Two heads, or focused notes. The need for one or more big ideas on which to construct the framework of a novel became especially obvious as I wrote my second book, The Friar’s Lantern. It was the most complex story I had ever written, and I had to constantly remind myself of a few key concepts that would hold the book together and keep it from fragmenting into a collection of loosely connected scenes.
As I move into my third novel Parabellum, which tells the story behind a mass shooting incident, here are a few of the big ideas that have given structure to my work thus far.
1. Give characters humanity, deny them notoriety
Society often ignores shooters until it is too late to stop them. Afterward, the media, general public and advocacy groups spend considerable time dissecting the shooter’s life for some semblance of motive. I believe these perpetrators often act out of the perception that they have been ignored throughout their lives. They often think their crimes will grant them infamy to compensate for this perceived anonymity. I hope to make each Parabellum character—even those that turn out villainous—rich and human without aggrandizing their actions.
2. Evil does not occur in a vacuum
Evil (if it exists) is often a web of small misdeeds and poor judgment surrounding a vicious central agent. Today, evil rarely results from a sole independent wrongdoer violating a group of unwitting, innocent victims. Past incidents have shown us that shooters almost always leak their plans before their attack. In the vast majority of cases, someone close to the shooter has a chance to raise suspicions and save lives. In many cases, someone aids the shooter in carrying out his plan, not realizing the extent of the shooter’s intentions.
3. The world is a good place
For every senseless gun death that leads the nightly news and makes the morning headlines, these attacks are still rare in comparison to the millions of daily good deeds that never garner more than fleeting recognition. We value our lives and the lives of other human beings, and we naturally fear for ourselves and those we love. As a result, we overestimate the frequency of flagrant shootings. Yet this fear is entirely irrational, and it serves no one’s purpose other than the shooter’s to engage in mindless fear-mongering and mutual distrust.