Ask Mr. Writing Person: Angels and Demons
In this week's Ask Mr. Writing Person, we talk to Byron Smaugley from Idiotville, Oregon, the writer for a group-authored novel. Byron is young and idealistic, which naturally means he wants to demonize someone in his first writing project. [Ed: Of course.] Here's Byron:
Q. Hi. My friends and I want to demonize SUV owners.
A. It's always a worthy goal to demonize. I once demonized my own mother to great critical acclaim.
Q. Is she still your mother?
A. Does she have a choice? At any rate, she was bitter until the day her life tragically ended in a lint catcher accident.
Q. How sad.
A. Quite. But let's get back to our topic. What you need is carnivorous invective, which is Latin for "making fun of someone using meat." In plainer terms, to demonize an entire group, make every member of it stupid and evil. And of course, your main characters should belong to an opposing group, which you shall exalt like gods. Then you can throw in a bunch of other ridiculous stuff for kicks.
Q. Yeah, well I'm already doing the "stupid" part. And the protagonists are all real smart, of course.
A. Wonderful. Can you give us an example of what you've already got?
Q. Sure. I got Jason starting his new job, and he decides to drop in on an SUV owner on his way to his office:
Jason the brilliant environmentalist walked down the cubicle hallway toward his new office. First, however, he wanted to drop in on one of his coworkers: Dr. Joshua Jackal the stupid SUV owner.
Jason the clever tree hugger turned left and stopped in front of a door with Dr. Jackal's name on it. Suddenly, the door swang open! Revealing a very stupid man in his mid-thirties, wearing a white lab coat.
"Duh, um, well hi," said Dr. Jackal the stupid SUV owner to Jason the amazingly talented druid. "You must be, duh, duh, the new guy."
A. Ha ha. Yet how pedestrian. It doesn't quite pack a punch, Brian. More like a slap or a flick. Young Philistine, have you ever heard of "show, don't tell"?
Q. Not really.
A. I shall now educate your mushy mind. Readers don't like to be told what characters are like, they'd rather infer it, which is why we show them. The best way to show that all SUV owners are stupid is to make them all into rednecks.
Q. I'm a redneck.
A. Fascinating. Here's a revision:
Jason walked down the cubicle hallway toward his new office. He had no need of a map, having memorized the one he had seen earlier in a split femtosecond. One name on it had stood out, however, and for some reason--probably divine guidance--Jason wanted to meet the man: Dr. Joshua Jackal.
Jason turned left and stopped short. Just beyond the door he targeted, blocking the hallway, was a wheel-less, primer-colored 1964 Volkswagen Beetle raised up on gray cinder blocks. Jason did a double-take and turned to the door with Dr. Jackal's name on it.
Suddenly, the door swang open!!! Smoke billowed from it, engulfing Jason in eye-watering fumes. Just beyond the door stood a man in his mid-thirties, wearing a yellowing lab coat. A battered tank top poked out between the lapels. The front of the man's hair was stained chartreuse, and he was missing several important-looking teeth.
Jason extended a brilliant hand. "Hello, I'm Jason the unnaturally perspicacious environmentalist," he said. "I have deduced that you are Dr. Jackal, a brainless SUV owner."
"Well, gaw-lee, lookee here, if this ain't tops," said Dr. Jackal like a total idiot, pulling a Bud Lite from his lab coat pocket and placing it in Jason's outstretched hand.
Q. Aw, yeah, that's a lot better.
A. Isn't it? Let's get to the "evil" part. One of the best ways I know of to show that people are evil is to make them very, very secretive, because good people have nothing to hide.
Q. You mean, kinda shifty-eyed and stuff?
A. No, not really. Let me show you:
Jason extended a brilliant hand. "Hello, I'm Jason the unnaturally perspicacious environmentalist," he said. "I have deduced that you are Dr. Jackal, a brainless and evil SUV owner."
