What Stace had to say on Saturday, November 25th, 2006
Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I’ve been seeing sentiments of this sort a lot lately, in various writers’ groups and blogs. The idea that it’s somehow shameful and wrong to be jealous of another’s success in any area, that we should all feel nothing but joy when someone else does well, seems a permanent fixture these days.


While I agree that we should be happy for our friends when they do well–and I have no trouble being so–the fact is, if you’re a writer, and you think people shouldn’t feel envy, despair, anger, or sadness when other people make it in the world, I wonder about your actual writing.

The fact is, people are, well, basically shitty. We try to be good people. Most of us succeed. But how many people have you ever met whom you honestly and truly believe have never felt envy or anger? Who’ve never watched a TV show about the homes of rich people and felt that little pang of jealousy or dissatisfaction with their own lives? Or seen a friend of their get promoted and, even under the true happiness they undoubtedly hold for that friend, still think, “Why couldn’t it be me?”

That’s human nature. It is human nature to envy, to covet. It wouldn’t be in the ten commandments as something we all shouldn’t do if it was something people didn’t do to begin with. You don’t feel the need to warn people, for example, to eat food if they want to live. Because they do it anyway. They feel hungry and they want to eat. Hunger isn’t something most people can control (they can ignore it, sure, but not control it). Neither are our more negative emotions.

And if you want to be a writer, if you want to create realistic characters, you need to accept and acknowledge that people can be nasty little creatures. Even the best of us can’t be good all the time. And even if we behave well, we still feel it. Those negative emotions seethe and writhe beneath the surface of our cheerful smiles. “Congratulations” comes out of our mouths through gritted teeth. Not all the time, no. But a character who, like Melanie Wilkes, only ever truly feels joy and pride in the accomplishments of others either has no ambitions in life at all, or is a Mary Sue. A spineless, dull, loathesome sort of cypher swirling through the pages of our books.

People don’t identify with such characters. Okay, some people might, but I worry about their mental health. It’s the flaws of our characters, as much as their strengths, that make them interesting to us and our readers. Their false pride, their arrogance, their jealousy, their lust and anger. These are universal emotions just as much as happiness and love.

If you only show the good side of humanity, and ignore the bad, you’re not creating humans. You’re creating bland space-fillers.

People feel badly about things sometimes. Let them feel it–whether it’s people on a message board or people in your books.

23 comments to “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

  1. Bernita
    · November 25th, 2006 at 6:41 am · Link

    Surely, I’ve been reading different message boards!

  2. Elle
    · November 25th, 2006 at 7:42 am · Link

    On the one hand, I’m nodding my head in agreement because I’ve been seeing the same phrase in a few places I hang out at as well. Only in those cases people were purposefully stirring shit up and others, rather than leaving well enough alone or simply agreeing to disagree would take the bait and an all out fight would ensue.

    On another hand, I was about mid-way through your post when Melanie Wilkes popped into my head and then within two sentences you mention her too! I agree, it’s difficult to believe such a character could be real. Someone needs to write some fan fiction about her and the double life she led. We all know she was best buddies with Belle Watlin and that they worked together! 😛

  3. Anonymous
    · November 25th, 2006 at 10:50 am · Link

    When it comes to the development of our characters, this is the best of the best advice. Well done, December!

  4. Robyn
    · November 25th, 2006 at 11:43 am · Link

    You know I agree with you, December, as usual. Honestly, what writer hasn’t read a book and thought, “How did mine get rejected 20 times and this piece of crap got published?”

  5. kis
    · November 25th, 2006 at 1:55 pm · Link

    Yeah, lately I’ve been reading books and saying “WTF? Bestselling author? This is crap. Sure, shit like this makes it off a keyboard all the time, but how did it get past a freaking editor?”

    Am I pissed that publishers buy this drivel, while I can’t get past the partial stage? Hell, yeah.

    But I recall one commentor at Evil Editor’s or Kristin Nelson’s saying something to the effect of “If there’s only one spot left for a book this year, I’ll happily kick your ass down the street to be the first one there.”

    Holy shit, the flogging he got! Not just from the morons who took him literally and thought he was gonna go around beating up other aspiring authors, but from those who understood the metaphor and criticized him for being too competitive. Too competitive? Like wanting your book to be chosen over others isn’t what we’re all after.

    The only hope I have in this cockamamie (sp?) world is that those Mary Sues are not assertive enough to get their own stuff published. Leaves more room for me.

  6. Anonymous
    · November 25th, 2006 at 5:55 pm · Link

    Surely all women are just born to snark?? ;))

    I know what you mean, though. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to tell how successful writers are.. everyone seems to call themselves bestselling, even if they’ve only published their first book a week ago, lol!

  7. December Quinn
    · November 25th, 2006 at 6:20 pm · Link

    I think you have. Bernita. Lucky you!

    You know, elle, I actually love Melanie, and I always cry when she dies–but that’s because she’s a secondary character, I think, and because she makes sense as a character in that book. She doesn’t make sense elsewhere, in the hands of a writer less gifted than Margaret Mitchell (which, let’s face it, most of us are far less gifted.)

    Well…she was awfully nice to Belle, wasn’t she? Hmmm…

  8. December Quinn
    · November 25th, 2006 at 6:22 pm · Link

    Thank you, Erik. I feel all squiggly now. :-)

    Yeah, Robyn, we’ve all thought that. I don’t think it often, but every once in a while I come across something I really just think is crap. But to be nice, we’re supposed to applaud. Bleh.

  9. December Quinn
    · November 25th, 2006 at 6:27 pm · Link

    Kis, I think I love you. That’s exactly how I feel. I’m all for helping my fellow writers avoid scams and such, but come on. It *is* a competition, and damn it I want to win! I’m so tired of feeling like there’s some spiffy standard of behavior I’m just not making.

