Doing Awful Things to Your Main Characters: Vodnik Chapter Fifteen

Hmm. Chapter fifteen. This was a chapter that changed drastically in one of the last rounds of revisions, and I’m honestly still a bit up in the air about how it all ended up. I’m talking, of course, about the beating Tomas gets from the Bigot Gang. This was not a fun scene to write. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done to one of my characters. Yes, I’ve killed them before, but I haven’t totally humiliated them. I tend to be a pretty optimistic guy. I like the believe people are inherently good, and having any of my characters–even my villains–do what Gollum, Draco, and Jabba do to Tomas in this scene . . . I needed to go wash my hands after I’d typed it.

And after I was done with it–after I’d read the scene over again–I still wondered if all that happens in it should happen. The kids pee on Tomas? Did that really happen? Would someone do that to another person? But then I read the news about what’s going on in Europe with the Roma–what they face and have to endure–and if anything, I wonder if I went far enough.

When I first was working on the Roma revisions to the storyline in Vodnik, I kept trying to shy away from any real pain and suffering. Violence to Tomas was limited to gruff looks and general suspicion. Of course, this wasn’t enough to adequately portray the Roma plight. And a big part of me wonders how any outsider could portray it. I’m not Roma, after all.

But then again, I’m not a magic user, either. I don’t speak to fairies. I’ve never had to witness a murder–but these are things I drop in and out of stories whenever I feel like it. A big part of being a fiction writer is putting yourself into different “what if” situations and thinking through how they’d play out.

And yet even as I write that paragraph, I know there’s no way to compare living as a minority with coming up with “what if” scenarios in my head. The difference is night and day.

The chapter–the bullying scene–stayed in as written. It provides a good contrast to the later scene, where the bullies try to up the ante, and Tomas turns the tables on them. It’s vicious, yes–but so is racism. Go read Mississippi Trial, 1955 (linked to at the top of this post). The world is an awful place sometimes. Much more awful than what happens to Tomas here in this chapter.

That said, I’m really interested to hear what readers thought of this chapter–this scene in particular. Was it too much for you? What did you think when you read it? How did you respond? Please take a moment to answer, if you could. I can’t be an objective reader in this case, and it was such a difficult scene to write–it would help me tremendously to see how actual readers engaged with it.

2 thoughts on “Doing Awful Things to Your Main Characters: Vodnik Chapter Fifteen”

  1. I read your whole book Saturday. It was great! Now I can understand more of your posts. I had no idea racism was that bad in Slovakia. The bullying seemed really harsh, but if that is how they are being treated (or worse), it is probably a good awareness-raising chapter.

    When I was in college there was a couple I knew that were considering getting married. She was African American and he was Slovakian and he had to go back. He called things off right before he went back, now I can see it may have been an act of love.

  2. So glad you liked it! (And Goodreads and Amazon would love to hear about it, no doubt–wink wink.) 🙂

    The couple you knew–that wasn’t Frank? Maybe that was his name. Denisa and I knew a couple in the same situation. I wonder if they were the same people.

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