Thanks, rude person, for helping me write a difficult scene

The ‘writing a difficult scene’ part

One of my characters is dealing with a punch in the stomach, at first in the character’s own mind, not in a scene with other people.

I don’t want to blunt the effect it has on him/her, paradoxically, by putting too much of a reaction into his/her first attempt to deal with things: I want it pure and simple and visceral and real, exactly how it would hit ME.

The ‘punch’ is in the form of a short piece of particularly nasty work (which I have written out and made as mean as possible), and my question for my character was: how do I feel immediately after I read the piece?

Now the ‘rude person thanks’ part

In an online writer’s blog where input was specifically requested by the blogger yesterday, I wrote a short and, I thought, coherent answer to the blogger’s question, expressing my own opinion and labeling it so.

When I went back to the blog later to see how others might have commented, I found that my comment had been tromped by the next commenter. Without linking or paraphrasing, let’s just say that I felt almost physically attacked by how this person said, ‘You’re wrong,’ and dismissed me, my opinion, and that of other people I normally commune with online.

With nastiness and snark.

I got THAT feeling: ‘you are not important enough for me not to crush you because you’re stupid and not worth anything and your opinions are wrong and you’re stupid.’

And I couldn’t even go back to look at it! For the rest of the day! Maybe forever. [Note to self: do NOT read reviews when I publish.]

I’m not used to being kicked in the teeth.

I’M AN IMPORTANT PERSON! YOU CAN’T DO THAT TO ME! went my wounded self. (Everyone’s important, and the behavior is what we call trolling.)

There was no need for this twit to be rude. Dave Hingsburger, an amazing Canadian blogger who happens to be disabled, fat, and gay, talks about that kind of person all the time: people who talk about and treat other people as automatically less valuable than they are (for many reasons including intellectual disability, gender identification, ethnicity – you name it), and insist the inferior people should shut up and not speak when their betters are around.

I stay mostly on sites with intelligent bloggers and communities of reasonably well-behaved commenters who express their opinions without personal attacks on others. I didn’t expect to be ambushed – I DID consider that some people might object to my opinion.

Writers must be vulnerable, professionally

Writers wear their feelings on the OUTSIDE. Like a child born with its heart outside its ribcage, our heart is unprotected. Vulnerable. Easily accessed by anyone who cares to try.

We wear protective clothing: the biting riposte, the well-timed rejoinder, the perfect putdown – the unleashed venom we are capable of is well-trained. We can use words to hurt. Deliberately. Like the mother of that child, we have a persona that is fiercely protective of our unguarded organ.

BOTH are necessary to a writer. You must be able to HURT, and BE HURT. Because you have to explain it all to people who are being hurt and who are hurting others (though these last may not yet have the capacity to listen, possibly like the rude person in my title).

This is one of the more important reasons for fiction: to show the damaged human that there is life after pain.

Which is why humans are wired to love stories about heroes (our protectors from pain) and underdogs (who win in the end against the pain).

To be alive is to be in pain, at least part of the time.
We learn to survive the pain, to use the pain, to learn from the pain. If we are diligent and lucky (or blessed), to be happy in SPITE of the pain.

But a writer welcomes the pain (not SEEKS the pain, you understand?) because it is the source of our common humanity, the raw material of life, that which we transmogrify and share with our eventual readers.

Gratitude

So thank you, rude person, for giving me a kick in the stomach. You may go to hell for it – not my problem – but my scene is visceral and immediate and powerful because you kicked me and I am a writer.

Do you use what happens to you to make your writing better?

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17 thoughts on “Thanks, rude person, for helping me write a difficult scene

  1. clairechase51

    Just a note to tell you I read with interest your post and all the comments. I can say two things…
    1. I wish it wasn’t the case, but I have learned/grown from comments from insensitive people. It might be a painful growing, but a growing in any case. Sometimes, it is just learning not to treat others in the same way. Under the circumstances…I think you have tried to step back and take what you can from his arrogant remarks. 2. In the end, I value kindness in people. That person is a writer and if he cared about others, could have said the same thing in so many different ways. Too bad he lacks the maturity and empathy to see this. We are all finding our way through life. Give me a kind person any day!

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      The problem with being scathing in return is that it is not the kind of person I want to be – so I did use the experience instead – blog post AND used in a scene I was writing.

      If it were in person, I would have said something directly – dealt with it somehow. Online it is harder.

      And it never hurts to examine my own behavior while I’m at it – I’m far from perfect.

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  2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    Like you, Alicia, I tend to feel stung when I’m surprised by meanness. And then surprised by how strongly I feel. Ugh! I never like it when that happens, and I never will. All I can do when it does happen is feel my feelings, process them, feel them, process them. For however long it takes me to get free of that “punched in the stomach” feeling.

    And, then, once I’ve regained my equilibrium, I always feel surprised that I have. That’s when I remember that, “when you point the finger, you’ve got three pointing back at you.” Meaning that the mean person is the one with the problem. But it takes me a while.

    My first two-star review was written by someone kind. He just said: “I’m not saying this book wasn’t good. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.” I could handle that! I haven’t yet gotten a mean low-star review. I suppose it will happen eventually. And I will see it, because I do read my reviews. Mainly because the positive ones are so nice! I love it when complete strangers say nice things about one of my stories. Quite a thrill.

