Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Dilemma of Nice while writing mysteries or How one's nationality influences one's art...

I am Canadian. The defining characteristic of being a Canadian is that we are 'nice'. Yikes! For more on this read Will Ferguson's scathing and hilarious polemic 'Why I Hate Canadians'. Niceness isn't a bad thing. Especially when you're young - say eight or so.
'Dear Aunt Penny, I liked the green tuque you knit for me. It is nice. We had a nice Christmas. I'm going to my friend Sheila's house. She is nice and she likes me because I am nice. Bye now. And I nearly forgot - did you have a nice Christmas? Yours, Jannie'
It starts to wear a bit as one gets older. My friend Julia lived with her first husband in India for awhile. When they first arrived they lived in a hotel. One morning Julia became impatient with the maitre d' who greeted her every morning with "Sorry!" said loudly and cheerfully. Julia asked him why he did this and he answered very perplexed "I thought you were Canadians..." When falling against a lamp post in a drunken moment, 99.8% of Canadians apologize to the lamp post. We are nothing if we aren't nice. And we don't want to be nothing right?
Why I am going on about this you might wonder? And because I am nice I will relieve your stress. I am going on about this because being nice is a dilemma when writing a novel. In particular a mystery. I have spoken of my problem with trying to therapize my characters so that everyone is happy - well this is I suppose, a subdivision of that.
Yesterday I realized that my murderer is way too nice. I'm not going to spoil future readers with too much detail but I had tried to make a murderer who had every reason to murder - for whom, indeed, it was not only inevitable to murder but really any well meaning person would have done the same. That held up for the first murder but it fell apart during the second. My choice was to make someone else the murderer or change the character of my character if you follow. I'm doing the latter. I won't make this person completely evil or anything but I will give them some flaws that one might expect to find in a killer.
Now I am wondering are there any national characteristics that influence your writing? If you are Dutch do you worry about cleaning things up? If you are from the United States does a hero come in and save the day? Please excuse my vast generalizations but that is what we're talking about, no? (And just so I justify my choices because I am nice that way - I was married to a Dutch man and lived in the states for awhile in my youth.) Or perhaps it is an influence from a smaller community. I live in a 'have-not' province and wonder if that makes me always equate poverty with being good and having a tonne of dough with being evil?
Let me know...

21 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Jane - That's a really interesting question - how one's culture/nationality influences what and how one writes. I think there really is an influence. As you say, a person can overgeneralize, and there are always exceptions to the "rule," but still, culture has a profound effect on us. Why not on how we write?

Lola Sharp said...

Quite an intriguing post. I come from a mish-mash heritage, have lived all over the U.S. and traveled much of the western world. I'm unsure how precisely that has influenced my writing, other than I am a sum of all my experiences, thus my writing is a sum of all my experiences. (as it is for every writer/person)

I loved the photos of your garden and the non-parental tree house discovery. Beautiful. :)

Love,
Lola

Jan Morrison said...

Margot - OK, now spill - How does it influence YOU! I want to know. ;)

Mason Canyon said...

Very interesting post. One thing about your 'nice' killer, no one would suspect him. :)

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Jan Morrison said...

Hi Lola - thanks for coming by! Yep, that is true and I think it is also true that it is very difficult to suss out our own bias and inclination. I'm an airforce brat so travelled far and wide too - definitely an influence still.
Mason - so true and so I might make the killer still a very likeable character that hides their wound well.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Very interesting! I think my nationality/culture has influenced me A LOT! Australians are very forthright, say what's on their mind, no beating about the bush. I'm pretty sure I write like that. Not afraid to write what I think, and never 'euphemize' (if that's a word) anything.

Jen said...

I loved this post!! How nice!! Teehee! Okay so I have a canadian friend who indeed is very nice however she says the same thing about me. She says I'm almost nicer than she is (impossible, lol) but being from the midwest and a small town in Iowa I find myself wondering if we really are just nice people, moving to a bigger city in a bigger state has lead me to believe I am right.

I too would apologize to the lamp post, but people here in Houston, they don't apologize for anything. I think I'll take the niceness and run with it.

As for writing I run into the same thing, I have a great story line for the story (the collector) and it's a murder novel, yet I'm too nice while writing it. Thanks the hubs for rescuing me and making me realize nice murders just won't do!

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Oh dear...where does this put me? Canadian (so I try to be nice) writing about mysteries taking place in England (so polite). I don't think I write mysteries that are nice or polite - but I do try to write characters that are various shades of grey. Is this the polite or nice thing to do? Oh dear, again.

Helen Ginger said...

Interesting question. I guess I write about Americans because I know them best. I don't think I'd be qualified to write about Canadians because I know so few. I do hope that folks don't judge Americans by what they see on TV, in movies or on the news, though!

