I THINK THE DEEPER YOU GO
THE DEEPER OR MORE INTERESTING
THE QUESTIONS GET.
AND I THINK THAT'S THE JOB OF ART.
(Andre Dubus III)
When I hear about something terrible on the news, or watch a TV show or a movie where bad things happen, I react the same as most people - shock, sadness, anger. But when those emotions are turned onto the "bad guy," I tend to take a step back.
I'm not saying there shouldn't be punishment, or that excuses and rationalization justify crimes and tragedies. It's just that my writing mind wants to know why he or she did what they did. What was he thinking? What was she feeling? What was the trigger? The motivation? What did the "bad guy" expect to happen once blood was spilled, breath was smothered, innocence lost, money stolen? Joy? Relief? Satisfaction? And did he or she achieve it? Was it worth it?
I then take the "answers" I come up with and put them on the page. I read once that the antagonist thinks they're the star of their own story, that they're actually the protagonist of their own story. I want my "villains" to be as complicated as real people.
You don't have to go to the "dark" places like I tend to do. Stay in the "light." Ask yourself why the woman on line in the grocery store wears a big purple hat decorated with plastic sunflowers. Wonder why the postal carrier is always whistling "Jingle Bells" even in August. Imagine the conversation between the little girl next door and her dolls as they have a tea party in the backyard.
Let's ask ourselves lots of questions this week. Let's take our writing, our art, to a deeper, more complex, more human level.