Thursday, August 4, 2011

COMMENTARY: Someone's going to get hurt

Yesterday, a meme went around Facebook that I found intriguing. I don't like memes much. I see a whole line of the same thing copied and pasted and my brain just turns off. Maybe it's the "color outside the lines" part of my personality, but if I like the idea I'll try to re-write the meme and post it in my own words.

This was one time where I didn't follow my rule. The experience provided an interesting issue for me.

I copied the following meme and posted it on my wall listing the names of my Top Five friends.

Say you were a serial killer. What would your facebook friends do? Here are the rules: Go to your profile and look at your friends on the left.

1 turns you in:
2 knows but doesn't tell anyone:
3 is your partner in crime:
4 is your first victim:
5 tries to kill you:

#4 was a huge ouch. I nearly stopped there because the first victim was a very dear friend and the mother of three boys. But it was all a joke.

Everyone was taking the post as a joke until I had a question from a friend I do not know very well: "Becky, not for nothing, but has anyone you know ever been killed for sport?"

I replied I had not and I hoped I never did.

His answer: "Then can you imagine how this thread might appear to people who HAVE known such a murder victim?"

Well, that chilled me to the bone. One thing I do have is an overabundance of imagination and that question gave me chills, causing me to recall Deliverance and The Most Dangerous Game right off the top of my head.

I promptly apologized and removed the thread. But, that got me thinking. What do friends and families of murder victims think of mystery novels that are similar to what happened to them?

I've come to dislike the mystery authors who are working in a certain profession, such as detective, lawyer, etc. and write stories based "loosely" on the cases they've worked. That's always felt too close to the bone, like they're taking advantage of their experiences. Well, and what they're writing can hardly be called fiction, can it when the character's just a thin veil over themselves?

I've purposely made my stories up not based on anything I've encountered in my research, but you know how stories are. Art imitates life. Sooner or later, there's going to be someone like my killer or victims that others can relate to.

I comfort myself by the fact that this is just fiction. Some of the greatest most inspiring tales have come from the suffering of fictional characters. Heck, you really cannot tell a good, page turner without making your Main Character suffer. As super agent Donald Maass says: "As authors we like our protagonists. We are tempted to protect them from trouble. That temptation must be resisted." For the sake of the reader and our own story, we've got to stir the pot even if it means our 'babies' suffer in the process. “If there is one single principle that is central to making any story more powerful, it is simply this: Raise the stakes.”

The most reader suffering I'd ever considered was my occasional twisted reasoning and sentence structure. Okay, I hoped they would empathize with my characters, but never to the point of PTSD type memories.

I know I cannot control another person's reaction to my work, but I still have questions. I guess the big ones are these:

Should fiction writers avoid rehashing 'real' stories? True, there is nothing new under the sun, but is it a good idea to take a real case and mash it up for your story?

What would you do if some real criminal copied your fictional character's actions?

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