talking and interacting at point A, make it to point B without any problems, and then suddenly veer off to point G or T or Z. What the hell happened to points C, D and E? Don’t ask me, I just wrote down what happened as I watched the characters walk and talk and fuck each other over.
There is no other way to describe this writing process. Maybe it is channeling. Maybe it is schizophrenia. Maybe it’s just an imagination gone completely off the rails. Whatever it is, that’s the way it works, and it works for me. I enjoy it.
I like nothing better than creating a couple of solid characters and then dropping them in the shit. Sometimes characters the readers are supposed to hate will die. Sometimes characters I like will die. And sometimes, supporting characters will step up and take center stage. The most obvious example of this (hopefully not to the reader) is in my forthcoming release of Made in the USA by Dark Red Press. When writing that novel I had an A character, a B character, about a dozen C characters, and many smaller supporting characters all interacting with each other. Yet something very odd happened when writing that novel. My B character began speaking to me more and assumed a more prominent place in the tale. My B character became the A character and will remain the A character in the sequel to MITU.
I had nothing to do with it. I created them. I let them motorvate when things were cooking, and turned on the GPS when it was time to get back on track. In the end the A and B characters came to a completely different place than I had originally envisioned, and I tossed my original plotted ending in the trash.
It was a bit scary, and really exciting.
It wasn’t me, it was them.
Then again, I’m weird.
* I like to mix the mundane with the bizarre, it’s like making cookies. Start with your basic cookie dough and then toss things in that might to create new or interesting flavors. Most of the time you get shit. Sometimes you get an absolute delight.
(This first appeared on JXM’s Dark Red Press blog in May of 2011)