You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

I’m helping a friend work on a story right now, and it’s a rather strange one. It’s the story of a handsome, idealistic young man, just out of college, who starts a company. His goal is to bring down corrupt governments and help the poor and homeless around the world, so even though he has no training as a programmer, he starts a website—one that quickly makes him the most sought-after criminal in the world. He lives like a monk and works for sixteen hours per day, even though in a matter of months he amasses a fortune that at today’s valuation is worth billions of dollars.

To aid him in this project, he hires a disabled Mormon grandfather to help run the website—for $10 per hour. Why was the grandfather hired? Because he did “good work”—volunteer work to help drug addicts get off drugs and avoid overdoses.

So there are our two villains.

The hero of the story on the other hand runs an interdepartmental task force of super-cops from the DEA, FBI, Homeland Security, Secret Service, Postal Inspection Service, and elsewhere. He is mentally unstable, and this is his first undercover assignment for the DEA since he was hospitalized four years earlier.  The hero goes on a one-man crime-spree who literally will not stop at murder in his efforts to steal from the crooks.

The hero is aided by a Secret Service agent who has headed details to protect Michelle Obama, but he steals a million dollars of his own, and is later described by one long-time criminal prosecutor as “the most diabolical and evil man I’ve ever met.”

Of course, the story is true. It’s the tale of the Silk Road website, and has been featured in various news articles around the world, and will likely be a major motion picture in the near future.

The reason it is so twisted, so surprising, has a lot to do, I think, with the character’s perceptions and motivations.

For example, the villain in this case, looks at the dictatorships around the world, at the corrupt governments, and sees shadows of corruption in all of them. He believes that people will take drugs no matter how hard you try to stop them, and so decides that he can best help the world by taking part of the drug money and using it to dig wells in Africa and build shelters for the homeless. While his perceptions might seem strange, if you look closely at the evidence of corruption on a global scale, you can see that he’s not unreasonable. In fact, the corruption in America’s legal system, as seen in his own case, bolsters his arguments.

The disabled Mormon grandfather? At the time that this happens, the world is trying to recover from a global recession—a recession spurred on by the collusion of American bankers who made billions for their crimes and never served a day in jail. He is a long-time EMT who recently lost his business. Having four crushed disks in his back and having recently lost a kidney, he is struggling to take care of his family with a part-time job, when he’s offered a boon.

The hero, our corrupt DEA agent, is a young father who is fighting his own demons. In the midst of the recession, he sees an opportunity to make enough money to last a lifetime—and takes it.  So what if he gets an old man killed? He’s one of the bad guys, after all!

In my own fiction, I often wonder if my worlds are complex enough to mirror the real world, and if my characters are complex enough to feel real.  Orson Scott Card once said that a character can do just about anything, so long as his motivations, however strange they might seem, are consistent with his actions.  But somehow, I’ve always felt that I wanted another key in order to make sense of human behavior. I think that the key I’m looking for is “perceptions.”  How does my character perceive the world?

We perceive the world the way that we do in part because of our training. Because of the society that we grow up in, we become accustomed to seeing the world in a certain way, and our perception of the world is influenced by things like our gender, our age, our experiences, and our native intelligence.  So a sixty-year-old, white, American Mormon might see the world in a way that seems totally alien to a black, teenage, Muslim girl in Nigeria. Sometimes it is surprising that humans can communicate at all. As a sociologist I know once put it, “Biologically, all humans are pretty much the same, but on a social level there is no evidence that we are even from the same planet.”

To complicate the issue of characterization even further, I’m often impressed by how a person with completely honorable intentions can often achieve terrible results, and vice versa. Our idealistic young entrepreneur who wanted to fight poverty, for example, managed to become a drug supplier for millions of people—teens who died from overdoses, parents who committed terrible acts—robberies, murders, and rapes—while under the influence. He didn’t seem to recognize that with some drugs, you can’t take them responsibly. It is impossible to take them without harming your family, friends, and the world around you.

Meanwhile, our crooked cops managed to bring down a criminal empire.

So in the future, when writing my fiction I think that I want to play a bit harder with my characters, creating more diverse casts, while really pondering what it would be like in this world.

Live Writing Workshop

Quick Start Your Writing Career

Please join David for his new workshop, Quick Start Your Writing Career, held on June 30, 2018 at the the Provo Marriott Hotel and Conference Center at 101 W. 100 North, Provo, Utah 84601 USA. Ph. +1 801-377-4700.

