Monday, October 14, 2013

Never cross a mystery writer

Do you ever take out real life rage on fictional murder victims? Are any of your victims based on people who pissed you off in real life?

by Meredith Cole

It's normal to be angry. These days I lose my cool when I a) drive anywhere in bad traffic full of drivers who act like idiots, b) watch the news, and/or c) witness injustice or stupidity. Sometimes a and c are combined, and sometimes b and c, but never a and b. For me, anyway.

Have I ever killed any of those annoying drivers or politicians off in my books? Not yet. Most of the time I have no idea who the drivers are. They're anonymously driving the streets texting away in their white SUV or speeding down my road in their black BMW with tinted windows. That's why they feel they can get away with their behavior. And I can only guess at their identities. And the politicians and others on the news are too easy a mark: I'm not sure how many readers would actually care who had committed the crime. (What's Congress' approval rating this week? 0.9%?)

I write mostly about premeditated crimes. The car that speeds up in order to hit someone, rather than the car that kills a jogger because the driver thought finding a new song on their iPod was more important than someone else's safety. The second is a careless accident that anyone could commit who does not keep their eyes and attention on the road at all times. It's a crime, but it's not exactly a mystery.

But the real reason I don't use real people that I dislike in my books is that I want people to care about my victims, so I don't usually make them too repugnant. And, for the most part, I make them fictional, with perhaps a few characteristics of people I know thrown in to make them more real. 

Of course I did try to put someone I didn't like in a short story once. She's the neighborhood busybody who everyone just wishes would kick the bucket and leave them all in peace. But something odd happened when I started writing about her. I began to see her good side. I started to see why she had turned out the way she had and how she saw herself as the heroine of her own story. And I felt a little guilty, too. I said hello to her more warmly the next time I saw her, and she was warmer in turn to me. And then I had a hard time finishing my story. So I don't think I'll be using anyone real again. Unless I can get a good look next time at that texting driver.


Howard Sherman said...

Loved your post! A few authors I'm friends with on Facebook admitted to a writing a hit piece or two on real-life people who really set them off. I can completely understand where they - and you - are coming from.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks Howard! As long as we keep it on the page (and change the names) I think it's a pretty healthy way to deal with our "rage."

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Great column. I never use anyone one real because I never want to examine an actual personality that closely. I don't think anyone wants to be that "known." At least I certainly don't.

Meredith Cole said...

I'm always curious when people donate their names--and don't mind being victims or killers in books, Terrie.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Love the post, especially the story about the neighborhood busybody. :)

Susan C Shea said...

Meredith, such good points. It's true. I have begun stories with villains or victims who resemble real people a bit, but, just as you say, the more I get to know the fictional characters, the more nuanced my reactions to them are. The results often surprise me too.