Saturday, 12 December 2009

Best Served So Incredibly Cold, Ice Crystals Form On Your Verbs: Gillian Philip

Oh go on, you've killed someone, haven't you? Maimed them? Slight dents on the left shinbone? Sent them out in public with spinach between their teeth? ANYTHING? Please don't tell me it's just me...

You can't make characters out of real people. I keep saying that in workshops. You know, you can take a little bit of him and a little bit of her and a pinch of, oh God, HIM?! and add it to the mix.

But try and squeeze someone you know into a fictional character - or more accurately, squeeze a fictional character into the straitjacket of a real person - and they just won't fit. The character has to have a mind of her own. Or she has to have reactions and instincts that don't belong to a real person, because she'll be facing situations that never happened in 'real life'. At least we hope they didn't, or you're going to get sued, OK?
(That's why Things Not To Say To A Writer no.34 is 'I'd better watch out, you'll be putting me in your book next!' No. Shan't.)

Revenge characters are subject to the same rules. I once read a manuscript for someone in which the protagonist's ex-husband was simply the vilest, most repugnant excuse for a human being I had ever encountered on the printed page (and so was his mother). And, you know, I've read quite a lot of serial killer fiction and stuff. I had to suggest, gently, that the writer should maybe make somebody up, rather than just (presumably) using her own ex. (Come to think of it, she never did speak to me again.)

I know this crime writer, though, who has a good strategy, not too in-your-face on the revenge front. If Mr McGinty and Mrs Craddock have offended him, the next (fictional) murder will take place at the Craddock McGinty Sewage Processing Corporation. In the immortal words of Pumbaa the Warthog, that's slimy yet satisfying.

That boy who once humiliated me in school, in front of the entire drama club? (Can you tell it rankled for a while?) I inflicted a terrible fate on him (in a book). He was even quite recognisable. But just to be on the safe side, I turned him into a girl first. After all (a) I didn't want to be sued and (b) for all I know, he's now a delightful, well-balanced, compassionate human being. People change. Snarl.

Fictional revenge. It's do-able. Of course one shouldn't. But one does. At least, this one does.

Oh go on, please tell me it's not just me.

10 comments:

MaureenHume said...

Oh no, it's not just you. I do it all the time in a very subtle way although I'm not nearly as clever as the Craddock Mcginty Sewage Processing Plant author.
It does make me wonder how non writing people handle their festering resentments.
Maureen. www.thepizzagang.com

Bill Kirton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Kirton said...

Gillian, this is almost word for word what I'd have written on the same subject (only you do with with more panache and wit). I tried getting my revenge on an ex-colleague whose hypocrisy annoyed me and hurt others but the character never came alive. The other invented ones around him seemed realistic (to me, anyway) but he remained flat, unbelievable. In the end, I had to ditch him and put a fiction in his place.
As for revenge itself - oh yes, I've enjoyed that many times in print, and (evil cackle, hand rubbing, drooling lips)there are more to come .

Leslie Wilson said...

Yes, I just sliver things off and use them differently, or else I just let festering resentments infuse a character. You do have to cut loose from the real person, but - for one thing - I'm currently putting some of my adolescent rage at my father into the girl in the present book - and then using another bit of him, his pomposity - in a character in the adult book that I'm working on oh so very slowly. I think it works best on the osmotic principle, ie anger as well as love, delight, grief and wonder will come into your writing, indeed, Ray Bradbury said anger was one of the most important ingredients in a book. I think, as you say, Gillian, if you try and make someone too like someone you're annoyed with, it will choke the fiction. My father is dead, btw, there are a few threads in my work from living people, but I shan't say who. They would never recognise themselves, which is why the 'trying to find living people' is silly, apart from blatant romans a clef. But someone's way of talking, if you and the writer each know that person - you might note that resonance.

Book Maven said...

All my bullies are called Russell. That will serve that little s**t at primary school right. And since I didn't change my name, there's a good chance he might find out through his grandchildren's books!

Stroppy Author said...

This is lovely, Gillian - glad you managed to get it posted after the aggro! Good revenge, Mary - I'll look out for those Russells now :-)
The only problem comes when the editor wants to remove or change something crucial to the revenge factor and you don't have a good reason to keep it (without owning up!)

Brian Keaney said...

Great post. It is so not just you!

Katherine Langrish said...

Yes. A bloke once stopped to sneer and shout abuse at me because I had pulled over on a country lane to move a young and obviously paralysed-with-fright blackbird out of the middle of the road.

I'm afraid I swore back at him. But some of his nastiness also ended up in my charismatic but psychopathic villain Harald Silkenhair.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Yes - I've done it in plays as well as fiction. I'm sure we all do it with suitable disguises. But I've also, to my considerable discomfort, found myself in somebody else's novel, not as myself, but as a variety of female characters! Clearly not revenge since there was nothing nasty about any of it - And I only read the book many years later. Hell, there was stuff in there that only the two of us would have known about, and it was disturbing, especially when my last words to the person in question, which I had completely forgotten, were there on the page to remind me of just how very angry I had been!

Nick Green said...

Kath L - So that's where Harald comes from! He's a man who bullies blackbirds. With a sword. He gets worse and worse!

Gillian - I've just noticed, I don't do this. What I do is, I thank people in my books. For instance, the first children who read my first book and told me they enjoyed it, had their names used for good characters in the sequel. So far I haven't done the reverse, using a real name for an evil character...