The workshop will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a one-hour break for lunch. There are numerous restaurants near the hotel.

The workshop costs $99 for the day and lunch is not included. There is space for 80 attendees.

Dave will speak about the following subjects:

  1. Breaking onto the Bestseller Lists
  2. How to Get Discovered
  3. Defining Yourself As an Author
  4. Plotting Your Career
  5. Going Indie vs. Traditional Publishing
  6. Multimedia–Your Most Indispensable Asset
  7. How to Reach a Vast Audience
  8. Dealing with Agents, Editors, and Movie Producers.

 

Register here.

Fantasy Writing Workshop

YHA Oxford, Oxfordshire, England
August 22-August 28, 2018
Number of Students: Strictly Limited to 12
Number of Days: 7

Cost: $1,099 for the workshop. Lodging, food, and travel are all the student’s responsibility

TBD, Dublin, Ireland
August 7-August 13, 2019
Number of Students: Strictly Limited to 12
Number of Days: 7

Cost: $1,099 for the workshop. Lodging, food, and travel are all the student’s responsibility

Description: Join us for our most magical workshop ever! In this workshop, David Farland will be focusing on writing fantasy—building powerful magic systems, cultures, and worlds, creating fantasy characters, plotting fantasy, and writing powerful prose.

Students will need to bring a laptop, an unfettered imagination, and a strong work ethic. Being half-mad would also be a help.

This workshop will last three days longer than most of Dave’s workshops so that you will be able to focus on writing each day but still have some afternoons free to do some sightseeing.

Oxford: We will spend time visiting nearby sites like Stonehenge, The Eagle and Child Pub (where Tolkien and Lewis met with the Inklings writing group), Warwick Castle, Shakespeare’s home, and we will be within easy striking distance of London.

Dublin: We will spend time visiting nearby sights like The Book of Kells, Dublin Castle, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Register here.

Advanced Intensive Writing Workshop

St. George, Utah
Ramada Inn
1440 E St George Blvd,
St George, UT 84790
Phone: (435) 628-2828
October 22-26, 2018
10 Attendees Maximum
$799. Room, travel, and meals are separate

Prepare for National Novel Writing Month right in this workshop exclusively for those who would rather be dead than unread!

Dave is ratcheting up his popular Writing Mastery camp and this will be an advanced workshop where we perform daily writing exercises, give daily critiques, and work to improve our writing craft.

During the workshop, instruction and exercises will cover such topics as:

Adding intrigue to your tale
Creating tension
Using the eight kinds of hooks
Using appeals to various senses to hypnotize your reader
Weak appeals versus strong appeals versus “failed” appeals
The music of writing–assonance, consonance, metaphors, etc
Developing and using both your voice and your character’s voices
Advanced descriptive techniques
And more!

We will have at least ten assignments over the course of the class, and Dave will review each assignment and offer critiques. We will also invite other writers to offer their own insights.

During lunch and dinners, authors will be able to set up appointments to dine with David in order to talk about specific concerns that they have with their writing, or to plan their careers.

Note to David Farland’s Advanced Intensive Writing Workshop Participants: You must bring a laptop computer with you. If you don’t own one, then borrow, rent, or buy one.

While the goal for this workshop is to allow the writer to have fun, to get inspired, to work in an intellectually rich and emotionally fulfilling environment, this will be David’s most intensive class ever!

Register here.

Writing Events

The St. George Literary Arts Festival will be held May 18-19, 2018 on the campus of Dixie State University (St. George, Utah). Picking up where the very popular St. George Book Festival left off, the Literary Festival offers something for all ages and all literary interests. Workshops, activities and other presentations will cover a variety of literary topics, including poetry, children’s literature, fiction, non-fiction, contemporary literary forms, publication and lyric writing. Come enjoy one of the many workshops by local and out of state professionals in the literary arts, or simply browse the booths of authors and others. Get a book signed by one of your favorite authors. An inexpensive lunch will be served (cash only) from 12:00pm to 1:00pm. Prizes will be awarded to local talent. Come join us for what is certain to be a phenomenal event in Southern Utah.

One thought on “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

  1. Rich Finn

    I’m reading American Kingpin right now – all about the Silk Road site. It’s riveting. All kinds of interesting themes: ideology taken too far, law enforcement & temptation, and how seemingly little choices can lead to huge ones later – where you don’t even recognize yourself.

    Reply

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