"Well, gaw-lee, lookee here, if this ain't tops," said Dr. Jackal like an evil idiot, pulling a Bud Lite from his lab coat pocket and placing it in Jason's outstretched hand, at the same time sneakily positioning himself so that Jason couldn't see into his office, which was probably full of dark secrets. "Hang on, bud. Howjya know my name?"
Jason pointed intelligently at the name plate on the door. Dr. Jackal pushed him evilly aside, slid it out of its brass holder, broke it in half over his knee, and tossed it back over his shoulder among the rest of his devilish secrets.
Q. Ah, I see. Um, isn't when you say things like "said Dr. Jackal like a total evil idiot" telling instead of showing?
A. How could it be, grasshopper? It describes how Dr. Jackal said something; therefore, it's showing.
Q. Okay, sure.
A. Now, just making people secretive isn't going to cut it. To round out these evil characters, you should also make them vile. I've talked about this recently, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate: to show that people are vile, you should make them ugly, fat or albino. Since "redneck" implies ugly and fat, you're left with albino.
Q. Hey, I'm albino!
A. That, dear grasshopper, is a stupendous example of dramatic irony.
Q. What's that?
A. "Irony" has the same root word as "ivory," which is a whiteish color. So dramatic irony means "discovering to great surprise that someone is albino." At any rate, being albino, you'll be able to much better portray these characters.
Q. Right. So I make Dr. Jackal an albino?
A. No, you make all of your SUV owners albino.
Q. Every one? Isn't that a kinda unlikely?
A. No. Here's the passage with albino SUV owners:
"Well, gaw-lee, lookee here, if this ain't tops," said Dr. Jackal like an evil albino idiot, pulling a Bud Lite from his lab coat pocket and placing it in Jason's outstretched hand, at the same time sneakily positioning himself so that Jason couldn't see into his office, which was probably full of dark secrets, like more albinos. "Hang on, bud. Howjya know my name?"
Jason pointed intelligently at the name plate on the door. Dr. Jackal pushed him evilly aside like only an albino can, slid it out of its brass holder, broke it in half over his mayonnaise-colored knee, and tossed it back over his shoulder amongst the rest of his devilish secrets.
"Hey Clem, you pasty-faced paragon of wickedness!" Dr. Jackal called back into the shadows. "Leave them damnable secrets alone for a sec! C'mere and meet the new hire!"
Another albino man in a yellowing lab coat emerged from beside Dr. Jackal, blinking his pale, pink eyes in the glare of the overhead lights.
"This here's the nefarious Dr. Clem Clyde," said Dr. Jackal with an evil chuckle. "He just bought himself an SUV yesterday, and now look at him! He's as evil-looking as I am!"
"Yessirree!" chuckled Dr. Clyde evilly. "I didn't know embracing the dark side would do this! Course, I'm still a redneck, even if I am abominably pale."
Q. That totally rocks.
A. Thank you, dear grasshopper. Now, do you think you have the tools to properly demonize SUV owners?
Q. Yeah, I sure do.
A. Great. Here's some homework. I mentioned earlier that you should throw in a bunch of ridiculous stuff for kicks. For example, you might give Dr. Clyde stainless steel teeth, or make Dr. Jackal a quadruple amputee with prosthetic limbs with claws. However you do it, the characters that represent those you demonize should be freakish and strange, because that always says to a reader, this person is different, and therefore bad. For homework, take your work-in-progress, and attach freakishness to your SUV owners.
Q. Yessir! I'll do that. Thank you, Mr. Writing Person! I'll take this back to my friends at the SAARAEAS. They'll love it!
A. You're so welcome, young Philistine. If I may ask, what does SAARAEAS stand for?
Q. It's very secret. I'll tell you if you promise to keep it to yourself.
A. Certainly. I would never dream of publishing it, especially on the Internet. My word is gold.
Q. Okay. SAARAEAS stands for "Secret Abominable Association of Redneck Albino Environmentalists for the Abolitionmentation of SUVs."
A. Are you all redneck albinos?
Q. Every last one of us!
A. Oh, the irony.