Monday Musings – WWWWWH Questions

Last Monday, I began the process of taking the kernel of an idea and expanding it. People always ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” Well, there’s not a straight-forward answer. An idea is like a child. In the hot, sweaty throes of life a few bits of information merge, and BAM! Life. Some might consider this an idea, but it is just the idea of an idea. It holds some promise, but the writer’s job is to determine “Does this hold water?”, “Is there weight to it?” and “Will it stand the test of time?”

Our kernel, so far, has been about a person who is a Sin-Eater, someone who takes on the sins, the pain and the darkness of another or others. We came up with a name: Simon Peter. To refresh your memory, here is the blurb we ended with:

This leaves us with the framework, the bones, the skeleton of our character: Simon Peter, a lapsed Catholic, who speaks before he thinks. He listens to others, which means he has empathy, and can be a rock, a solid foundation when he makes his mind up.

In the comments, you dear reads, asked to move on to discussing “Why does he eat the sins of others?” This brings in the title of today’s post: WWWWWH Questions. Pronounced “wuuuuuuuuh”, like the sound of deadlines whizzing by. Not really. Ok, maybe a little. You learned these in grade school (I hope): Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. These are the questions that you apply to your kernel of an idea. Today, we answer Why.

Simon Peter, the Sin-Eater, had a wife and couldn’t please her, so he walled her in their basement and… oh, sorry. I got carried away there. That’s how my mind works, though. Did you see what I did? Simon Peter? Peter Peter the Pumpkin Eater? Mixed with a little Edgar Allen Poe and BAM! Something interesting comes out. Simon Peter, our lapsed Catholic, lapsed because his wife left him, or moreover, because God would not answer his prayers. In depression, anguish and grief, he lashed out. He cursed God, and so, God (Perhaps? Or maybe he just believes God did so) cursed him.

Characters with abilities tend to work better when they are conflicted about those abilities. While someone like Captain America is happy with his super-strength and makes a decent character, someone like Jessica Jones, who is tortured over her powers and what happens when she uses them, is a more compelling character. And that’s what we want: a compelling character.

All of this, still does not answer “Why does he eat the sins of others?” It tells us why he has the ability, but not why he chooses to use it. The great thing about people who have lapsed from religion, they have normally done so because they see hypocrisy running rampant. That is what our Simon Peter has seen. He sees people who care more about the price of their house, the clothes they were, and who gives how much to the church, rather than caring for those who truly need help. Simon may be lapsed, but he still wants to help people. So, he walked away from it all. The big, fancy house, the beautiful wife who cheated on him, the six-figure career.

Now, he lives day-to-day. He works odd jobs to make enough to get by on, to help others. He works in the inner city, he travels, hitchhikes and plays the hobo life, to get from place to place, to help those who truly need it. “Why does Simon eat the sins of others?” Because everyone wants and deserves to be loved. Simon takes their pain and darkness, bears their sins so that they can be.

Let me know in the comments what you would like to work on next Monday!

  • Does he enjoy it?
  • Where is he from?
  • What does he do, is this his full-time job?

Cheers!

Darius

 

 

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The Executioner’s Journal

Chapter 3 (Cont.)

The condemned man leaned back in the wooden chair, staring up at the Executioner.

“I knew him better than most. Better than ye even.”

The mention of his father jarred him, put him off balance. This criminal… anarchist… claiming to have known his father better than he had, was unnerving.

“Doubtful.”

“Aye, believe what ye like.” The man said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Yer father was a good man, better than wat people gave ‘im credit for.”

His words drew the Executioner back.

“What do you mean?”

The condemned man stared up at him, hazel eyes clear and intelligent.

“Ye think ye knew ‘im, aye? Ye dinna know him. At least naught the man that were yer true father.”

The Executioner stood up from the table and glared down at the man.

“You speak in riddles and lies. Speak plain. What are you trying to say?”

A grin broke his dirt flecked face.

