Working on Death Rattle today. Vampire story with vampires as conquering capitalists. Protagonist is a crotchety old cuss, who doesn’t want to sell out to the bloodsuckers.
I’ve been mulling the story over for a while now, and in my mind, the protagonist has always been a Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino type guy to me. An old nasty bastard that won’t cede ground when he knows he’s right. And I had penciled in somewhere that maybe he’s still grieving over his dead wife. The story will focus a lot on death…the town he lives in is itself dying, and obviously vampires are immortal, and want to keep the town alive, etc.
But I don’t like going to the dead wife well too often, even if she died of old age. So my mind ran through the options.
“He’s never been married. He’s just too much of a bastard for anyone to grow attached to.”
“Maybe he’s divorced for that very reason.”
But finally, I had the idea of him being gay, and closeted. And he’s still mourning the loss of his best friend and lover, who had been married through most of his life to a woman, with a son.
His sexuality won’t be an important part of the story, which is mostly about vampires. Which, to me, is an even bigger reason to make him gay. I always try to write more diverse characters when possible, and frankly, him being gay is just more interesting. Clint Eastwood already exists. Gay Clint Eastwood is much more rare. A gay tough bastard is just cooler.
But the internal dialogue I had is why I’m writing all this down. Because the writer part of me went, “yes, do that, that’s a good idea.” But the business man in me told me “But will it help you sell books?” and the critic in me told me “Using the dead gay lover trope is just as hackneyed as the dead wife”.
The business man in me is a loud voice, and he gets louder every day. He tells me to write stories that are easily marketable. He tells me to make characters that are easily recognizable. Readers may say that they want things that are new and different, but they don’t. They want things they can recognize, and regular, hetero, mourning his dead wife Clint Eastwood is recognizable.
But I firmly believe that writing a duller version of a story will bleed through to the quality of the final work, and in the end, quality is king. I want to write something I’d want to read. And if you put the two versions next to each other, I’m picking grizzled gay Clint Eastwood as my protagonist, one hundred percent of the time.
The other voice is harder to dispel. Because I’m fully conscious of the trope of the unhappy ending for queer characters. Of the “tragic” nature of so many stories featuring gay characters. And I don’t want to perpetuate that, at least not without good reason. And this is a horror story. People will bleed, and suffer, and die.
So what do I do? Do I include the character because I think it’s more interesting, and will make a better story? And in the process of trying to be more diverse, perpetuate other tropes about queer characters, even if I do my best to make them rich, and nuanced, and awesome?
It’s muddy water, and it’s hard to navigate.
When I’m in doubt, I go back to the first question: What makes the best story?
I know which one I’d rather read. Which one would you?