Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Not a thing. And everything. Let me explain.
When a writer creates a character, we, like actors, need to understand their motivations. We need to understand their points of view. Very few people wake up in the morning and say "today, I'll be...*dramatic pause and fanfare* EVIL!" Nope. They go about their daily lives working to do what they feel is the right thing from their perspective. And your perspective determines your reality. Whether it's someone who kills because he believes it's for the greater good or because he gets a sexual thrill, he's doing what is right for him. I know that's a hard thing to wrap your mind around. I mean, how could a rapist really think that what he's doing is right? In his mind, however, his victims might deserve it. The people he tortures need the pain to get closer to God, or because it thrills him so much that it's similar to a drug rush. Whatever the case, we writers need to examine the ugly side and bring it to the front. But how?
Actors like Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman are famous for being "method" actors. They immerse themselves into their roles and, occasionally, have a hard time climbing out of them. Many writers, myself included, go through a similar process. We have to put ourselves in the mindset of the characters, no matter how diseased or horrible, in order to have that character make believable choices, and to make the character come off as more than a one-dimensional stereotype. The killer from City of Demons, for example, killed because he genuinely felt that his actions would bring about the physical manifestation of his God, and that the people he murdered were the scum of the earth. In his mind, their suffering brought them closer to God, and the more they suffered, the greater their chance at salvation. He mutilated, skinned, and destroyed because he felt it was necessary, and that gave him a sense of joy at his work. And how did I write him?
By visiting a very dark place in my imagination.
With characters like him, my first point of access is to see the act, then to determine why he did it. In order to determine that, I have to put myself in his head and piece out the reasoning, just as he would. And in the end, it becomes easy to see why someone like him would make the choices he did. And it's terrifying, the moment when you catch yourself thinking "yeah, that's completely justified." Because in doing so, you have to admit that there is a black spot on your soul that's dark as pitch and thick as a bog. You have to admit that, somewhere, deep inside you, darkness lives, breathes, and thrives. Somewhere, within your Jeckyll, Hyde lurks and begs for a chance to get out and flex his muscles. And, as a writer, it's your job to let him out to play every now and again.
I can't speak for every writer out there. There are as many ways to write a book or character as there are books and characters. All I can do is speak about my own methodology. When I write a psycho, the reason he comes across as real is because he is. Or at least, part of him is. Once a long time ago, I had a psychiatrist stop working with me on the grounds that she was afraid of me. I didn't take it as an insult, though I probably should have. I took it to mean that my characters were visceral, authentic and just as nasty as they come.
So what about you? What lives in the dark half of your soul? Do you visit that part of yourself? Are you afraid of what you'll find? Leave a comment below, and write on.