Could you put yourself in his shoes?
I wrote about this short story in a previous post Unlikeable character – makes you read on. I’ve just updated the e-book and reminded myself (slight shock) that I’d written horror rather than just crime.
Which writer was it who said we only know what our novel is about once it’s finished? A long time, and many thousands of words later, I remembered this because I’d had that flash of recognition: potential…how it can work both ways.
I’ve written non-fiction, historical fiction and short stories, often humorous, but I never expected to write horror. Sometimes your story runs away with you and you find it lands in a different place from the one you expected. To do this justice means writing in his shoes, that boy you come to fear.
It was seeing each news flash of school shootings and the consequent analysis of the boy responsible that started me on this path. I’d been painfully aware of the several times in my work as a psychologist I’d been asked to assess strangely difficult kids and/or school refusers and witnessed the same anomie and alienation that these perpetrators showed.
I created a character of a different age, imagining a potential perpetrator younger, more accessible, adding something positive – a potential event for saving the boy from causing disaster. But it worked the other way.
In attempting to walk in Jake’s shoes, I’d almost unwittingly written a story of horror. Although I’ve had very positive reviews, including a long-listing from Fish and a winner’s accolade from Bloomsbury, I had every sympathy with a 1-star reviewer on Amazon who said it was the nastiest thing he’d ever read.
It seems likely that many writers find they’ve ended up with a story they hadn’t predicted.
Here’s the beginning of mine: ‘I think I once killed a man and I don’t know why. The bloke lay at my feet, dead. I don’t think I knew him but I couldn’t look at his dead face and they didn’t make me. I’d never seen a dead person and I didn’t want to.’ The word ‘dead’ obsesses Jake when he’s ten.
If you’d like to read more about Jake and walk in his shoes, there are some free copies for the next readers who join my Readers List.