Creating characters is a tricky thing. They end up taking on their own lives and making decisions you don’t want them to make, heading down paths you wished they’d avoid. It can be unnerving.
For non-writers, this seems strange. They’ll say, “You’re the writer. You control what happens. If you don’t write it, it doesn’t exist.”
It’s not that easy.
Writing is a lot like making a video game. You create the world, the characters, the relationships and goals. But, once the player grabs the game controller, what those characters do and how they do it are outside of the game creators control.
Instead of gamers taking control of your characters, the characters start to take control of themselves. They can commit atrocities you’d never attempt or reach greatness you could never achieve. Sometimes, they end up saying things and doing things that offend you. But, as a writer, your job is to remain true to them and write down what they do, like our guardian angels keep track of us.
As a thriller writer, I have to create villains that are smarter and more devious than the hero. They often have the advantage because they are not bound by mores, where the hero struggles to overcome the stronger foe without crossing moral lines.
There is a legal phrase that writers have to remember: “Assuming facts not in evidence.” A defendant can’t just say someone is a thief. The prosecutor has to enter into evidence proof that the person stole things. The defendant can then validate that evidence.
In writing, that means you can’t just say someone is evil. You have to show it. You have write about people who have rejected God and actively pursue immorality.
And that’s where the disturbing part comes in.
You, the writer, have to delve into the darker recesses of your own soul and pull out the worst things you can imagine. You then have to feed that villain with thoughts you’ve spent your life avoiding, and then write down how they willfully engage in those acts.
In Gods & Martyrs, Gabby encounters the greatest evil she’s had to face, at consequence to her body and soul. Last night, I sat at my computer and hashed out Gabby witnessing the unholy nature of the villain by his acts and abuse to others.
It was awful. It tapped into every fear I bury. Because Gabby had to face it, so did I. Worst of all, it came from me, from my mind, typed by my fingers.
I belong to a few online writing communities and I mentioned this struggle. Everyone had been there. It’s the nature of being a writer. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we have to give our characters the opportunity to choose evil over good, to embrace sin over virtue, and show the consequences of those decisions.
It’s never fun or pretty, but necessary.
Our life reflects this struggle, the fight between good and evil. Writers must capture that struggle and honestly portray it, even if it means facing a part of ourselves we don’t want to acknowledge.
But, in the end, it’s worth it.
We give readers hope by shining a light through the darkness. We show sacrifice in the face of indulgence, holiness overcoming immortality. Even if it requires us admitting our own sinfulness in the process.