The Wonderful World of Incels

My novel seems to be stuck in a permanent research phase somehow. When I think about the fact that I was closing out a final chapter a little over a year ago, it’s strange to realize that the stuff I had back then doesn’t work for me anymore. This all started as something I dreamed up (literally–I had a dream) on a cruise ship. I should have never had any aspirations about keeping everything exactly as it was in my mind.

The latest idea that I’ve started playing with is a character who represents the common, downtrodden type of guy that you’ll find pretty much anywhere there is discussion to be had about dating. These guys are lonely and consider themselves un-datable, but they place a large amount of blame on society for the way it is. Women want well off men. Women want men that look a certain way. They’ve come up with all sorts of shorthand for the things they regularly talk about like their in a NATO briefing. For the men that they consider adversaries, the ones that women actually scramble to date, they use the name Chads. Some of the time they just refer to the guy as if his name is Chad. Most desirable women are Stacy.

They refer to themselves as incels. It refers to involuntary celibates, but in reality there seems to be more to the culture than just that. They categorize and break themselves into smaller groups from there. A KV is a kissless virgin and I forget the other stuff they say, but I’m not digging out my notes.

There’s this whole culture of slang and meanings, most of it meant to show how much the world has wrong them and to some extent all men. Women being allowed to have choices is sometimes spoken about as the first real problem that caused a whole host of problems and there’s a special kind of cognitive dissonance there too. Under the surface there’s a dash of racism and alt-right politics thrown in.

See this is the problem with research. I’ve read a lot of these postings. I’ve studied what these guys say and the words they use and the tone in which they use them. No one can be 100% horrible, right? So there’s got to be some silver lining in these people, but that’s what making the character is for. I have to cook up some way to make these guys be awful, but still be people.

A little over a year ago I watched the Elliot Roger videos on YouTube, you can still find them there, and the most astonishing thing was that I could see instantly why he had problems attracting women. He moved in a way that was off–kind of like how people talk about the uncanny valley–he spoke and acted as if he had this over blown sense of self worth.

And he plain acted like he was entitled to women.

I see some of the same traits in the men calling themselves incels and Roger identified as one, so that makes sense. I don’t mean to make light of the problem that Roger and others like him represent, but I think that the sort of character who embodies all of these things would have to be an interesting villain. Some might have a hard time sympathizing with him; if you’ve ever had to deal with someone who was so obsessed with how they were missing out on relationships and sex, you would see what I mean. At the same time I don’t think you always have to sympathize with great villains to see where there coming from.

People will tell you that they don’t believe the level of villainy that we’ve seen happen in a given story, but then you look at the world around us and we can see some pretty terrible events unfolding. On a smaller scale, couldn’t it just be that someone really hates the world around him and doesn’t think it’s treated him fairly? Couldn’t someone just have had enough of their immediate surroundings and they’re just going through the motions until the right chance arises?

That’s what I’m looking at here.

Lost in Translation

I might have lost my first reader because of what I’ve been writing.

If you don’t write there’s this thing that seems to be something that even the most carefree, fearless of writers goes through–somehow, someday you’re going to write something that is going to get you into trouble. Writing has caused an uproar before, for sure. There’s what happened with Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code or the many people made about the portrayal of sex and just relationships in general in Fifty Shades of Grey.

Notice that both of those books sold very well.

That’s not an invitation to write the worst things that you can, but there’s obviously something to be said about the controversial selling or the shitstorm that brews around a thing actually helping to fuel its ascent.

We could only hope to be that lucky. In my case I passed a story along to a woman who I wouldn’t call a friend quite yet, but there was something budding there. She had asked to see something I was writing and as she actually reads a lot I thought that this could be a common ground for us.

I e-mailed the first chapter to her, because I almost never send out the complete manuscript, expecting to hear back in a couple of days. The idea was that she would read it and make some comment like “that was really cool, I’d read this” or “nah, not really my kind of thing”. In the past I’ve gotten either.

I’ll interject here that one of the things that I read in Stephen King’s On Writing that has always rang true with me was that the writer in us has this desire to find an ideal reader–usually a spouse or friend or family member whose feedback they write for. This person would be the audience you have in mind. Maybe not so much in the sense that they are the type of person that you’re writing for, but more that you write everything to filter through them. The writing process is lonely by necessity, even when you’re writing with a co-author. That first time that you hand someone the printed stacks of paper that are your novel or send out that little file attachment is a big step. Their impression of the thing is your first impression of what anyone else thinks.

And in a way I’m kind of searching for the person to be that. It takes more than just being the first to read a thing; they have to be honest enough and brutal enough to be willing to take a stab at something very personal that has, up until then, been your own little secret creation.

Sure, you learn to get hardened to criticism and to take it as a critic of what’s on the page and not you, but it’s still a part of you. It’s still a very vulnerable give and take relationship.

So when I didn’t hear back, I figured that it was because she didn’t like it and was scared of hurting my feelings. I actually like hearing someone didn’t like it, someone telling me that they loved it doesn’t usually tell me what needs to be fixed.

Something always needs to be fixed.

She and I talked over the next few days about photography and kind of joked around. We came to the point where she was going to meet up with me the other day and then the day of she backed out. And I did what I do when anyone does anything, even a small thing. I over analyzed it.  It really works in my favor some of the time. If there’s a problem that needs a high level of scrutiny I can do that.

The phrase she used was “no contact” and it seemed like a very specific sort of language to use with someone who you had very lighthearted contact with in the first place. Looking back over the conversations we’ve had since I got the iPhone (and looked for an excuse to text anyone I knew had one to see the little blue bubbles) there’s nothing alarming in my language with her. We had breakfast together once a while ago and haven’t seen each other sense, but I wondered what I’d said to get this response.

The old “what did I do that upset you so much” conversation isn’t one I usually have to have. I know what I’ve said, I probably said it on purpose. I was careful this time; I’m usually extra careful because i can get carried away with jokes that are too much for people and topics that shouldn’t be discussed.

Then I realized the only place I hadn’t been careful was my writing. The first chapter of the novel I sent her has some choice words in it and some choice imagery. She actually questioned it when she first started reading the whole thing, but that was the last conversation where we mentioned it. At that point she seemed fine with there being a little adult content. It wasn’t there for no reason, that’s for sure.

I think she read the rest of it either days ago or very recently and had been thinking it over. Is this the kind of person that I want to be friends with? Someone who would write this must be sick or someone who would write this must have a real problem. Authors aren’t the people they write about in their stories, although part of us does go into the process. I’m no more Lissette than I am any other character written by someone who just had the idea. But she’s up here in my head, she came from there and I can pull that personality forth and put it on the page (haven’t been doing it as much lately).

The writing scaring her is all that makes sense to me with the scant information that I have. This isn’t really the first time this has happened, but it is the first time that someone has not wanted to be my friend anymore because of it and it’s sad because she seemed really sweet and I wish her the best.

Does this mean that I stop what I was doing before or change how I have been writing, no. I don’t have direct feedback to know what it was that caused her issue nor do I want to be the kind of person who censors their writing. I’d rather write things better and strive to take offensive subjects in a thought provoking way, rather than hiding from them or appealing to the lowest denominator.

If I’m published someday I hope she sees the book in a store or while scrolling through Amazon and decides to take it look; I hope she gets that what I’m trying to say is clear. I hope she keeps turning the pages and finally gets what I’m trying to say.