Helen
Straight From Hel

Watery Tart said...

*gigglesnort* You ARE nice, Jan! I frankly suffer from that too--I am constantly trying to redeem my villains (teach them they are wrong and reform them)--I think that is my Pacific Northwest Tolerance though--people doing bad things do them for a REASON--we should be COMPASSIONATE and HELP THEM. US is very regional that way. Makes it very hard to write an evil person (unless they are suffering from a psychosis or something). Thus far I have addressed it by having a larger entity responsible... a 'body' of some sort be the basis for evil, so certain members can be perceived as being manipulated into behaving badly. That is easier, as I do not trust business, religion, or... pretty much any big body of decision makers... (I'm a conspiracy theorist)--yup... Pacific Northwest Roots...

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Ha! My mother was Canadian, my father's entire family is Canadian, (he's the only one born in the states), and my sister lives in Canada. I used to live in Canada a very long time ago. Nice, oh God yes, Canadians are nice. And funny. Really funny. Not a bad combo. But, it's sort of unusual, (the idea of a nice murderer), could sell a million books.

Clarissa Draper said...

This is one of the 'nicest' and thought provoking posts I've read in a long time. As a Canadian myself, I'm nice. However, my husband, a Canadian from Sask, he's not. Well, not as nice as I am. However, I've lived in Mexico these past 4 years and I think it's clouded the niceness in me. I'm more of a realist now, I've been corrupted by corruption and injustice. I think my niceness is part of my writing but I think that other situations have shaped my writing. Nice to meet you.

And may I add, I miss Tim Hortons... and hockey.

CD

Talli Roland said...

So true! I think nationality can definitely influence what we write and how we create our characters. Interesting - I never thought about that before!

Words A Day said...

In my wip my main characters notice the weather an awful lot, speak at cross purposes, are obsessed with the dead, suffer twinges of guilt on every page and quote their mothers...what nationality am I?!!!

Jemi Fraser said...

LOL :) As another Canadian I found this hilarious. I've actually put aside a novel to marinate for a bit. I've got to decide whether to keep working on it or not. The problem: everyone is just a little too nice :) *sigh*

Jan Morrison said...

I cannot believe what I just did! I went away from this before I finished and lost it all! repsonses to gazillions of you. OK Back at it - us Canadians don't balk at a bit a work...
A-A - that's why I'm mad for Australian writers! I love their humour and their straightforwardness. Yes!
Jen - oh yah, you're a Canadjun, eh? I thought Texans were the height of friendliness! Keep digging.
Elspeth - Your 'oh dear' is a dead give away...
Helen - well you know some Canadians. We don't confuse you with tv shows, I hope. Maybe a bit! But hey, Julia Child is an American and Mary Tyler Moore - who is nicer than these two?
Tartlett - oh you nice tart you!reforming villains indeed...
Elizabeth - I remember that you have Canadian roots - western right? Maybe a nice and funny murderer?
Clarissa - thank you so much! You just made my day...(you don't really miss Tim Horton's do you? Just the idea of Tim's probably - not the actual coffee? Hockey - mais oui. quelle domage that Montreal lost.)
Talli - and you're an expat aren't you? that is lots to think about.
Word a Day - hmmm. the dead, the weather, guilt - must be Catholic, must be rainy, must have a writer who wrote 'The Dead' must be Irish!
Jemi - well my fellow Canuk - marinate away. It's good for them - just like steaks - but remember, some day the meat must hit the grill!

Gardeningbren said...

Okay..there's a whole lot here to respond to... I won't right now.....BUT...I do have to say...I was in Liverpool two days ago...talked to a couple from the USA...and at the end of it all he says..."where do I go to find a rude Nova Scotian?".... meaning...we are all just so darn nice..and polite and kind and sincere and just so lovely lovely... thank you very much.

Don't know what you are going to do about that murderer though...maybe he or she doesn't have to murder the second time..maybe...he was just too nice and thought...I can't do this....)))

Jan Morrison said...

hey Brenda! oh, I don't know. Could you be nice and murder someone or some two? We'll see. How does your garden grow? I came home to find the chooks in my new perennial bed. grrrrr.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

My sleuths are definitely unlikely heroes that come in and take care of business. :)

Southerners are nice, too, so I know what you mean. People are startled by how chatty strangers are in the grocery store here...

Ann said...

In my writing I notice, fragmented sentences….I know that is a grammar thing, still! There is guilt, superstition and the weather.

Jan Morrison said...

Elizabeth - I am so positive you are a Canadian - torn from your country by some bizarre fate! Though, I know southerners are nice - they are always asking me to return to their land and inquiring after my ability to listen!
Ann - you Irish woman you. I think sentence fragments could also indicate that one comes from the land of mothering where one's focus is constantly interupted.