Mostly, I’m a nice person. Odds are excellent that I won’t cheat you, sabotage you, or stab you in the back. I’m not very good at holding grudges either. Frankly, grudges, old hates, enemies, that sort of thing, just take up so much emotional energy, why bother? Unfortunately, this attitude sometimes gets in the way of my writing. While I find that it’s not all that hard to destroy worlds in the course of a story, allowing my characters to behave badly, or inflicting true tragedy on them — that takes work!
In one of my early novels I reached a point, maybe two-thirds through, when I just couldn’t write anymore. This went on for some time until I realized the problem: I was conflicted about the fate of a beloved character. The plot called for one ending, while my heart longed for another. Eventually, I skipped ahead and wrote the necessary ending. After fate was set, finishing the draft was easy.
My tendency toward “nice” also gets in the way of developing secondary characters — I do so like reasonable, thoughtful people! In the current work-in-progress I was developing a secondary character who was nice: logical, reasonable, considerate—but I wasn’t making any progress with the section and finally it occurred to me that maybe nice wasn’t what I needed. I can assure you the character isn’t nearly so nice now, and I’ve been able to move on to the next part of the story.
Probably my most intense conflict with “nice” came about in the writing of my just-released novel Hepen The Watcher, a sequel to The Dread Hammer. Both books follow the adventures and tribulations of an antihero protagonist named Smoke.
Like many of us, I love antiheroes. They don’t worry at all about “nice,” but deep down they’re decent respectable people. Sort of. At least occasionally. Well, anyway, in Hepen The Watcher I reached a point where I couldn’t go on. (Yes, we’ve got a theme going here. For me, lack of progress generally means I’m trying to progress in the wrong direction.) This time around, I knew exactly what the problem was: Smoke had to deal with the fate of a secondary character. He could (a) show some extreme character development and be nice; or he could (b) show a bit of character development by feeling a rare twinge of guilt for what he was doing.
My natural inclination was to go with (a). But as I thought about it, I reminded myself that it wasn’t a question of what I would do, it was a question of what Smoke would do…and in the end I opted for (b). Writing that scene was wrenching, for me, the nice writer. I still cringe a little when I think about it — but sometimes it takes a ruthless character to insist on the necessary ruthless course of action.
Linda Nagata is the Locus and Nebula award winning author of The Bohr Maker, Vast, and Memory, all available at Book View Cafe. Her latest book Hepen the Watcher, is the second in a fast-paced mythic fantasy series featuring the antihero demon, Smoke.