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:
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?