I have to admit to being pretty black and white where people are concerned.
Treat me nicely, and I’ll be your friend. But treat me badly and you’ll get none of my time. There’s a very definite line between the two, and once you cross it, it’s very hard for me to ever see you in a different light. I’m not saying it’s the best way to behave, I just know it’s how I feel. Where my friends and my enemies are concerned, goodies are goodies, baddies are baddies … there are no shades of grey!
And yet it seems I give real people shorter shrift than I give my characters! Because I know why some of my characters are nice, and other characters are nasty. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, each character comes with his or her own background story. And those stories are ones I am far more likely to listen to than those of my real life enemies!
Perhaps the reason for that is obvious. In real life, I’m directly affected by the baddies’ badness, and the goodies’ goodness. Their reasons and back-stories are irrelevant if I’m personally being treated badly. Whereas as an author, and a reader, you’re an observer. Seeing things unfold from ‘above’, and getting a bigger picture. You’re interested more in the ‘why’ than you would if the ‘what’ directly affects it.
And so my characters are multi-faceted. It’s realistic. People aren’t simply good or bad … even if its often easier to see them that way. People aren’t born with their morals pre-destined, their actions and moral code are for the most part products of nurture. And when you’re afforded the distance of an observer, you’re more interested in the nurture process. The back story.
Which is why, in order for me as a writer to be able to understand why Daniel DeSilva might want to sabotage the Fire Clan’s selection process in Flicker or why Raye Park might treat Ellody Rose with such outright contempt in The Dream Navigator I needed to think long and hard about their motivations. In fact, warped and twisted motives are what fuel almost the entire plot of my adult novel ‘My Ten Future Lives’ …
Now, maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but most of the motivations in my book end up coming down to love, in some way. Daniel’s actions spring from grief over his mother’s death, and a lifelong need to prove himself to his father, in order to attain his love. Raye’s bristly demeanour is simply because his main concern where Dream Navigating is concerned is money. And whilst on the face of it, that might not sound too loving, Raye’s concern is really his family, who he sends the money back too. And every part of My Ten Future Lives is the product of twisted, misunderstood love. Because people aren’t inherently evil, their worst decisions are often made because of love … whether that love is misdirected, unappreciated, or completely and utterly warped.
I’ve also noticed the baddies in my books tend to have parent issues. Maybe that’s just because I grew up with such a solid parental base, and felt like me and my sister were brought up with our heads screwed on right … Maybe it’s because I spent too long as a nanny in Canada, analysing the effects absent parenting was having on the rich kids I looked after! Or maybe it’s because the nastiest ‘characters’ I’ve met in real life were the result of some rather questionable parenting … For example, whilst at university I was at university, I was treated appallingly by a girl who freely admitted that her mother had ‘done cocaine with her at seventeen’! Hmmm ….
Anyway, I digress! But what I’m trying to say, is no matter how black and white I view peoples’ actions in real life … I do understand the paths that have led to those consequences, paths which I’ve attributed in different ways, and with differing amounts of pity and empathy, to the ‘baddies’ in my books.
However, last week’s events in England put me in a strange position. The riots were real life, happening in real time on national news stations, and yet I felt like a viewer. Like I was watching something fictional.
And so rather than seeing things in black and white terms – good and bad – because I wasn’t personally being affected by the ‘badness’, I found myself approaching the situation as a reader. As an author … Sad as it is that I was actually reading a newspaper, not reading a book!
What was motivating these people? What were their back story? What could possibly explain the mindless violence, and mob rule which spread senselessly across a nation and left thousands of completely innocent people the victims?
Teachers, journalists, aspiring soldiers and Olympic ambassadors have all been arrested in relation to the riots … and frankly, it just doesn’t make any sense! What possible back-story could even begin to validate what they did? What possibly act of ‘love’ or lack of love, or poor parenting results in someone thinking it’s openly OK to torch people’s houses, kick in random cars, loot stores, mug injured people, break into charity shops and steal charity tins? How do you justify that with a back-story? How do you even begin to understand why someone thinks it’s ‘OK’ because other people are getting away with it?
I don’t think you can …
Ok so there were people involved who might have been homeless or starving (though if there were, I’ve heard little of their situations) but for the most part it just seemed like one big act of greed and thuggery.
Which brings me back to a world of black and white. NOT races, just to make that clear. But a world with no shades of grey. A world where people are just good or bad! A world where someone gets away with doing something inherently awful, and it’s so well-publicised, that it seems to flick some kind of switch inside random members of the community … a Bad Switch, which only Bad people have inside them … and then suddenly the world goes crazy!!!
I know that’s not real. That people don’t have Bad Switches, and that shades of grey DO exist … but if that’s really the case, then how the hell do you justify the riots that hit my country last week!
As an author, I like to think I understand people. That I write well because I know people and understand how they interact. But maybe that’s not the case! Maybe I’ve been too generous giving my characters back stories, and maybe I ought just equip my characters with bad switches instead … so that next time my characters are in an emotionally conflicting situation, instead of acting like normal human beings, they simply decide to run through the streets burning down houses and looting shops … Because they can!