Well, they really are.
So…. Recently, a married couple I know started having some trouble, resulting in a separation, maybe a divorce. I, and some others in our circle, talked to them, trying to keep spirits up and thoughts focused on resolving issues, not slinging blame. You know, just doing the friend thing. But int he midst of this, I had the thought: hey, there is a story in here. And that’s followed by that muse shouting in my head, that this wasn’t the time or place to think of story ideas.
(Muse: Well, it wasn’t!)
Maybe not. But writers are, well, assholes that way.
Think about this: as writers, what is our goal in telling stories? What are we aiming for? We want to draw the reader in, engage them, grab them by the lapels, stun them, enrage them, devastate them, elate them, get them on walrus-back for the ride of their lives. We tap into those primal human emotions. So it makes sense that events that involve emotional trauma, emotional orgasm, or both, are good nucleus for stories.
(Muse: But if I were to play Satan’s lawyer, I would make the point that you are using real people’s real pain to entertain your reader base. Hence, assholes.)
And it doesn’t stop there. Writers are going to piss people off – and I am not talking about bad writing or stuff like George R. R. Martin’s recent announcement that he was nowhere close to finishing Winds of Winter. No, I am talking about writing about events or addressing things that the average reader may not want to deal with. Case in point: I rarely come across a reader who complains about mass violent death of human or humanoid characters whose sole reason for existence is to be killed by the named characters (TvTropes.org refers to these as “mooks“). In spec-fiction, it is pretty standard for hordes of enemies to die horrible, gruesome deaths and no one comments. (It’s also interesting that people even more rarely comment when those killed are all men and not women, but that’s another blog post) However, I know numerous readers who are disgusted or horrified by a descriptive killing of an animal, especially a pet-type of animal. Even if that animal isn’t attached to a character or given any story significance. It is seriously off-putting to many readers.
So who has two thumbs and thought about adding such a scene to a recent story, just because? This guy!
I’m not saying we should go out of our way to write things that are based off people’s misfortunes or are designed just to make people uncomfortable. Wait. Actually, I am saying exactly that.
Unless you are writing comedy, telling a worthwhile story is gonna involve rubbing raw at least one emotion. (Okay, I guess erotica might involve rubbing other things raw but still, the best erotica I’ve read invokes some conflict too.) And no writer should shy away from writing something because it might be upsetting. I think we should lean into it, embrace it, and own it. We’re not in this business to mollycoddle people.
After all, as far as I am concerned, the best praise someone might heap on me would be, “Yeah, he’s a dick for writing the stuff he writes, but I can’t put it down.”
Whether my friends’ marriage makes it or not, I have the germ of a fantasy story from it. Am I an asshole for using it? Maybe. But I gotta be me.