My dad asked me a week or two ago after I told him about my books, why anyone would want to read a story about a criminal. I told him it’s because it’s interesting. It’s a vicarious thrill to read about someone doing things that you would never, or could never do. It’s like reading a story about magic where the laws of physics get turned on their head, only in this case it’s the law of the land being spun upside down. It’s neat to imagine yourself doing things so far from your normal, and it helps you to get out of your head for a while.
All of that is true, but as that conversation popped up in my mind again today, I realized that it is also incomplete. It’s not just about living vicariously through the characters, or getting to leave your own life behind. It’s about recognizing a part of yourself in them, and feeling that emotional connection. Who among us has never wanted someone dead? Which of us has never been hungry enough for something that they at least briefly considered doing something illegal? What person on this earth has never felt that there was injustice in the world that the powers that be were ignorant of, or incapable of fixing?
I think we all have a little darkness inside of us. It’s what we do with that darkness that makes us saints vs sinners, criminals or upstanding citizens. Part of the allure of a novel based on criminals is that you can relate to their dark desires, and part of you really wants to see them succeed, even if you yourself would never make that choice in the real world. Another part of you may be praying for them to change their mind, make the right choice, and be the good person you know they could be, even when in a similar circumstance you may have made the same choice, and done the wrong thing for the right reason.
My job as a writer is to make you feel everything. I want you to be curious enough to pick up my book, out of all the others, and start reading. I need to hold your interest long enough that you begin to fall in love with the characters. Then it is my job to break your heart, tear it to shreds, and make you feel devastated on be half of those people in the story that you have grown to love and empathize with. That way your heart, and mind will be open to receiving enlightenment and understanding when the story draws to a close, and reaches it’s inevitable conclusion. Because writing is not simply about entertainment, it is a learning experience.
Through literature we can gain new perspectives on life. There is no such thing as a story without a moral. It may be murky, and hard to find, but at it’s core there is always a grain of wisdom. As humans we are constantly evolving, learning from our mistakes and the mistakes of those around us. We are not the biggest or most fearsome thing on this planet. We owe our success instead to our infinite adaptability, and what makes us so resilient is our imagination and our willingness to share those dreams with each other. Just think of everything we have achieved!
So much of science has mirrored science fiction throughout the years that at times it has seemed that those writers must have had a time machine or a crystal ball. That’s not the case however, rather because they dared to dream that it was possible, and shared that dream with the world, other people were able to see the possibilities and make them into reality. Did Jules Vern know how to make a submarine? I don’t think he did, but his story inspired someone else, who knew more about science and technology and was able to make that dream come true.
Anyway, I’ve gotten a little off point here, so to get back to what I was saying, we need stories about bad guys just as much as we need stories about good guys. If we can understand what makes a person go down that path we can learn how to make that path less desirable, or feel less necessary. On a more personal level when you feel compassion and empathy for someone who made a bad choice, it becomes easier to feel that compassion and empathy for yourself when you make mistakes. Maybe you’ve never committed a crime, but everyone eventually does something that makes them feel lower than scum, and if you can learn to love a person who’s done something worse, it becomes so much easier to then forgive yourself for being less than perfect.