Finish him! – Or, A Writer’s Ethical Challenge

There are moments in writing when I picture a scene from that game, Mortal Kombat, which was so popular in the…. Was it really back in the 90’s? Wow. Anyway, the fighters have been fighting, the player mashing and smashing buttons haphazardly, and one of the combatants is struggling to stay standing. The words, “FINISH HIM!” are emblazoned across the screen in gory red letters, and the player is compelled to throw one final blow…

I am currently at one of those moments. Thing is, I’ve had this scene in mind for weeks –– even months –– but even now, I cannot decide whether I will have someone finish off this foe, or if he will be taken away in chains. The pacifist in me says, “Oh, he’s just misled. Let him repent!” but the fighter in me says, “No! FINISH HIM!”

In reality, my protagonist has a history –– a messy history –– but he and his friends justify it by saying, “That had to be done.” How on earth does this relate?

Well, when I first started writing this note,* my protagonist had a choice to make. Kill off his rival, or let him off the hook? When I couldn’t decide, another character stepped in and decided for both of us, finishing off the villain (Thanks, unnamed deciding character…). I’m always conflicted about this.

See, on the one hand, I want to kill off the villain. Seriously. Get him out of the way! Let the good guy take his vengeance and live happily ever after! On the other hand… I am a bit of a softie, and perhaps a bit sentimental. I find myself thinking, “Oh, he can always change his ways.. It won’t be easy, but it can happen…” Or can it? I usually have to bring my villain to his wit’s end before he even considers regretting his evil tendencies, nudging him by reconnecting him with such things as people he misses or taking the blinders off to the awful things he’s gotten into. Not to mention, there is such a thing as an unrepentant villain…

But this whole scenario begs the question: Am I to be held accountable for the way I portray these situations? What does it say about me as a person? On the one hand, yes, this is fiction. On the other hand, how does this effect the way I look at people in real life –– or how my readers look at life? I ask these questions, not to give myself or anyone else a guilt trip, but because they are very real questions. When I write, I am getting into the heads of my characters, and I not only consider what the character would do, but what I would do. Would I be willing to value a person’s life –– and chance at redemption –– less than I value “justice”? How does one even discern whether the person in question is sincerely willing to make the effort to change?

This is where the shady characters step in and save me from my own debate –– the ones who are on the right side, but whose values that aren’t quite the same as those that I hold. I feel absolutely guilt free when they make these decisions, because I don’t feel like I need to agree with them 100% of the time… So that is my solution.

But is that enough?

*Footnote: This goes to prove that one of my many, many ways of procrastinating from writing is not mere business, Facebook, forums, or general procrastination, but writing about the struggles I’m going through with my writing. It’s both helpful and unhelpful, really. Helpful, in that it helps me process. Unhelpful, in that it takes me away from the actual story I’m writing. I started this note when I was in the middle of writing that scene, and finished it after writing several following scenes (and a few to fill in beforehand). It spans a few days…

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Character Mortality and Predictable Writers

I guess you could consider this post a double-whammy… But beware: There is much following of bunny trails…

This is going to sound awful -

Twice, I have tried to kill off a certain character in my current work in progress. I had it [kind of] planned out from the beginning stages. I’d kill her off and make her a martyr, then leave her love interest reeling in agony. Both times, I’ve chickened out or found a way around it.

I partly blame this on my writing buddy. Said buddy has a very odd habit of falling in love with the characters that I eventually plan on killing off or maiming. I don’t know how he does it, but it gives me a guilt trip every time. He also loves cliches, which I try like anything to avoid –– then accidentally toss in when I’m not paying attention. And you know what the strangest thing is? I will either send him a chunk of the latest writings, or I’ll hint at what I’m working on, and he somehow already knows what I’m planning… even if I haven’t said anything.

When I told writing buddy I was not going to have things end perfectly happily, he guessed that I was going to kill off one of two characters –– one of which was the one I had targeted. I, being of a contrary nature at times, started to hesitate about going through with the plan.

But I moved on, wrote the terrible betrayal, read it through several times, then decided, “This doesn’t work.” I marked those scenes in red for later removal and pretended something else had happened. I would postpone the character’s death for a later time, in a less horrible way.

Well, that didn’t happen. I trapped her outside during a seige, handed her over to the villain (sort of), and then… her companion/love interest shot the villain with an arrow and chased the bad guys to rescue her, negotiated a cease-fire, and whisked her away to another location –– because he’s awesome like that…

I’m starting to think that this gal has some sort of magical protection on her. At first, I thought, “She’s doomed!” because I named her for a character I killed in another, semi-related story. Oh, wait… Let me explain the paradox:

  1. I originally wrote her years ago in a scrap of writing that never went anywhere.
  2. I wrote another story last year that had a character based on her with the same name –– with one letter’s difference. I killed off the one in the newer story, after putting her through some pretty rough times, and then said to myself, “What just happened?”
  3. I took the scrap of writing that never went anywhere (referred to in #1), and I expanded my favourite part of it –– the part pertaining to her –– which is what I’m working on now… but it takes place hundreds of years before the story I wrote last year….

Confusing, right? Not confusing enough, apparently.

In short, there’s been a huge conflict in me between wanting to preserve this character and wanting to avoid the “happily ever after” cliche ending… and I think that’s what’s held me back the most with this story. Not time constraints, not writer’s block…. this wrestling match with myself over this character’s mortality…

And now for a bunny trail –– This whole conundrum of deciding who lives and who dies (and how) has me looking at stories very differently. When I [finally] watched the Hunger Games, I was thinking with my writer brain, figuring out who was going to die and how. I won’t toss in any spoilers here, but the author definitely took a route with one character that I would have taken if I were in her situation with a story. I wouldn’t say that it ruins how I look at stories, but it does put them into a different light… And I’m not sure whether it’s awesome or scary when I predict where a writer is going with their story. While I tend to prefer surprises, I want to say, “AHA!” every time I do get it right.