“Either way ye’ll put yer axe across me shoulders and…” he drew his finger across his throat. “Pop goes the weasel, aye?”

The Executioner nodded.

“Aye.”

“Promise it’ll be quick.”

The Executioner nodded.

The condemned man considered him, allowing it to sink in. Finally, he spoke.

“The man they say is yer father, ain’t. Go speak with the anarchs, they’ll tell ye true.”

The Executioner stared down at him, then turned and walked to the gate. He banged his gloved fist against the cell, and a guard appeared to let him out. When he finally was outside, he glanced back at the condemned man.

“I promised, it will be quick.”

The Executioner’s Journal

Chapter 3 (Cont.)

“The King rules by the divine right handed to him…”

“By the mother.” The condemned man interrupted him.

It was jarring. Having this uneducated man, someone who faced death before him, and seemed not to care.

“Yes, the Mother.” The High Lady of the Moon came instantly to his thoughts.

“The same mother yer king seeks to topple. Burying thousands of years of ancient tradition, for wat?”

The Executioner stared at him. He could not fathom what the man played at, but underneath his questions there was something, something he danced about.

“I do not speak for the King. I serve at his pleasure.”

Another hacking, coughing laugh from the man.

“Aye, he’s pleasure.” Hack, hack, hack again. “Wat one man does for another man’s pleasure ignores the backs upon which he builds he’s kingdom.”

There it was. The thread of the anarchists, that the king was a tyrant, a slaver, using the people he ruled for his own gain.

“Those same backs that he seeks to lift up? Through increased education. Through improving cities, towns and villages with the tax that is collected? The tax you stole.”

The condemned man turned and spat on the cold, stone slab beneath them. He reached up, using the dirty palm of his hand to wipe away the spittle.

“The same people he taxes into poverty Seizes their farms, leaving them homeless and copperless. Hav’ ye seen their bodies, Executioner? Rotting in the ditch along the western roads?”

The Executioner stared at him. He did not come here to debate. He came here to fulfill tradition. To ensure that the man had made his peace and accepted his fate.

“Two days hence, you will walk in the cold morning light. Seven hundred and seventy-five steps to the gallows. There you will kneel before the block. I will raise my great axe and in one, fell swipe… separate your head from your shoulders.”

“Straight ta business, eh? Canna be dissuaded from yer appointed duty. Jest like yer father.”

The words cut to the quick on the Executioner.

“How did you know my father?”

The Executioner’s Journal

Chapter 3 (Cont.)

The condemned man stared up at him, over the rim of the half-drunk wooden cup of water.

“Aye, just like ye will do to me.” He answered.

The Executioner sat down across from. The wooden table separating them by only a few feet, but it felt like a deep chasm, one that he had to cross to ensure the man had come to terms with what would happen in a few days’ time.

“I was told, by the Governor, that you and a group of anarchists, attacked a royal transport, killed five guardsmen in the ensuing attack, held the Royal Tax Collector hostage and relieved him of four coffers collected from Hearthholme… does that sum up the charges against you?” He asked the hunched over man.

It was normal for people to deny their actions. For them to reason them away with logic, or have excuses for why it had to be done. The Executioner was taken aback by the condemned’s response.

“Aye, that sums it up tidy-like. There was a sixth guard, I put an arrow in his calf. Pro’ly have to walk with a cane.” He answered.

The Executioner stared at the man. There was no remorse on his face. He did not hold an ounce of guilt for his actions.

“Do you wish to discuss why you committed such crimes?”

The man hacked and coughed.

“Crimes? Mayhap we should discuss that. Ye think these actions are crimes, have ye asked yerself why?”

“The King determines who governs each region, they hold those who have broken his laws accountable. By the edict of the King, your actions violate those laws.” The Executioner replied.

“Aye, and by what right does yer King rule? Hmmm? Who gave him the authority to make these laws?”

The two men stared at each other, in the freezing gloom of the prison cell.

