"Sometimes you kill just one person, and it takes care of everything."
That was my favorite line in Joann Sfar's brilliant graphic novel The Rabbi's Cat, and it sums up my current storytelling peeve: when the good guy refuses to kill the bad guy, although some serious killin' is clearly called for. You know how I mean, the whole "I'm not going to sink to your level; I'm not a killer" thing. Now, this can be well done, and it is a powerful message when it is. Just, sometimes it's plain unbelievable and also STUPID. Sometimes, the bad guy needs to die.
Saw the Wolverine movie last night, and I liked it. And I want to say that I really truly empathize with the job of writing a movie that is essentially a puzzle piece in a vast modern-day mythology. A prequel, no less. I mean, those writers had no freedom at all. The story had to fit neatly within the pre-established X-Men-verse, and still be exciting and new. Ulp. That's not a plotting job to be envied! To be clear (and this doesn't spoil anything if you've seen the other X-Men movies) the good guys couldn't kill [all] the bad guys in this movie, because they're still alive in the other movies, which take place later. So. What to do? I don't know. Some fancy footwork. What not to do? Have about three confrontations when the bad guy is under the good guy's power and the good guy makes an "I'm not an animal" speech and shows mercy.
Let's be clear about this: we're talking about mercy to unrepentant murderers who shoot nice old people and do terrible experiments on children. You don't show mercy to those sorts. It's like letting Josef Mengele walk away with a light scolding.
Let's also be clear: I'd have accepted incarceration in lieu of killing. I'm not unreasonable. But this was of the "letting the bad guy walk away to kill and torture again" sort of mercy. Not my cup of tea.
This issue cropped up repeatedly in a book last year too -- the book with which I have the most complex continuing *relationship*: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. This book was a READ. I mean, I couldn't put it down. It's a story set on a planet that was some time ago settled by humans, the women being wiped out by a virus that left the men alive but able to hear the thoughts of every living creature. It's a terrible din of Noise, as they call it, and the remaining, dying town is a bleak place to live. The main character Todd is the youngest of them, on the brink of manhood, and some mysterious ritual looms in his near future. Then he starts making extremely startling discoveries -- like a strange spot of silence within all the Noise -- and all hell breaks loose. He sets off on a journey, with two interesting companions (one of whom is a very lovable dog named Manchee whose thoughts you can hear), and a homicidal preacher on his heels.
That homicidal preacher clearly needed killin'. If not the first time Todd had the chance, certainly the second or third time! Yeah, if he'd killed the preacher right off, then there'd have been no story. I know that's how it works. But as a reader you feel the story begins to run out of excuses after a while, or else you lose any respect for the character not being able to do what really really needs to be done.
Plotting and motivation snafus do have a way of cropping up, and I know that I as a writer spend a lot of time trying to figure out how things "would really happen" and fitting consequences and actions together, trying to make characters' motivations believable while at the same time wrangling the storyline in the direction I want it to go. It's very tricky. And I get irked when I feel things happening in the story for expediency, because it's what the writer wants (or in the case of Wolverine needs) to have happen, but it's really not what you believe the character would do. You know?
Still, I liked the movie. And I want to say about Knife of Never Letting Go, I did believe, to an extent, that Todd was incapable of killing -- in that remarkable book it read more like a fatal character flaw than a writing flaw. And what I meant when I said I had such a complex relationship to the book is this: it's one of the most memorable books I read last year; it's also hands-down the most excruciating. I thought it was brilliant, and I didn't want to ever recommend it to anyone. Ever. It'd be like coaxing someone down an alley where you know they're going to get beat up. That book is cruel. I've never had a reaction quite like that before, and I can't help but feel (personal opinion only; not trying to tell Patrick Ness what to do) that if it had been less brutal it would have been more successful -- not that it hasn't been successful; I think it has, modestly (no idea of sales; I'm just going on buzz in my own limited sphere). But I feel like if it had been less gut-wrenchingly painful, people might have been talking about it the way they were talking about Hunger Games. I mean, it's really good. But I wouldn't wish the pain of reading it on anyone I like. How weird is that? I know I'm not the only person who was left not wanting to recommend it, in spite of its brilliance and its power. I know a bookseller who's an avid YA reader (and hand-seller) who felt the same (angry enough to email the author), and there must be more of us. Anyway, maybe this will intrigue you and you'll read it. Maybe it will instill fear in you and you won't. I don't know.
Oh, but something I do recommend? The movie Tell No One. It's a French thriller, completely compelling, out on DVD.
And two blog posts:
This one, thanks to Robin Brande for the link, about how writers are "rats with islands" (it's about optimism in pursuing the writing dream; a great read).
And this one, the announcement of author James Kennedy's baby daughter's birth, funny like everything he writes, and complete with an argument about Twilight with the anesthesiologist while he was administering the epidural!
Oh wait. Lastly, I read a bit of very important news yesterday: Disneyland is doing away with its breast police. Yes. What? You weren't aware that Disneyland had breast police? Well, neither was I. Apparently, those automatic cameras that snap pictures of you at the screamy drops on roller coaster? I guess women have a tendency to flash in those pictures. Sure. Perfectly logical. And so Disneyland had special police just for busting the boob-flashers? Huh. But not any more! Flash away, ladies.