A few days ago, I had an idea for a book. The characters would be troubled, not as victims are troubled, but as bad choice-makers who pay for their folly with crippled souls. They would be motivated to these choices by the messed-up society around them (a common excuse), a society with abundant pretense of self-righteousness and a great hunger for material purchases.
I wrote down the bare threads for the idea in a file and saved it. I know I could write this book: I have the background and the platform. The main protagonists would be a married couple who do each other and society more damage than good. Isn’t that what makes the pages turn in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn? Flynn’s two liars dupe the reader as a mystery is spread out for the reader to unravel.
As I unraveled Flynn’s mystery with rare speed (for myself), zooming through pages on an e-reader, I felt increasing disgust, especially as I came to an unexpected ending where crime does not pay and the bad get what they want. I know there must be a lot of people like these protagonists in the world. Think of all the news tidbits we have read and know not the endings to. Not every miscreant is in prison or dead.
Having put all this down, I would like to add that I do care how I feel at the end of a book. I believe in the One God, Creator of all Things. I do not insist my characters all believe that, nor the characters I read about, but I like it if some character in a book has a conscience. I like it if someone remembers the Hereafter, which in my view, as a Muslim, is more real than the Here Below. I have a detective in my new novel, Wax Works, who is a lapsed Catholic and who does not attend church. He does have thoughts about the Hereafter, at least once, because he is trying to make sense of where his daughter’s soul is.
A writer thinks of possible topics for new books not just because he or she feels capable, but because agents will probably like the topic. I have read a lot of comments on agent profiles and blogs about what agents would simply love to have represented. Quite a few have mentioned Gone Girl.
I personally do not like the lesson or feelings evoked by Gone Girl even if I admire the book for its creative audacity. I was a viewer of Breaking Bad, and I felt very satisfied with the ending for the two main protagonists in that series–crime paid, brains triumphed, and repentance won a new chance at a redeemed life. These are things I believe in, and my children believe in, and apparently, my society believes in (judging by the number of viewers).
Although I need miscreants and sinners in my books, I the writer have to decide how much they hurt everyone else, if they are caught, and if there is hope at the end. Writing about troubled souls is a troubling experience. My incredibly talented friend, Connie Kirchberg, just finished a novel about a truly troubled boy. I was witness to her suffering as she got into his head.
My most recent book, Wax Works, is a creep-fest that was fun to write. I built the tunnel and filled it with monsters, like a carnival designer. Now I look at this new idea and wonder if I want to torture myself with two icky people.