    And yeah…I share the hope, baby. I share the hope.

    I totally agree, Isabella. Seems everybody’s a best-seller these days. My Trrid teaser was on WCP-Torrid’s best-seller list, and I’m proud of that, but I hardly think that means I can call myself a “Best-selling Author”!

  10. Jenn on the Island
    · November 25th, 2006 at 9:13 pm · Link

    Well, you’ve just explained exactly why I don’t review books anymore. I’m not willing to smile, nod and offer the author a beautiful quote to use for promo purposes about how wonderful their mediocre book is.

    The best thing about the internet is that we can create these uber-friendly personas and hide behind the smileys as we think to ourselves, “I critted that piece of crap and someone agreed to publish it??”

    In real life I’m a bit cynical and somewhat of a sarcastic bitch and I hope that comes across in my posts.

  11. Elle
    · November 25th, 2006 at 11:51 pm · Link

    Oh yea…not saying Melanie isn’t a great character, just not believable in real life. Maybe someone like her would’ve have been back in that era given that’s how ladies were supposed to be. But despite the sweetness and whatnot, she was a bit of a forward thinking woman and didn’t shy away from the seemier things in life. I suppose she showed her own dark side a bit when she told Scarlett she was glad Scarlett killed that soldier.

  12. December Quinn
    · November 26th, 2006 at 5:25 am · Link

    I so agree, Jenn. Sometimes I dream of starting another blog under a different name where I can bitch to my little heart’s content–but what’s the point? Better to let it all fester. I love festering.

    And you know, if a reviewer only gives good reviews, I don’t think they’re worth much. Honest reviews are what’s important.

  13. December Quinn
    · November 26th, 2006 at 5:26 am · Link

    I agree, elle. I think Melanie was believable for her time and place, but it’s very hard to think of someone like her living today.

    But yes, she did have her own brand of pragmatism, didn’t she?

  14. Bernita
    · November 26th, 2006 at 6:02 am · Link

    I need to get out more…

  15. December Quinn
    · November 26th, 2006 at 6:25 am · Link

    It’s a pit, Bernita. You’re far too elegant for such places.

  16. kis
    · November 26th, 2006 at 12:16 pm · Link

    Good writers need to let things fester a bit. That’s how good writing happens.

  17. Michele Lee
    · November 28th, 2006 at 12:24 am · Link

    Thank the gods. I wrote about feeling jealous when Dr. Drew’s wife got a big book deal and he spent a whole hour promoting it. I never thought he book was bad, but I couldn’t help being jealous because she had it handed to her and I’m fighting tooth and nail for it. There’s also the money issue. They’re already rather well off and anything I can get from publications right know goes straight into the Christmas fund.
    I can be happy that a friend got a deal, or into a magazine I want in, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be jealous too.
    the difference there though is that it’s okay to feel that, it is NOT okay to blast someone on your blog, or publically just because they got it before you.

  18. December Quinn
    · November 28th, 2006 at 4:37 am · Link

    I love the word fester, Kis. It’s so evocative.

    I can be happy that a friend got a deal, or into a magazine I want in, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be jealous too.

    Exactly, Michele. I’m always thrilled for my friends’ successes, but yeah, it makes me feel a little left out, too. And as for strangers, I figure it’s open season for me to feel pure jealous.

    It just amazes me, people who seem to think that if one writer gets a deal, we should all be happy and, I don’t know, feel like it’s OUR deal too or something? And express only happiness? Uh…why? I don’t feel only happiness, and I don’t appreciate someone I don’t know telling me my feelings are inappropriate. I’m an adult, thanks very much, and I’ll feel how I want.

  19. Anonymous
    · November 28th, 2006 at 10:00 am · Link

    So some rich dude or dudette self-publishes and buys 30k copies and claims to be a best seller? Or, are they just saying, “I’m a best-selling author.” with no ground to stand on? -JTC

  20. Bernita
    · November 29th, 2006 at 6:48 am · Link

    Think there’s a big difference between wishing someone hadn’t acquired some success and wishing one could have had it too.

  21. S. W. Vaughn
    · November 29th, 2006 at 7:32 am · Link

    Ooooh! Great post, December! I think you’re right. :-) Emotion is the stuff of good reading, especially bad emotion. I would be bored to tears reading perfect characters.

  22. Anonymous
    · November 29th, 2006 at 8:14 am · Link

    I think there’s a difference between telling your close friends and/or family, “Man, this book sucks. I can’t believe some idiot actually contracted it” and posting said sentiment all over the internet. One thing is healthy venting and the other is potential career suicide. Nobody wants to work with a bitter, resentful author.

    That said, I’m always happy to hear about the success of people I know. I feel like it validates my taste in hanging around with them. 😉

    People I don’t know, whose books also suck, sometimes summon forth that, Holy shit, how did this get published feeling; The Dark Shore is a prime example of a fantasy novel that is not just bad, but unreadable. But overall, it’s not that big a deal because I know sometimes it’s a matter of filling a list quickly, being in the right place at the right time, or whatever. Editors aren’t infallible, they’re just people, and sometimes they stop giving a shit just before they jump ship or leave in the industry entirely because they work long days for low pay, all for the love of books.

  23. December Quinn
    · December 1st, 2006 at 6:45 pm · Link

    Very true, Annie. Everyone’s tastes are different, and there certainly is something to be said for keeping one’s specific opinions on some things to oneself! I’m becoming a champion at that one–although I’ve always been pretty good at it.

    And yeah, it does make you feel good when a friend does well, doesn’t it?

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