Killing the Monster

Each time I finish a book, I think of Winston Churchill’s famed quote about the phases of writing. The one beginning with this sentence: Writing is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. And ends…”you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

This time, the monster has teeth, big sharp ones. Why?

Because this time I decided I wanted to write about characters who were evil. Shouldn’t be too difficult for someone who loves devouring thrillers, right? You know, those created by the likes of Dean Koontz, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, and Joseph Finder? . Could I do it? Create not only an assassin but someone worse? As real, believable?

Churchill was wholly right. In the beginning of the new story, the writing was fun, even exciting. Walking in the shoes of a man who gets paid to kill- my imagination soared, leaped tall buildings as the character took on flesh and bones. I found myself reading sections aloud to my husband because of the character’s credibility. That creative freedom of fiction is exhilarating and is one of the many surprises of my switch from writing non-fiction to fiction. Some characters are  so real that they cannot be left at the end of the book. They have taken up residence in our hearts. The reason that both authors and readers are drawn to book series- we find we love Harry Potter and Jack Reacher far too much to ever let them go.

But these evil folks aren’t loveable and noble like Harry and Hermione, they’re more like their dark sides on steroids. The funny thing was that I got hooked. And found the challenge of writing about characters who live in the bleak and banal aspects of human nature quite a writing high.

The next phase, the one described by Churchill as the one where the book becomes a tyrant is, in my imagining, the wait for the feedback from the editor. This is true, I believe, because it is almost impossible to think of much else while waiting for the judgement of the editor. Suffice to say, my editor found ample material to pronounce the dreaded phrase, ‘needs revision’ and a few chapters she deemed superfluous to the book.

For writers, there is only one response to extensive critique: Dig down deep and get back to work. It takes time to recover from the wounds to our ego but time and work are the best antidotes. This phase, I think, is what Churchill meant in that wonderful last phrase, “reconciled to your servitude.” The work is harder because the insecurity looms high when permitting ourselves relief from the constancy of our work. For me, that relief is reading someone else’s novel; someone  good, well-known and enjoying the excellence of his or her prose. Exposing myself to the expert, enduring that two or three day period where I decide I don’t know what I am doing. This writer is so far above me in his ability to tell a story that I cannot believe I am even able to call myself by the same name, writer. This happens during each of the four books I have written so I’ve now learned to expect it and trust that it will pass.

And then suddenly, it’s over. The book is done. Sure I could fool around with it for another month or six but there is another one sitting, waiting in my head to be written. So the only thing to do is to kill the monster. If it has been a while since you have reflected on this wonderful Churchill quote, here it is, in all its wisdom:

Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.

This post is contributed by Author Lin Wilder