Someone commented recently about the irony of my inherent shyness (which I have mentioned on this blog) considering I chose the point of view of a shameless, knife-wielding murderer for my first book. It begs the question: why do we, as writers, write what we do? What is it that draws us to tell the stories of particular characters, regardless of how (un)pleasant these people may be? As I’m sure I’ve said before, Erzebet was fascinating to write about – but I wouldn’t want to have tea with her. She would probably stab me over the scones.
I was drawn to write about Erzebet because she is in so many ways my stark opposite: so fixated on her own appearance that she’ll have no remorse about bleeding her helpless servant girls in order to harvest their blood for her own beauty regimen. She is callous, high-handed, and a perfectionist when it comes to creating the face reflected back at her in the mirror. She craves the power that beauty gives her and even revels in the pure violence as she wreaks her blood-thirsty havoc on the girls unfortunate enough to find themselves in her employ.
I’m not saying that I’m completely without vanity, but I can’t even bother with makeup, never mind opening the veins of a servant every night. But aside from these over-arching issues, there were certainly ways that Erzebet and I could connect: her vanity stretched all the way to insecurity, as vanity often does. Her fears of the future, of change, and of the unknown leads her to some very dark places in her own soul, and while she takes a very different route to combat those dark places (with blade in hand) I know I’ve experienced those same fears, too. So the key to writing about her was finding a way to empathize with her, in spite of her monstrous past-times.
Empathy aside, it’s simply fun to write about someone completely different, completely alien to yourself. At the risk of frightening any psychologists who may be reading, there is something deliciously terrifying about experiencing – from a safe distance – Erzebet’s glee at the havoc she unleashed, both within her own heart and created in her personal hell on earth in that dark tower dungeon. She is completely out of control, but also completely in control of her own actions, her own mad spiral, and I could just hear her laughing giddily the whole way down. Until, of course, the very end.
Writers out there (and I know you’re out there) please chime in! And no, I’m not referring only to published writers – if you write, then you’re a writer. Do you choose characters who are like you, in obvious or in secret ways?