Monday Musings

Mind of a Writer

I want to get back into writing posts here weekly. One of my favorite things to do is finding new ways to consider old questions. Every time I read interviews with authors, one of the questions that always comes up is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Stephen King answers this question in On Writing with “a small, bloodthirsty elf who lives in a hole under my desk”(check out this post). I’ve heard other responses, such as “There’s a warehouse loading dock on 6th and Lake if you’re there 6:42 a.m., a guy name Neil sells ideas for $5 a pop.” While these snarky ideas are meant to answer a question that most writers can’t answer with one definitive sentence, there is a way to answer. It will just take more words than you want to digest in a sentence or blog post.

I want to marry these two ideas. Writing again on my blog, and answering this ages old question. Each Monday, I will post that looks at the process of ideas in-depth. For the inaugural post, we will start with the kernel of an idea:

sin-eaters

Some of you might be asking, what the fuck is a sin-eater? Some of you might have some ideas. I used this in the novel I am writing, a page a day over 2016, (The Executioner’s Journal). A sin-eater, in ancient times, was someone who symbolically ate the sins of others. Some would travel the world, going village to village. They were fed meals that symbolically held the sins of those who lived there. Stephen King took this kernel of an idea and turned it into his long-running serial turned novel turned movie “The Green Mile”. John Coffey was a sin-eater. He took the darkness, the pain, the sins of others, into himself, so that they might live.

So… that’s been done. I love the idea of someone taking the pain, the darkness, the hurt of others onto themselves so that those people might have a better life. Delving into this idea, I can see that someone who is a sin-eater would have a lot of emotions to deal with. Especially ones that are not their own. Perhaps they would also have memories, latent, extra things left over from the actual sin.

What do we have so far? The idea of a sin-eater. Someone who eats (in some way, perhaps a symbolic, perhaps a literal way) the darkness, pain, and sins of others. When he does so (He? Did I just decide that? Yeah, he just came to mind. I write about women, I write about men, this idea speaks as a he to me.)… when he does so, he has these residual emotions, feelings and sometimes memories leftover.

This leaves a lot of questions for us. Who is this sin-eater? Why does he eat the sins of others? Does he enjoy it? Where is he from? What does he do, is this his full-time job? Questions are good! They spur on further character development. It means that, so far, our idea is holding some water. It might be muddy water that we have to stir with our fingers, looking for a bit of clarity, but there it is.

In this installment of “Monday Musings”, we’re going to answer one of those questions, and then decide what we want to work on next Monday. I’ll pick this time, next time, you get a voice in deciding. I’m going to choose “Who is this sin-eater?” This question is packed with tons, upon tons of other questions about small details and characteristics. Today, we’re going to go with his name. What is our Sin-Eater’s name?

Naming a character can be daunting. In fact, it’s probably the one hurdle that I see most people having a problem with in writing, table-top roleplaying and MMO games. I start with an idea of who this character is. I look for something unique. Our character, the sin-eater, is taking the sins of others, their darkness and pain, and taking it into himself. That’s much of what a martyr does. So, I point a browser to this page to get some ideas.

Halfway down the page, I find this blurb:

“Brought to Christ by his brother Andrew, Peter is known as the disciple who often spoke before he thought. After Christ’s death, Peter was the fiery preacher prominently seen in the first half of the book of Acts. He founded the church at Antioch and traveled preaching mainly to Jews about Jesus Christ.

Peter was martyred under Nero’s reign. He was killed in Rome around the years 64 to 67. Tradition holds that he was crucified upside down. Like Andrew, his brother, he is said to have refused to be crucified in the same manner as Christ because he was unworthy to be executed in the same way as the Lord.”

That one line speaks volumes to me: “Peter is known as the disciple who often spoke before he thought.” I like characters that have a will of their own. Looking at any baby name book/website tells us that Simon means “to listen, to hear” and Peter means “rock.” So here we have a guy who is headstrong, he speaks before he thinks, but he listens, and he can be a rock, a solid foundation.

