In books, films and suchlike, if there’s a character who is an awkward loner, things will go one of three ways. 1) The awkward loner will be the villain, and probably consoling themselves over the awkward aloneness by killing people in convoluted ways. 2) The awkward loner will die tragically, perhaps unnecessary. Awkwardness and aloneness will facilitate the death. 3) A kind person will save the awkward loner from themselves, allowing them to become beautiful, loveable, extroverted and worthwhile.
As an awkward loner, I have a problem with this. Yes, humans are social creatures, yes we evolved to live in tribes. Yes, collaboration is a wonderful, essential thing. But even so, some of us do not do these things well, and it would be nice not to have that characterised as being doomed, evil or in need of rescue. I can be sociable when necessary, in small doses. I’m blessed with knowing a great many people. I’m not good at closer friendships. I don’t let many people in – nor do I especially want to.
We make stories out of life and life out of stories. The narrower the stories are for a set of people, the more of a problem it is. You don’t have to go far back in the history of film to find a time when people of colour on the screen were only ever servants or criminals. We still don’t see many action or leadership roles for women, especially not when compared to the ‘eye candy’ roles. If a person in a story or film isn’t straight, all too often that’s a plot point. It’s hard to imagine being straight as a plot point, even in a romance. The shy ones, the odd ones… we get over it, or we die.
Some of the reasons for this are artistic. It isn’t easy to write a full length novel about a person who mostly doesn’t interact with anyone else. I know this, because I’ve tried before and failed. However, right now I’ve got 60 pages of handwritten story (and no idea what that means as a word count) in first person, where that first person is an oddity, a loner, not prone to close or sustained friendships. It’s working, and one of the reasons its working is that this character does stuff, and doesn’t sit round waiting to have something to react to. It’s made me realise how often in fiction what we get are stories of reaction – be that foiling the plot, solving the crime, taking down the evildoer… the momentum in stories is often created by a character or two who we don’t see much of.
I had thought it was just me. I found when writing my most recent novel (When We Are Vanished, out this May) that it was difficult writing a character who was really making things happen. But then I started thinking about it, and in genre fiction, where things tend to happen, it’s often this way.
Given how many stories there are of the lone wolf with the deadly plot that someone else has to unravel and solve, I thought it would be interesting to try and tell a story from inside that. From the perspective of the plotter, and the loner. So far so good. I promise you this much: She is not going to fall neatly into the solitary villain archetype. She is not going to die tragically. She is not going to be saved from herself to become something more sociably acceptable. And neither am I.