Tuesday, 13 January 2015

On writing 'nasty' instead of 'nice'

I have been told that my writing in the past has been 'too nice'. By that, I don't mean that nothing bad ever happens - far from it. There are deaths and sadnesses and problems to overcome...but the overall sense is that I write 'nicely'. Which actually meant, I came to realise, that I don't write emotion very well. I've blogged about this problem before (Pesky psychic distanceLighting up my characters;) - about trying to get into the head of my characters so that the reader actually feels what the character is feeling. Which all helps to make the end result feel...not so nice.

So I experimented, writing a couple of very dark (for me) pieces, where I deliberately set out to view the story from the character's head, rather than my storyteller one.

One of the characters I created while I was experimenting, Lord Baraat, is violent and ruthless. In my head, he looks a bit like this....

And I say 'he is violent and ruthless', because he's now appeared in two short stories and a piece of flash. (You can read about him in Thread (published in A Seeming Glass) and Blood on His Hands. on the Random Writers website) 

Several readers have commented about Baraat - here are just two examples of what's been said:

"Highly imaginative and with a deep understanding of the worst of human nature."

"I am starting to worry that you enjoy inhabiting his head a bit too much..."

Others have pointed out that in real life, I am nothing like Baraat - I'm pretty normal! I am not cruel or sadistic, I hate violence, and I don't like reading horror. So where the heck does he and his violent life spring from? Because - guilty secret - I really enjoy writing as him.

Is it that because I'm nothing like him, I can allow myself the freedom - in words only - to 'be' nasty? Is it a bit of a throwback to my am-dram days, when I could throw on a persona with a wig, a costume and dialogue for a two-hour performance, except this time it's a written performance? Or is it, and I think this might be key, I have immersed myself so completely in my character and become so familiar with his world, that I become him while I'm writing, so he's easy to write?

To be honest, I'm not sure, but whichever it is, it seems to be working. Baraat creates strong feelings in readers. He's definitely not a character fit for a children's book, but he has helped me to go inside the heads of characters I've written in stories aimed at children, improving them no end.

It takes time to get to know your characters; it doesn't just happen overnight. But like any real relationship, the more time you spend with them, the more you find out about them.

Now that I know Baraat so well, I may write more about him and the world he inhabits. Perhaps one day, there'll be a collection of Baraat's stories, just like Granny Rainbow's? They'll be just as colourful, but nowhere near as nice...and DEFINITELY only for grown-ups.


  1. I'm in the process of trying to get over that one of my characters has a distinctly nasty streak - not easy!

  2. No, it's not, is it, Sandra? I found it really hard to set aside my own moral compass to even begin to feel what Baraat might feel with such power at his fingertips...