Our sin-eater is named Simon Peter. Which also tells me that his family, if not himself, are Catholics. I like the idea of having faith, but having doubt as well. Peter was the apostle who denied Jesus, so our Simon Peter will also have an estranged relationship with the church and God.

This leaves us with the framework, the bones, the skeleton of our character: Simon Peter, a lapsed Catholic, who speaks before he thinks. He listens to others, which means he has empathy, and can be a rock, a solid foundation when he makes his mind up.

So what do you want to work on next Monday? Vote on the following questions in the comments section and the one with the most comments is our task for next week!

  • Why does he eat the sins of others?
  • Does he enjoy it?
  • Where is he from?
  • What does he do, is this his full-time job?

Cheers!

 

The Executioner’s Journal

The Executioner's Journal (1)

Chapter 3 (Cont.)

The Executioner poured the water from a clay decanter and set it on the wooden table before the condemned.

“I am here to listen. To understand. To help you make sense and peace with the finality of your last breaths in this world.” He said, taking his own seat across from the shackled man.

He reached out, the chains weighing his arms down, and fumbled with the cup.

“Could ye… at least free me hands?” the condemned man begged.

The Executioner had been through this same dance many times over the decades. Those who would kneel before his blade would use any chance to free themselves if they had not already accepted their fate. Each time one tried to run, tried to overpower him, or tried to fight, their last days were only made excruciatingly painful. The Executioner reached over and removed the shackles from the man’s wrists.

He picked up the cup, pressing it to his lips and gulped down the cool, fresh water, like a man who had just crossed a great desert and found himself at an oasis.

“When you are ready, we may speak freely. The guards have gone.” The Executioner offered.

The condemned glanced at the door, back to his cup and finally up to the steady hazel eyes boring into his soul. The Executioner waited for him to finish drinking. To find a place to start. At times they fell straight into it, others they need to approach it from a different angle, like a hunter stalking a large cat. The man stared down into the cup for a long time, before speaking.

“My Da was a farmer under King Reginald. He grew apples. Royal Reds they was called. I was told before I was born that they were the sweetest you could find across the nine kingdoms, and me Da was given a writ what said his were to be used by the royal court only.”

The Executioner nodded. “Your family held much esteem then.”

“Aye, ye could say that. Until his and her Ladyship’s heads was removed from their shoulders, like…”

“Like I will do to you.”

The Executioner’s Journal

Chapter 3

            “I am not here to make decisions upon your guilt or innocence. I am here to carry out the order of execution. If you wish to speak of your sins, I will listen. As the customs of old dictate, I have eaten them, and you are absolved.” The Executioner said. “What remains, between the two of us, is a short walk, five steps, and the keen edge of my axe.”

The condemned looked up at him, through scraggly, dirty hair. A smile split his cracked, parched and scarred lips. The one eye that was not swollen shut regarded him with something akin to mirth.

“Does that mean we’ll kiss and hold hands all the way to the end? Before ye lop off me head, you’ll whisper sweet things in me ears?”

The man hacked, coughed and then spat out a wad of phlegm onto the dirty cell floor. They were locked in together, and the guards had left, thankfully. The Executioner disliked taking a confession before witnesses. He had been forced to do so, time and again, in cities where the old ways had been thrown out. Here, thankfully, in the north, some still held to them.

“No.” He said simply.

The condemned man eyed him. He swung his head, flipping the dirty hair from his face so that he could have a better view of the Executioner. The haughty, prideful, challenging look fell away, replaced now with something close to sadness. The man pulled himself up on the stool that he had provided when the guards allowed him entry.

“Perhaps a cup of water?” He asked.

The Executioner, while an instrument of the law and the left hand of the King, was not without mercy. This lost, poor soul would swiftly be ushered from this world and into the court of his Mistress. He would find an entire existence, one that spanned for all eternity, would be his punishment or reward. A cup of cool, clean water was the least he could provide for him.