My work typically doesn't deal with the perpetrators of incestuous sexual abuse, or with their victims who find empowerment (and closure) via a Smith & Wesson snub-nosed revolver. I don't typically write characters who are vicious and nasty, the kind of people who make you recoil and cringe with revulsion and anger. The things I post here don't usually leave you speechless or punch you in the gut, a sentiment expressed by many of the comments on that story.
To be honest, I think that kind of writing is too easy.
It's much harder to make you laugh or to make you like a character. It's really hard to make you like someone so much that you feel bad when bad things happen to them. To make you hate someone in a flash piece is pretty easy. I just have to make them obviously despicable.
- An old woman who slaps a small child across the face, hard and repeatedly, while hissing, "Stop it! Stop crying, be quiet! Stop it!"
- A sweaty man who is deliberately rude to teenage checkout clerks because he knows they can't talk back to him.
- The self-righteous couple who quietly steal the "bad" books from the library in order to protect the community from "filth" and "perversion".
- That guy up the street, the one with the beer belly and the distorted tattoos on his flabby arms, who thinks that anybody who didn't serve in the military shouldn't have any say in how the country is run.
All of these are tropes and archetypes, of course. I could make them rude or racist, arrogant or greedy, foul with body odor or leering with unwanted sexual advances. Pretty straightforward to make them hateful, actually.
What would be harder, much harder, would be to present you with someone you instantly hate, then make you come to like them as the story unfolds. John Grisham did that with the white supremacist father on death row in "The Chamber". That's not the kind of transmutation you can pull off in a flash fiction piece; there just isn't room for it.
Rest assured, however, that in my longer works, I'm trying to do just that kind of thing. Complex characters with complicated and conflicting motivations, making the best decision possible among a collection of bad options. Sometimes they have sex (or almost do), and this can be either a good thing or a really, really bad idea, depending on the circumstances. They make mistakes, suffer, learn and grow.
Some of my characters are happy, then sad, then happy again. Some were never really happy to begin with, although they've been successful in hiding their pain and loneliness, even from themselves. Those characters would recoil in fear if happiness were to present itself, preferring the security of their prison cell to the uncertainties of the wide, sunny world. The process of coaxing them into the light takes some time, and the telling of it takes space.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, just because I don't typically write mean, rotten, nasty stories doesn't mean I don't know how to.
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