KILLING THEM OFF
by Deborah Elliott-Upton
Mystery writers may never need to consult a therapist. We work out our hostilities through our stories. Is your boss a jerk? Kill him off! Mother-in law on your case? Kill her off! Your rival stole your boyfriend? You know what to do â€“ and never spend a day in jail.
Okay, so maybe weâ€™re talking figuratively, but writing with emotions like anger is a good thing. We may decide later not to vent publicly or at least in print. There is such a thing as people being able to recognize all too familiar situations and themselves â€“ or do they?
It seems more often they lay claim to the hero and not the dastardly character they may have inspired.
â€œThis is me, isnâ€™t it?â€ an acquaintance asked.
â€œYouâ€™ve saved people from a sniper?â€
â€œWell, n-n-no,â€ he stammered. â€œBut you have to admit, this is me down to the Nikes.â€
I kept my expression deadpan. â€œYeah, youâ€™re the only one I know who wears those.â€
He didnâ€™t read between the lines to see the smart-aleck remarks of the villain were the kind he favors, especially directed at unsuspecting people who donâ€™t reply due to shell shock. Heâ€™s rude, but heâ€™s also a narcissist, believing heâ€™s got hero tattooed in indelible ink across his forehead, sitting somewhere beneath that cockeyed halo.
Discussion about characters usually includes at least one newbie writer asking if when he writes a story based on his Uncle Ned, should he change the name.
My answer? Donâ€™t write Nedâ€™s story unless itâ€™s a biography. Chances are if the writer asked about a name change, heâ€™s thinking of writing something unfavorable about not-so-dear Uncle Ned.
One evening during critique, a writer read her short story. The dialogue sounded right for the small town characters it employed and the plot sounded feasible. She finished and one of the members of the group, Jean, said, â€œI know these people.â€
â€œOh, thanks,â€ the writer said. â€œThat means so much. I worked to get the dialect just right.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t understand,â€ Jean said. â€œI mean I know these people and this story. This all happened about five years ago in ________ City, right?â€
The writer blushed and we all had a good laugh, but we knew this story would never see print as a fictional piece. Even when we change the names, we need to change the story, too. We have become a litigious society. At best, our writer could have combined characteristics into one character, but the plot needed more than sprucing, it needed sanding and a fresh coat of paint, hopefully in another hue.
A romance writer I know wrote a story about reuniting with an old flame. Only she knew she based the story on her own college sweetheart until she typed his real name into the story instead of the fictitious one sheâ€™d devised. Emotions should make it onto the page, but never slip up on the names unless you intend to get caught.
I was writing a short story about a couple of kids who fell in love and joined a cult, then fought their way to get out. When I finished reading, my critique friend asked, â€œWhose story is this?â€
I said, â€œKateâ€™s. Sheâ€™s the main character.â€
Thatâ€™s not what I mean,â€ she said. â€œIs this Cathyâ€™s story?â€
â€œHer name is Kate.â€
â€œI know, but is this our friend, Cathyâ€™s story? You do know she was in a cult,â€ she said. â€œSo is this her story?â€
I laughed. I hadnâ€™t been privy to Cathyâ€™s background, but I must have come close to the truth of such things to make my friend believe I copied Cathyâ€™s circumstances.
Let your emotions and experiences guide you to create universal feelings all readers can understand, but tell your own fictional stories.
Those who donâ€™t know me well may wonder why I retreat to my computer when Iâ€™m upset, angry or depressed. Itâ€™s really a writerâ€™s survival skill. I doubt Iâ€™ll require anger management classes or help from a psychiatrist. I have my own methods of ridding my life of annoying people.