Living in the Future, Singing in the Darkness

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about perception, perspective, stagnation of both, and changes in each. One image my thoughts return to is this:

“The Olympus Mons mountain on Mars is so tall and yet so gently sloped that, were you suited and supplied correctly, ascending it would allow you to walk most of the way to space. Mars has a big, puffy atmosphere, taller than ours, but there‚Äôs barely anything to it at that level. 30 Pascals of pressure, which is what we get in an industrial vacuum furnace here on Earth. You may as well be in space. Imagine that. Imagine a world where you could quite literally walk to space.”

–Warren Ellis,
How To See the Future

Walk into space. The closest I can get to imagining this is the descriptions of “the Wall” in Robert Silverberg’s Kingdoms of the Wall (a fantasy/sci-fi I highly recommend). And even those wouldn’t come close to what I’m sure must be the awesome reality of Mars’s Olympus Mons.

Unfortunately, as Ellis goes on to say, “manufactured normalcy would suggest that, if we were the Martians, we would find this completely dull within ten years and bitch about not being able to simply fart our way into space.”

There’s a lot of cynicism and snarkiness floating around nowadays. I can’t tell if it’s more intense than it used to be, or if we’re just more aware of it because we can dip into the negativity of a fellow human on the other side of the planet within 5 seconds of their posting their vitriolic rant on their blog. Ah well, at least it’s not a GeoCities page.

But with pessimism and sarcasm just a mouseclick away, I feel as though the negativity is ubiquitous. And it’s addictive. Sunshine unicorns glitter rainbows kittens cotton candy might be just as readily available for consumption as doom and gloom, but we humans tend to down the doom long before we reach for the rainbows.

I’ve written about this before, delving in to the creepy origins of the word “sarcasm.” So I won’t repeat myself here, not about that. But I’m still thinking all of those same thoughts about negativity and cynicism, and I’m thinking specifically of how they affect our perspective on the incredible world we live in today with all its amazing advances and advantages.

Just yesterday, I was reading an article on how women and men all over the world are using the internet and social media to fight back against rape culture. It’s tempting to gnash one’s teeth over the fact that rape culture ever existed and still exists. But instead of gnashing over that, what if we rejoiced at the brilliant and powerful ways in which right-minded people are combating it? If we didn’t live in such fabulous times, all of those beautiful, ringing, truth-filled voices would be silent and silenced.

In his article, Ellis points out a dozen? dozens of? advances in science and technology that most of us tend to take for granted and find boring — even though these things were beyond imagination not many years ago. Not many years ago, these things would’ve been considered “magic.” Not many years ago, the “magic” of uniting voices worldwide for a single would’ve been impossible.

Let’s open our eyes, is what I’m getting at. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts to see all the beauty and the brilliance and the boldness that awaken hope. It’s there for the seeing, and it’s there for the claiming if we want it.

My daughter is almost 9 months old. Sometimes, when we’re out somewhere, I catch her examining her feet. Her eyes are huge, and her mouth is wide open, and she gives me this look as if to say, “Mama! These feet aren’t just at home. These feet are HERE, too! Aren’t they amazing?!”

Yes, my love, they are amazing. And I am amazed to see the world with fresh, unjaded, untainted eyes, through you.

Dream. Think. Do. Marvel like a child at the intricacy and the mind-blowing beauty of this place we live in. And let your heart sing through every darkness. Other hearts will answer.

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BringItClose

Death and Mayhem: How To Kill Off a Character

The Background of a Murder

So. As you know, my dear inklings, I am delightedly immersed in edits on the sequel to Rethana’s Surrender, my first epic fantasy novel.

If you recall, R’s S and its sequel began life as one whole book. But in the interest of maintaining a reasonable publishing process, I elected to split the book in half.

This led to a fairly cramazing cliffhanger ending for R’s S, if I dare say so myself. ; )

Anyway, now that I’m working with great vigor* on the sequel, I’m discovering several discoveries. One of these is that I used to use a lot of words.

Okay, so that’s not really a discovery. I already knew that. I think we all already knew that.

The Because of a Murder

But no, one of the genuine discoveries is that I wrote into the story several large gaps that need filling. At this point, I’m looking at two to four chapters of new material.

On one hand, this is frustrating because it negates my efforts not to let this book grow into a MEFaN**. But ah well, I guess you can’t win ’em all. Mostly, I’m enjoying the generation of new material. So all is well on that particular home front.

