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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Guest Post: Killing Your Darlings (Or Trying Not To) by Dan Wells

Part of my job is writing. Part of my job is doing blogs and interviews and promotion to sell my writing. Part of my job is public speaking, on podcasts and conventions and such. But a big part of my job, I like to think, is hurting John Cleaver. He's the main character of my main horror series, and he does not have an easy life. That's the first question I ask when I start a new book: what horrible thing can I do to John this time? I've already tortured him, trapped him in a dungeon, taken away everyone he loves. How do I top that? How can I hurt him this time?

For The Devil's Only Friend, I thought of a really great way to hurt him.

John Cleaver is the main character of my horror series; he's a sociopathic teenager who hunts supernatural beings he calls demons. The first trilogy was about him in his own town, defending his neighbors and his family from monsters; the horror comes partly from the monsters and the people they kill, but also from John himself. He's obsessed with death, he's obsessed with serial killers, and we watch him walk a terrifying line between stopping the killers and becoming even worse than they are. By the end of that trilogy he's lost almost everything he has, except his integrity. The character arc that he follows, without being too spoilery, essentially boils down to "John learns how to feel."

Creating a second trilogy was half easy and half incredibly hard. The easy part were the monsters: I build each book by taking a standard serial killer behavior, like collecting body parts, or torture, or stalking, and then finding a supernatural spin on it. Two of the classic behaviors I hadn't used yet were cannibalism and communication--a lot of serial killers send letters to the police, and I had some great ideas on how to play with that idea, so in the book it went. Easy.

But the hard part, as always, was John. His character arc in the first trilogy, without being too spoilery (or too trite), was that he learned how to feel. He's not "normal" by any stretch of the imagination, but he's not the closed-off cipher he was in the first books. Now I needed to take him somewhere new, somewhere that still felt familiar for the fans, but that gave him another solid arc that would allow him to grow in new directions.

So: I needed a new emotional arc, and I needed to hurt him. How do you hurt a sociopath who's finally learned how to feel? You show him that feelings are bad just as often as they're good. You show him that connecting to people makes you vulnerable. You give him a heart, and then you break it.

I feel bad for John. He's a good guy, and he doesn't deserve all the crap I put him through. He especially doesn't deserve to be hunted by a demonic cannibal mastermind while his best friend rots in a mental ward. But somebody has to do it, John Cleaver is the man for the job.



Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic' review of I Am Not A Serial Killer
Read Fantasy Book Review of Mr. Monster
Read Fantasy Book Review of I Don't Want To Kill You
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Dan Wells

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION:  Dan Wells has a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Brigham Young University where he was an editor at The Leading Edge Magazine. Dan previously helped run “I Am Not A Serial Killer” was his debut novel. . He has been nominated for both the Hugo and the Campbell Award, and has won two Parsec Awards for his podcast Writing Excuses.


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