    As far as using real life events in my writing…I do it all the time. Not usually the exact events (although I have used variations on actual events), but the feelings and motivations and such. Both good and bad. And, like you, one such scene featured both in book and blog! Writers…we write. 😀

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      If actors and writers couldn’t go to their own lives and experiences of being human, what would we use for raw material? It doesn’t always come and get used that immediately – I needed that feeling, and I was creating it out of previous experience – but the brand new one stung.

      They say you should let most experience sit and simmer a while before you use it, especially the bigger ones like death and birth and losing lovers. I say write it when it is fresh and raw – you can decide later whether you can allow yourself to be so exposed, but capture it as soon as you can, because it is never going to be as sharp again.

      Emotional metaphors, similes, and analogies – I still think the small percentage of writers in the community means we have to write for everyone who can’t. Stories are like talking to good friends.

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  3. Harliqueen

    They do say you write better when you have experienced what you’re trying to write! Though it is terrible that people can’t just take each others views, and even if they disagree, not just flat out say someone is wrong because of that belief.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      The experience was so timely I had to laugh.

      But yes, there is no reason to attack when you disagree. As a writer, I am experienced in putting words together for effect; deliberately, the behavior would qualify as actual malice. Unintentionally, it qualifies as arrogant.

      It’s a good thing MOST interactions are so positive.

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  4. The DC

    My quick response would be “it’s hard to fix stupidity or intolerance”,but not having read the whole thing that may not be fair,my friend…my best opinion and belief on similar subjects is this,I try and always respect others (opinions and beliefs),and as such,would not personally say “you’re wrong” on an opinionated subject (if it were a mechanical subject,something not dictated by opinions but rather facts 😉 )…if it helps,I have found your opinions and insights thoughtful and kind hearted,and they are always appreciated. Please don’t let one person’s rudeness/inconsiderateness bother you,as unfortunately,this is the way of the world these days it seems :/

    The DC

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      You’re correct – some things are hard to fix. I think this person was on the young, healthy, and vigorous side of the equation. Bless their enthusiasm and energy – may they use it for good.

      I suspect that I’d disagree on something with everyone – no big deal. Thanks for your kind words – and always interesting posts. I learn something every one.

      It wasn’t so much that I got bothered, though I did, but that I have come to expect reasonable civility in the places I frequent.

      I’m probably too tender – but the solution isn’t to toughen up; the solution is to be aware. And if I’m going to go out into the marketplace with my work, I’d better expect criticism fair and unfair because that seems to be what’s out there. The wonderful comments so far outweigh the negatives – meanwhile, I’m aware of a lot of my flaws, but look forward to each new one as a learning opportunity, so point ’em out as you see ’em, world.

      I had my first really nasty comment in moderation the other day, too – must be Spring.

      Don’t worry – that’s why we bloggers have the power to apply what John Scalzi calls the Mallet of Loving Correction. People who try to troll his blog get their words turned into puppies and flowers. It’s hilarious.

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      1. The DC

        Wise words,my friend,and an awesome view on things 😀 I’ll have to google him and see his comment mods,hahaha 😛

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          He states his comment policy clearly and unambiguously. Then he lets a few troll comments through, modified, so you can see what he means, and that he means it.

          After a couple of warnings, and modifications of the butterfly/kitten type, he gets tired and just removes that troll’s further comments. whatever.scalzi.com

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        2. The DC

          LOL,I’ve seen moderators of forums do similar,always amuses me,I’ll check him out,thanks for the info 🙂

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  5. serendipitydoit

    Sounds as if this person has a massive ego problem, Alicia. While it is okay to have a different opinion, it’s all in the tone of voice or the words we choose. Sadly, there will always be people who feel they have to put others down. When I was a member of an online writing group, although most of the reviews were very positive, it was the one scathing remark that left its imprint. Yes, it always hurts, because we are human.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I have a massive ego problem 🙂 – I still try to be civil! My mother brought me up well. She told me not to say things I couldn’t take back, because, while you can apologize until you’re blue in the face, you can unsay.

      Maybe by the time I’m old enough, I’ll be prudent.

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  6. juliabarrett

    Ah yes. People like that teach us valuable lessons – mostly (in the end) that they are not worth our time and trouble. Stings tho, doesn’t it. Gets easier.
    I think the most interesting thing about today’s social media, the most intriguing phenomena which very few people mention, is how loudly the ‘tolerant’ like to shout down those who have an opinion that differs from theirs. I imagine the person who behaved so rudely considers herself to be quite tolerant.
    If I’ve learned anything from people like that, I mean insofar as it applies to my work– well, they make good bullies. I can tack some of their less pleasant attributes onto my antagonists.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I hadn’t thought about the possibility that this person considered herself tolerant; I believed she considered herself RIGHT – and the only ‘right’ on the subject. Oh, and entitled to be rude about her ‘rightness.’

      Doesn’t make it hurt less, though, at the time. I THOUGHT I was inured to such – shows I’m not.

      There’s all kind of nastiness in the world, and I am usually not the target of it (sheltered life). It also reminded me to watch my own words and mouth, which sometimes have minds of their own. Who was it that said you should never be rude UNINTENTIONALLY?

      It stung, yes. I used it, and got two good pieces out of a bad: a post and a scene made better. So there. To make it even better, I prayed for her.

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