Here’s to returning to the internet and a nifty guest post from Robert Gryn. Not much in the way of wording just now. So, enjoy!
In a city that crosses all realities, everything is possible, and everything is complicated. A murder of two lovers seems simple, but when the man is from Above and the woman from Below it’s anything but.
Detective Lang hunts for the killer. The chase takes him from the decrepit neighborhoods of Below to the highest towers of Above. And somewhere in between, he finds himself in a game between ambition and betrayal, whose stakes are not life or death, but only his soul.
two-skies-before-night cover

The Love and Hate Framework for the People in My Head

When I first began studying fiction writing, I remember reading that you have to both love and hate the characters you create. I didn’t understand this at first. Why would you write about characters you hate? How do you show fictional characters that only exist in your head love and hate in the first place? And how can you do both? This aphorism seemed a little too simple to the younger me. But over the years I’ve come back to it time and again, using it as a framework for thinking about the treatment of characters in fiction. Inventing people with real feelings is not an easy thing, after all, and being mindful of how we can fully engage with the characters we write can make them seem more present and more true to life.

Let’s begin with examining the most obvious question: why would you write about characters you hate? I’ve come to think of this in two ways. First, and this may seem obvious, but every hero needs a villain. We are all just as fascinated by psychopaths as we are by saints and so, as writers, we must learn to write them well. There’s something intriguing about people who act against one moral code or another. Maybe we wish we could have the freedom these characters seem to have or maybe we’re just drawn to something we can’t imagine ourselves doing. Whatever the reason, we love to read about characters we hate.

Second, as writers, we have to learn to “hate” the characters we love. It’s not that we have to hate the protagonists of our stories but sometimes we have to act as if we do. It’s an easy impulse to spare our cherished protagonists “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” But without the suffering, like that of the poor prince who spoke the words above, our stories would hardly be interesting.

I like to think that the drive to see characters suffer has more to do with our capacity for empathy than from some sadistic impulse. Then again, perhaps seeing characters suffer fits into our subconscious understanding of a reality that lies somewhere past the borders of optimism. There’s a certain comfort in seeing fiction fall in line with the unfair ways we expect life to treat us. A third possibility is our innate understanding of delayed gratification. We are willing to experience the “slings and arrows” because somewhere in the back our minds we expect some sort of relief or resolution.

But stories can’t be all about the trials we put our characters through. At some point, we have to show them some love. I’ve come to think of this in two ways as well. First, and perhaps the easier of the two, we should bask in the love we show the characters for whom we genuinely care. One of my favorite things to write is a scene in which a beloved character wins out. This could be a small personal victory, something as simple as a shared smile or one-upping a bully, and is especially meaningful if the character had little chance to succeed.

There’s something affirming about the underdog beating the odds that makes me hopeful for the human spirit. As I stated above, we naturally expect the world to be unfair and look for fiction to match that reality. But we also want the characters we care about to succeed regardless of those poor odds, and when they happen to fail, we feel their fall all the more keenly. Our capacity for empathy is so deep it seems to shape the narrative structures of all our stories.

And empathy is key for us as writers. This brings me to my second point about love. In order to portray the characters we write as people and not just narrative devices, we need to show them a level of empathy we might not be comfortable with if they were real people, especially if we present them as immoral or as performing “evil” acts. This is not to say that we shouldn’t write pure villains for whom we feel nothing and disavow their choices whether explicitly or implicitly. But rather, it’s that we experience more as readers when we see things from many perspectives. It’s one thing to see the faceless monster chase the protagonist. But it can be much more interesting to see the story from the monster’s point of view. Why do they act this way? What brought them to this place where they feel they must play such an awful part? And perhaps, in the process of giving insight into the villains in our stories, we learn to enhance our own general empathy for real people.

So do I finally understand what it means to both love and hate the characters I write? To sum up, my framework for love and hate as it relates to the people I write is as follows:

To love the people I write means to be present in the moment with them, especially if I genuinely love them as characters. It also means to see what they see in the way they see it, especially if I hate them as characters. This expressed empathy is crucial not only to make stories more well-rounded but to give us broader perspectives on our world in general.

Likewise, to hate the people I write means to use their sometimes immoral natures and acts to evoke curiosity and emotion from readers, especially if I hate them as characters. It also means that however much I may love certain characters, I must expose them to the pitfalls of our imperfect and often unfair existence. I must step back far enough to show them how cruel and uncaring life is.

This is by no means a complete formula for the treatment of characters in fiction. Whether these ideas sharpen my writing and make it more interesting is up to readers to decide. What I get from this framework is a path that helps me transition from inventing characters to realizing them as people, at least as people who only live in my head.

robert-gryn author pic

Robert Gryn was born in Poland during the latter years of the communist regime. His parents recognized that the socialist experiment was doomed to fail and set out for the more hopeful shores of America. Robert spent his youth moving from one school to another, winding up in one of the worst high schools in New Jersey. After graduating, Robert spent years working odd jobs in warehouses and construction sites. Like his parents before him, Robert soon realized that the personal experiment of his own life was doomed to fail.
Determined to find a better path, Robert decided to attend Columbia University where he studied everything from Psychology to Japanese, as well as Creative Writing. Unfortunately, even graduating with highest honors didn’t put him on a path that spoke to him. He drifted again, and accidentally wound up becoming a successful technology consultant, primarily because he knew how to turn on a computer.
It was a beach vacation to St. Martin that changed his life once again. Bored with the bright sunlight and the pristine beaches he sat down to begin writing the books that had always been in the back of his mind. He soon found that he was not so much a writer but a chronicler, as if the words had drifted into his mind from all those future centuries. What could he do but tell the stories of all those people who may never exist?
Robert has written a number of novels of impossible futures and unbelievable dreams. And as long as he knows how to turn on a computer, or how to commune with the thinking machines of tomorrow, he will continue to do so.
To learn more about Robert and his books, visit www.robertgrynbooks.com
You can also find Two Skies Before Night here.
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