Deadly Ever After

The Writing Adventures of The Undead Duo–Julie Hutchings and Kristen Strassel

Sin Is The Writer’s Element

TODAY’S BREW: The blood of Juan Valdez

By Julie

SIN IS THE WRITER’S ELEMENT

–Francois Mauriac

I love sin. That undeniable darkness of the heart that makes a good person turn to their worst selves and indulge them. These are the best characters, and often the best people. The kind who understand that there’s no straight line in the world, only lines that get you to your endgame faster.

Probably too often, I’ve said how “nice” people don’t generally do anything for me. Anyone can be nice. I want real. I want every imperfection of the people/characters I care about laid out to me. It’s that kind of exposure of the inner demon that makes me trust people, makes me a better person for seeing their honesty with their flaws and the struggle to accept them.

Loving sinners is why I’m a writer, in part. I want to see the dark and dirty of everyone, and when I can’t get it, or need to put my own out there in not so many words, I create that persona. I do my best to make a sinner that’s just like you, in one way or another.

I’m doing a deeper round of research on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for Trent, the main character in THE ANIMAL. My initial research gave me all the facts I needed to make sure that his disorder was realistic, and respectful of those who suffer from it. This round, though…..I’ve been reading OCD forums online, hearing the horrors that some of those who are afflicted with OCD suffer. Their bravery in the face of their own irrational thoughts of violence is more painful than I can wrap my head around. My heart was ripped in half plenty of times as I observed these conversations, making me tear up even now. People who get stuck on a terrible image of some awful act they would never probably do, and the guilt that literally keeps them awake at night. Living with thoughts of murder, pedophilia, bestiality….more unimaginable things than you could conceive of….it makes me think harder about the nature of OCD. In every one of these forum chats, the people who suffer these thoughts despise them. They have often just as many obsessive thoughts that cause them to check in constantly with loved ones to be sure they haven’t been hurt. It’s the difference between the people that commit these crimes and those who suffer the thoughts of them. There is no temptation to actually commit them. The sufferers are revolted by the images that overtake their minds, like they’ve been forced to watch the most disturbing part of a movie about themselves over and over and over. Naturally, this leads to extreme guilt and the questions of am I a pedophile if this vision pops in my head over and over? Am I a murderer if it’s all I can think of doing? 

The other symptoms of OCD, the ones we all know of like compulsive hand-washing, for instance, provide only the most momentary relief from the obsessive thought. Committing the crime wouldn only make the afflicted feel worse. Most sufferers of OCD work hard at keeping their obsessions and compulsions a secret, lending to it worsening over time. The folks that I’ve read in the forum chats were desperate to tell someone about their thoughts in hopes it would help expel them, some even asking if they could turn themselves in to the police for crimes they haven’t, and would more often never, commit.

Their heart-wrenching stories have helped me see deeper into Trent’s obsessions and compulsions, and exposed his heart to me even further. I already loved him for his duality, his reserved depth, his fears and memories, and learning more about the disorder has made me wildly protective and closer to him. (Not to mention making me cry uncontrollably for the sufferers of OCD more times than I can say.) Knowing the sins in Trent’s heart, and more so how he wants to triumph over them, makes him a hero to me in his fictional life that’s not quite fictional in my mind.

Sin has a different meaning to everyone, but for all of us it holds a trepidation of what one could do, what we may be capable of. The writer’s job is to explore the worst case scenario of sin. Sure, we need to commit plenty of sins, too. (SIDENOTE: I HAVE NOT AND WILL NOT COMMIT ANY OF THE SINS/CRIMES IN THE ANIMAL.) Being all good all the time is A) zero fun  B) the worst kind of dishonesty with yourself  C) inhibiting and painful. So, yeah, a little debauchery is perfectly fine with me. Doing the wrong thing sometimes, yep, totally cool. But what if it went further? What if it became a monster in your own heart? This is the fear that the writer examines, and what makes for a character that we feel for.

Giving into the sinful side and being oppressed by thoughts of committing sins that disgust you are two different things. One is choice, and one is illness. It’s where these two things intersect that have helped me create THE ANIMAL. But there are plenty of sins out there to see, and writers, don’t turn your back on them.

If you need to talk about obsessive thoughts and compulsions, contact  1-800-950-NAMI (6264), the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Or search OCD forums to talk to others who can help you.

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One thought on “Sin Is The Writer’s Element

  1. I know very little about OCD, but I do know that I love “sinners,” as well. Many times, I find protagonists boring and villains fascinating. I mean, c’mon, who does love LOVE LOVE Hannibal Lector? I think part of the world’s fascination and maybe mine specifically with villains is that it is that line between real and fantasy. “What would compel someone to do those things? Could I ever? Would I ever? No … But maybe … And then if I did, it might not be the evil I thought it would be.”

    That last bit is fascinating to me–how people can be very judgmental of the sins of others, going so far as to say they would NEVER do it. But never say never, until you’re in someone’s shoes.

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