The other discovery that initially dismayed but then thrilled me is that I’ve got several subplots that could use tidying and then tying up. And in one of these subplots, I get to kill off an unlikeable character.

Now, when I say “unlikeable,” I mean that he does not have an endearing personality at all. I like him because he’s a clear, well-defined character to me. Even villains are likeable if they’re written well. And from readers’ reactions to him, it seems I’ve done a pretty good job delineating him.

In the sequel to R’s S, I am going to kill him.

Because he’s a “spineless little fraction of a man” (a beloved quote from the beloved movie Far and Away).

And, so as to sort-of avoid spoilers, that’s all I’m going to share concerning his identity. I’m a tease like that.

The Body Anatomy of a Murder

(Strikethroughs are the enemy of alliteration.)

So, how does one go about killing off an unlikeable (subplot) character?

I have a few thoughts.

1. Prior to the murder, establish him as a strong (subplot) character.

One way or another, you’ve gotta write this guy so that your readers have already had emotional reactions to him. If he’s likeable, his death must have a significant, negative impact on your main character. (This presupposes that you’ve done your job in making your readers care deeply about your MC.) If he’s not likeable, his death must have a significant, positive impact on your MC.

If your readers don’t already know that this guy is significant to your MC, then…

A. …there’s no point in killing off the character, and…

B. …there’s no point in that character’s existence in the first place, so you might as well just cut him from the story altogether.

TAKEAWAY:
If you want to kill him off, make sure he’s significant. If he is, murder away. If he isn’t, either erase him from existence or up your ante.

2. Select the right point in your story for this murder.

This one might be tricky, because the “right point” will vary from one story to the next. For me, the “right point” is also a turning point for Rethana, my MC. And hooooo boy, am I taking a risk here in trying to explain this without spoilers!

In the R’s S sequel, the death of Unlikeable Character catapults Rethana into action in a situation in which she feels completely helpless and isolated. She hasn’t exactly been wallowing, but she’s been pretty much frozen with fear. Unlikeable Character’s death provides the catalyst that thaws her out and gets her moving again — not because the death horrifies her, but because the death is proof that her real enemies mean the most serious business.

And if you keep in mind that one of Rethana’s main motivations is protecting her sister Chel, you’ll know that this “serious business” could impact Chel in a particularly dire way.

And that’s all I have to say about that. ; )

TAKEAWAY:
Your murder should so significantly impact your MC that it causes MC to react in a powerful way. If she’s stationary, it should force her into action. If she’s mobile, it should force her into more intensive action. And you, writer, must keep in mind that the action she chooses might not be the smartest one.

(In fact, it probably shouldn’t be the smartest one. There’s nothing more readable than a main character who doesn’t make wise choices until the end. And maybe not even then!)

3. Pick the right murder weapon.

No, I’m not talking about candlestick vs. rope vs. revolver (although the actual weapon might play a role, depending on the story circumstances). By “weapon,” I mean the following question:

Just how is Unlikeable Character going to perish?

Is the death gruesome? Is it peaceful? Is it a murder, a mercy killing, an accident, an execution?

By whose hand does this take place? Another side character’s? The MC’s? Or is it by Unlikeable Character’s own hand?

Will Unlikeable Character die carelessly? Awkwardly? Cowardlyly? Will his dishonorable death confirm everything your MC has always thought about him?

Or will he die gracefully? Honorably? Will he redeem himself in the end, thereby causing MC all sorts of moral discomfort?

TAKEAWAY:
Before you, writer, commit murder against your character (Likeable or Unlikeable), you must decide upon the manner of his death and figure out the emotional impact of his death on your MC.

The Brief of a Murder

Who?

Where/When?

How?

Answer these questions both for yourself and for your readers, and your hands will be well-soaked in the blood of your (subplot) character — and, like Lady Macbeth, you’re not likely to get any of it off. Congratulations!

______

* vigor = whatever energy and focus are left me beyond the task of putting together a human inside my abdomen

** MEFaN = Monster Epic Fantasy Novel (i.e. doorstop)

P.S. I wrote most of this blogpost on my cell phone in a waiting room. Living in the future is pretty fracking cool.

P.P.S. On my phone, autocorrect wanted to change “myself” to “musket,” as in: “if I dare say so musket.” In Rethana’s universe, muskets would be quite the anachronism. Unless Kryeis were the one hauling them around…hmmm….