Friday, December 14, 2007

Nefarious Skullduggers

Been asked to put together a few class for a writer's conference coming up in two months. Planning the classes has been fun- working with PowerPoint, which is almost new, and trying to decide what writers will need versus my usual audiences of cops or martial artists.

The class on Use of Force policy will be easy. I could teach that in my sleep. They will learn almost exactly the way officers learn about how and when and why to use force. Even get into report writing a bit.

The one on violence will be easy, too. I don't think it will help writers as much as they think. Real violence tries to minimize many of the factors that make for entertaining writing. Things tend to be short and one-sided. I work very hard to keep them that way and so do the professional criminals that I know.  The goal, in real life, is to limit drama.  the opposite in arts and entertainment.

The class on weapons will be fun. With luck I'll be able to check out some of our more exotic toys, such as a six-shot 37mm grenade launcher. There are also slides of injuries (knife, gun and a particularly ugly one where blunt trauma ruptured the perineum) and a good analysis comparing skilled shooting at the range and how real officers do in particular shootings.

The one that is hardest to outline will be the class on criminals. I just know these guys too well. There are some categories that are useful- my three basic types of criminals; how different personality disorders gravitate to different types of behavior; and the nightmare threats- excited delirium, mass bad guys, trained teams, process predators.

But real people don't pigeon hole well. Yes, I know the drug dealing pimp with over thirty children and I know that he thinks that he is a good dad and defines being a good dad as giving them presents occasionally. I know people who have engaged in brutal murders, but I also saw them being weak little kids. I've watched people who have committed really heinous crimes try to coach other inmates on how to deal with their mental illnesses.

There is evil. A rapist/murderer with all sincerity explained to me once that while he did it, it wasn't wrong. When I had the duty of telling one young man that his brother had just died, he had a ready list of privileges he should be extended to go with that. I've read the journal of an incestuous rapist who didn't get it- if he couldn't do anything he wanted with an object, they wouldn't have called it "his"... in his mind that logic extended to "his" daughter. The act of raping a wound- on a baby. Yeah, there's some evil.

But no one is evil all the time. That takes a lot of energy. It's possible to be selfish almost all the time, though. There is much more stupidity and selfishness than there is evil, and some of the evil is just stupid.

I've got a feeling that this section will be a very rambling talk.


Kai Jones said...

Is it less evil if they're good at rationalizing?

Is it less evil if they're weak some other time?

Drew Rinella said...

Selfishness is definitely at the heart of the disease.

Anonymous said...

One of the problems (or pleasures) for the basic whitebread writer (myself included) is that they live relatively sedate, peaceful lives. They don't have a lot of experience with realistic violence & criminals. Still, violence and criminals do seem to be desirable in dramatic writing. Unless you want to restrict your writing to sex comedies or cancer dramas, at some point you think you need criminals and/or blood.

The question for the whitebread writer is how to fit these things in without relying on cliches.

Learning facts (e.g. taking your Use of Force seminar) helps, obviously. And doing research, talking to people, that helps too. But is it possible for a writer to really comprehend an entirely different view of the world? A writer might want to comprehend it, but courage is needed; empathy is challenged. I am not sure all writers are up to it -- which doesn't mean they have nothing to say. It just means they're out of their zone of expertise.

As a reader I am always watching for effective solutions to this quandary. One way is to use a point of view that describes characters and events in terms of actions or words or facts only, and does not get into thoughts or motivations. Obviously, this can be both chilling and accurate.

Another one is to find the criminal aspect of a whitebread character; to write a story where a whitebread crime (say, cheating someone out of 20% of a real estate deal) has as much import and drama as the writer imagines an act of violence could provide. The movie "The House of Sand and Fog" had both real violence and bruising with words and rules. It was interesting that dramatically, the second kind seemed to hurt as much as the first.

Anyway, I'm not sure I have any idea how to write a realistic character of any kind, protagonist or antagonist. But I do know that despite my whitebread existence, I've known a lot of psychos and assholes with pens and calculators instead of knives and guns. If I had to do a bad guy, that's the bin of experiences I'd root around in.