Thursday, April 08, 2010

Being Scary

I think I'm in a reading slump. I finished reading my last book on Monday afternoon, and I still haven't started another one. I've finished my library books, but I have at least a thousand books in my house, at least a hundred of which I've never read. My books represent just about every genre and just about every subgenre within the main genres I read. And right now, none of them appeal to me. I stared at my bookcase for quite some time yesterday and couldn't think of anything I wanted to read. None of the to-be-read books struck my fancy, and none of the old favorites were what I really wanted. If I went to the library, there's nothing in particular I would want to look for. There's not even anything currently available that I haven't read that I'm eager to read. I suppose that's good right now, since I'm trying to finish writing a book, but I sleep better when I read at least a few pages at night, and it just feels weird to not have a book in progress.

Meanwhile, I really need to get my bitch on. The scene I was working on yesterday involved the first major face-to-face showdown between my villain and my heroine, and I'm starting to see why I tend to write somewhat sympathetic villains who aren't really all that nasty (they're just wrong). I have a hard time doing nasty. Either I don't have it in me or I'm afraid I do and I'm terrified of what I might unleash if I really went there. This is a verbal smackdown scene in which the villain is trying to be really nasty to the heroine, but doesn't quite succeed because she doesn't understand the heroine enough to really draw verbal/emotional blood and the heroine doesn't care what she thinks about her. Meanwhile, the heroine is basically a nice person, but she can be utterly ruthless when someone messes with people she cares about (which the villain has done). She can really draw blood when she gets nasty, not so much because she's trying to be mean, but because she's accurate. She's not necessarily trying to hurt, just laying things out there to make the situation clear to the villain and to the onlookers. And all of this is from the point of view of another character, who had always suspected that the heroine could be a little scary, and now he knows why. I don't think I'm there yet, and while I'm tempted to say I'll fix it in revisions because the outcome will be the same, I've been burned by assuming that before, so I think I need to get it more right before I move on.

What's funny about how hard this is for me is that at various phases of my life, I've been considered "scary," in spite of being such a huge weenie and being terrified of hurting someone's feelings. I later learned, through reunions and through the fact that my parents knew some of my classmates or their parents, that half my high school was afraid of me. I can't remember anything I actually said or did to instill this kind of fear. I think it was more of a sense of potential, that if I ever did unload on someone, it would be deadly. It may also have had something to do with the fact that I do have a fierce glare, which at the time was actually more of a squint because I'm a bit nearsighted, but it didn't get bad enough for corrective lenses until I was older. It was just seen as a glare.

Then there was the offensive lineman who was trying to date my roommate when I was a senior in college. This guy was at least a foot taller than I was and was probably more than twice my weight, and he was afraid of me. I know what I said to him to scare him, but I don't see that it's all that scary. My roommate was a drama major and was always involved in some show, so she was never in the room. This guy would call, I'd tell him she wasn't there and that I'd tell her he'd called. Then he'd call again half an hour later. And then again another half an hour later. And so forth. I was trying to study, and I finally got fed up and said, "I told you I would tell her you called when she got back. Have you heard from her?"

"Uhhhhh, no."

"So what does that tell you?"

(Pause) "Uh, I dunno."

"It means that either she isn't back yet, or she is back and doesn't want to talk to you. In this case, it means she isn't back yet. Calling again won't make her call you back any faster, but it is interrupting my studying."

After that, he told my roommate that her roommate was "scary" and he refused to come to the room to try to see her for fear of running into me. Not that she minded, as she wasn't all that into him and thought he was dumber than a box of rocks. Now really, though, is what I said to him anything worth being scared of (especially considering he could have lifted me with one hand)? Is it mean or bitchy?

The last time I think I utterly terrified someone, it was about a week and a half after I had knee surgery. I'd gone back to work, but just going to and from work and physical therapy was exhausting. I was still on crutches, still having to take prescription painkillers at night, and my knee was still so swollen that I couldn't bend it very much. One evening, the guy I was dating at the time called to ask me on a date. I declined, on the grounds of the crutches, pain, hassle and all -- going out wasn't on my list of fun things to do at the time. Because of the leg not bending much, I wouldn't have been able to sit comfortably in a movie theater, and the crutches were iffy on a restaurant floor. He went into a snit and said, "Well, when I'm dating someone, I like to go out with them." Mind you, he hadn't so much as sent me a get-well card, hadn't sent flowers, hadn't offered to do anything to help me around the house while I was on crutches. I'd have been thrilled if he'd suggested bringing over some takeout and a movie to have a "date" that didn't involve me having to go anywhere. If he'd taken my trash out while he was there (I was living in a third-floor apartment at the time), I might have married him. But he was pouting and feeling ill-used because I didn't want to go out. I really wish I could remember what I said to him. It must have been good because he avoided me for years afterward -- and we were in the same Sunday school class and were in the church choir together. But I'd taken one of the prescription painkillers not long before he called, and it kicked in at just the right time, so I don't remember the rest of the conversation. I'm assuming I broke up with him. I must have done so very colorfully in a way that shattered his self-esteem.

I do have my List of people who have wronged me in some way, but that's just because I have a good memory. I joke about the first against the wall when the revolution comes, but I really have no plans to do anything with the List. I wouldn't cry if these people ended up being harmed by their own mistakes, but even if I got into a position where I'd have power over them, the most I might do is remind them subtly of what they'd done to me in the past. Then I wouldn't do anything at all, which might be even more mean because they'd be waiting for something, and that's stressful, but it's still them doing it to themselves, not me doing anything.

I guess what I need to do is figure out all my villain's weaknesses so my heroine can list them in a "bless your heart" way. And then I need to figure out what my villain might perceive as my heroine's weaknesses and how she might list them in a way designed to hurt. Maybe I need to read some Shakespearean insults for inspiration. Is there a random insult generator online somewhere?

Or does this count as justification for a marathon of the Donna episodes of Doctor Who?


Chicory said...

I think when nice people get scary it's the shock factor as much as anything. It's kind of like when a quiet person suddenly gives an opinion, everyone listens to their ideas a lot harder than they will to a loud-mouth. If a nice person starts laying into you, you know that they have been severely pushed over the edge, and THAT's scary.

About not having anything to read- I have just read a terrific debut novel called Master of None by Sonya Bateman. It's an urban fantasy involving djinns. The main character's voice is great. He does get beat up quite a bit, but you mentioned liking Dick Frances, and I'd say the violence level is probably similar (uh, except with magic and stuff. And no horses.)

belsum said...

It's always time for some DoctorDonna.