So back to the original topic:

What to do when your writing starts getting out of hand? Mark the parts you don’t want in red, decide what you really want, then just… write. But never throw out the unused parts… You might need them for another project.

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Cooking and Kissing

I have never been one to write romance all that often –– I try to avoid corny scenes at all costs. Or rather, I used to. I don’t know whether it’s wishful thinking (that movie with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, Romancing the Stone, comes to mind), my age, the music I listen to, or for no particular reason, but I find it turning up more and more often.

And, considering that I have not shared anything from this year’s NaNoWriMo, I have decided… I will share my latest scene, which is full of cooking, garlic, and kissing. Yes, kissing. Mushy, stomach-butterfly-awakening kissing. These two will not stop, no matter how loudly I tell them to knock it off so I can keep going with the plot. Anyhow… Here we are… a scene from The Pirates of Hanuen:

________________________________________

Winola woke up in the middle of the night feeling a bit hungry. She wrapped herself in her cloak and started to open her door, but it bumped against something, and she heard a muffled “Ah!” On closer examination, she found that Benedict had been sleeping leaned against the door. He stood and rubbed his eyes.

“What are you doing?” she wondered.

“Keeping you safe.” he yawned.

“By sleeping in the hall?”

“Yes, by sleeping in the hall. No, I was making sure no one slipped past the guards.” he said.

“Right.” she said, “And what about me?”

“What about you?”

“What if I need something in the middle of the night?”

“I’ll come with you.” he offered.

“Fair enough. Mind a walk to the kitchen?”

“Hungry?”

“Aye. So?”

“I will walk with you.”

“Good.” They did indeed make their way towards the kitchen. Winola set to work, taking a loaf of bread and cutting a few slices, “Want some?”

His stomach grumbled, “Well, I won’t say no to a princess.” he answered, grinning.

“Hold on. I’ll show you how to make my favorite midnight snack.”

“You do this often?”

“I’m a growing girl.” she answered, taking a wedge of cheese and cutting several slices. She then buttered the bread, added a daub of olive oil to each slice, and set to work mincing a clove of garlic. When it was cut, she added some to each piece of bread, then sprinkled dried parsley over that. At last, she set cheese on two of the four slices of bread, along with a few strips of bacon, then flipped the other two slices over them, making a sandwich. Benedict was about to reach for one of them, but she stopped him, “Hold on.” she said, “They’re not finished yet.”

“Apologies.” he said, “Continue.”

She smirked, then found a flat pan and set the sandwiches on it. She eased the flat pan on top of the coals, letting the sandwiches get nice and toasty on one side. When it was browned to her liking, she flipped them with a metal spatula, waiting for the cheese to melt and start dribbling over the side. At last, they were ready. She set them on one plate, knowing they wouldn’t last long enough to need two plates.

“Wait for it to cool a bit.” she said.

“Aye.” he replied, “Wouldn’t want to burn my mouth, now, would I?”

“No, you wouldn’t.” she answered, looking him in the face. She noted that it was a very handsome face, stepping closer without realizing it. He took a step forward as well, leaning towards her. Without thinking about it, she stood on her toes, and he was suddenly kissing her, his arm around her, pressing her closer.

He paused, and she drew away, breathless. He seemed just as surprised as she.

“What… just happened?” Benedict wondered.

“We… uh… kissed.” she replied, her face turning red. Come to think of it, he was blushing as well –– though probably not as much as her. She even felt her ears heating up, “Still hungry?”

He coughed politely, “Starving.”

“Try one.”

“That I will.” he said, but he was still looking at her in wonder.

It was her turn to cough politely, “Well, they’re going to get cold.” She reached for one and bit into it, “Mmmmm… Really, you need to try this.”

He finally took the other sandwich and ate his first bite, seeming to contemplate the flavor as he chewed on it. He paused mid-chew, then dug in for another bite, eating as voraciously as a starving lion. Within minutes, the sandwich was gone, and he licked his fingers clean.

“Oh, that was good.”

She chuckled as she took another bite of her own sandwich, “Told you it’s my favorite.”

He held up a hand, “It might actually replace my favorite, but I’ll let you be the judge.”

“What?”

“Hang on, let me find…” he trailed off, hunting the kitchen for ingredients. After much foraging, he returned with a bowl of what appeared to be a salad.

“A salad?” she queried.

“Yes, a salad.” He separated it into two bowls, “I won’t tell you what’s in it, though.”

She took one bite, chewed on it, swallowed, then dug in to finish off the rest within a few short minutes. It was amazing. She sighed happily. Benedict’s salad was already gone. She caught his gaze again.

“That was delicious.”

He smiled, taking her bowl and looking away only for a second to set it down.

“We should… clean this up…” she trailed off, distracted by his eyes. Benedict barely hesitated, but leaned in for another kiss. It was longer than the first, and she pulled away from it feeling slightly dizzy before throwing her arms around him and diving in for another kiss. After some time, he pulled himself apart from her, both of them bearing sheepish expressions.

They took their time cleaning up, then he brought her back to her chambers, remaining outside the door as she climbed back into her bed. She fell asleep with butterflies in her stomach and a warm sense of security washing over her.

*******

 

On a sidenote, I really want to try that sandwich….

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