· What message do you want people to get from your books?
In writing the Balance books, I wanted to explore, among other things, the concepts of “right and wrong” in a way I often see other forms of entertainment carefully avoiding. Many lead characters, or ‘heroes’, in modern entertainment are depicted as so unerringly moral and justice embracing, farting rainbows and burping clouds of glittering ponies, that they land up being about as complex as a soggy bowl of breakfast cereal. I’m talking about the square jawed, six-pack wielding hero, (or tight assed, enormous boob wielding, if you prefer) that responds to the question; “Why are you doing this?” from a sinister, less good looking villain, with the phrase “because it’s the right thing to do”. As if this single statement somehow wrapped up a complicated situation and instantly warranted the swooning adoration of millions in the process. Such heroes are often championing causes that aim to “save the oppressed people”. Or are perhaps gearing-up to stop an evil mega-corporation that is so unrealistically corrupt it belongs in a Saturday morning cartoon.
I also notice, in my personal experience, that people generally agree with the; “there is no real right or wrong in the world” sentiment. Then, in the same breath, they turn around and lay rage-induced hatred on anyone that might suggest, for example;
“Justin Bieber isn’t even a real person. And your genuine hatred of him is perhaps unfounded.”
After which said person may then be hunted down by a pitchfork wielding mob and burned at the stake for being a “Bieber sympathiser”.
Yes, I’m using a silly example. But one that is, curiously, taken very seriously by otherwise level headed people. The point I’m trying make is that it sometimes seems folk get righteously and indignantly heated over particular issues before having a solid understanding of the situation. And soon, during such conversations, words like “right” or “wrong” start getting thrown around, as if the very letters and syllables themselves possess the almighty power of instant discussion winning.
Here’s another example.
“Save the Mediterranean Sea Slug!” a woman with frenzied eyes screams, “Harvesting Sea Slugs is WRONG!”
“But did you know that a multi-million dollar industry is based around sea slug harvesting?” a softly spoken bystander points out, “and that a generic unnamed island bases a large portion of its economy around said lucrative industry?”
“Are you condoning the slaughter of Sea Slugs?!” the woman shrieks, brandishing her cardboard sign like a battleaxe, “Have you ever gazed into the moist stalk-eyes of a Sea slug infant?! One, that has witnessed the death of its mother?!”
“Well, no,” the man responds sheepishly, “I don’t condone sea slug slaughter. But don’t you think it’s worth considering the poverty stricken people of Fictitious Island X? Maybe a sustainable industry could be established…?”
“Do not lay a finger on the Sea Slug! Sea slug murder is wrong! Wrong! Wrong!”
I mention a hypothetical situation, in case anyone mistook Fictitious Island X for a real place. Please don’t send me a strongly worded email. The point I’m again trying to make is that any issue tends to be deeper and more complex than first assumed, in my experience. And even a small amount of research can make a seemingly clear cut case foggy.
In Balance the three lead characters, Jet, Benny and Selena, were all written in an attempt by myself, to examine different aspects of this complicated “right or wrong” phenomenon. Benny, who is by far the most well liked character, flaunts the law with reckless abandon. But because he is depicted as fun loving and happy go lucky, people quickly overlook that he is a blatantly corrupt government official. Had I made him less likable, I bank on his disregard for the law quickly becoming unacceptable in the eyes of the reader. Selena, on the other hand, I wrote to be less likable, but having an unflinching commitment to established laws. Here I hoped to achieve the opposite effect; readers not being overly sympathetic of a character that is strictly law embracing. And hence I wanted to demonstrate, as so often seems to be the case in real life; the personality of the offender is more important than the nature of the crimes committed.
As for Jet; consider hearing about the terrible acts of vengeance and violence he commits, in the real world news: the murders in Valhalla Hotel in the first book, the brutal act of vengeance on the top floor of the penthouse in the second. What would your first thoughts be about Jet as a person? Hearing about terrible acts without knowledge of the events that led up to them, you, I, or anyone, would immediately assume Jet was evil, or a crazed psychopath (which he kind of is). But by simply understanding the string of events that precede the violence, the assailant quickly becomes a more sympathetic figure. Now, upon the establishment of a relatable human character, suddenly questions like “wouldn’t you do the same in his shoes?” tend to start being asked. Instead of the “right or wrong” branding that might normally occur. Indeed, I still write all Jet’s questionable acts with maximum shock value, so as to not detract from the heinous acts committed. And of course how readers respond to these acts of violence is up to them. But my ultimate hope was to make readers at least stop and think. Instead of leaping to otherwise knowable conclusions and breaking out the “right” and “wrong” cannons.
No, I don’t expect readers to agree on “right or wrong” in the Balance books. And that, nail on the head, is precisely what I tried to achieve. Would it have been safer to try writing Jet as a lovable, all justice embracing square-jawed champion of the weak (with maybe an obligatory “troubled childhood” to provide depth)? Of course it would have. No particularly deep or confusing emotions would have been stirred, and everyone could then have forgotten about the books roughly ten minutes after reading them. But there are enough of those books clogging up the bookshelves of the world. I wanted Jet, Benny and Selena to be something more then “heroes”. I wanted them to be real. I wanted the actions they took, situations they dealt with, and world they live in, all to be real. (I mean besides the demons and magic.) Real world real, not a world where enemies are easy to spot because they happen to be drooling Orcs or are wearing Nazi uniforms, so that slaughtering them by the thousand doesn’t spark even the faintest blip on the “morally complex” meter.
So, in conclusion - the question; “What message do I want people to get from my books?” The answer; Justin Bieber doesn’t deserve the frothing hatred poured upon him. The multi-billion dollar industry that created him does, if hate need be directed anywhere. So you may as well hate roughly 80% of the global total of preteen girls. Way to go, you child hating loony. (See what I did there? Tee hee.)
I kid. I hate the Bieber as much as the next person, the arrogant little shit. Round up the angry mob and light some torches. Where’s my pitchfork?