A Creative Writer’s By-the-(Fifth)-Book Confession
On Monday morning, while writing Tuesday’s Definition of the Week, I had a shocking revelation.
I realized that I’ve killed off someone I knew. A storybook creation, yes, but still one based off a very real person.
For years now, I’ve been claiming the opposite. Oh, I’ve used actual people who annoyed me as models for equally obnoxious characters. And I’ve killed off some of my hapless creations. But I didn’t think I’d ever combined the two.
Apparently, however, I was wrong. Moreover, I appear to be somewhat of a sociopathic writer (then again, what writer isn’t?), since I went on to completely forget about the experience.
A true-to-life character is dead. It’s my fault. And I forgot about it for months.
It hit me while I was explaining the literary term “premise” by using one of my stories, Faerietales Book 1: Not So Human, as an example. I was saying how its premise – its inspiration – had been a dead-end temp job filled with colleagues who were incredibly unprofessional, including one who was married with two small children, yet still made a point of trying to flirt with me.
That was almost 10 years ago now, so the one and only specific comment I remember him making was about how he wasn’t buying my “good girl” persona; that he was pretty sure I had a wild side and he wouldn’t mind bringing it out.
Little did he know that wild side would be the death of him someday.
Then again, to be fair, little did I know either. I mean, I never thought about killing him in person. He didn’t matter that much in my life's book, and he never made me actually feel uncomfortable, only contemptuous. Basically, he was just someone to roll my eyes at and try to avoid whenever possible for his poor wife’s sake.
I never intended to have him brutally murdered. It just sorta, well, happened.
No really. You see, in the beginning of Not So Human, main character Sabrina mentions multiple times that she hates her job and that her coworkers are incredibly immature. In the original drafts, she even gave specifics, including about an overly friendly married guy.
In the final copy, the part of the storyline involving her workday moves much more quickly. So there are no details given, just vague generalities.
Fast-forward to the first draft of Faerietales Book 5: Flights of Fancy, and I wasn’t thinking about that job or that guy at all. The plot had long-since moved on, and so had Sabrina, not to mention her narrator.
Or so they thought.
Being a pantser, I usually have some idea of where I want my plot to go. And then said plot proceeds to turn out something very different than planned. Characters who were supposed to die don’t die. Ones who weren’t supposed to fall in love fall in love. You know: That sort of thing.
Flights of Fancy was no exception. To be honest, at this point in my creative writing journey, I rather expect my stories to be that way.
Even so, color me surprised when my long-ago ex-colleague came waltzing into the narrative.
I’m not trying to make excuses for what happened next. I take full responsibility for what I did. I’m the author, and I get that.
All the same, if he hadn’t shown up in the first place, I never would have dreamt of writing in that he’d been kidnapped by Sabrina’s arch-enemies, treated like a lab rat for weeks on end, and then finally murdered when he’d outlived his already questionable usefulness.
In other words, it was a crime of opportunity, not passion.
Believe me, if I was going to plan killing off a real-life-inspired character, it wouldn’t have been him. There are plenty of people higher up on this writer’s hit list.