I joined this writer’s group on Facebook called Ninja Writers. The ninja genius behind the group, Shaunta, shares lots of writing advice and prompts and invites members to share samples of their writing and get feedback from one another. Today she prompted the group to write about a time when their protagonist acted more like a villain.
I’m working within the world of a story I’ve been trying to write for years now – the setting and characters change constantly, but the general gist stays the same. Anyway, here’s a story from the point of view of someone my main character might consider an enemy. I’m not sure when my main character turned into Robin Hood, but we’ll just roll with it, mkay?
Collection day was the worst day of the month. Nothing makes you feel more like the villain in your own story than marching through a poor neighborhood and shaking down tired mothers and overworked husbands. Taking money from a family that should have been used to feed babies or mend fences. But Gus had to make a living, too, had his own mouths to feed – and this was how he earned that money. He suggested trimming down taxes often, but nobody ever listened. Nobody else seemed to care – they drank their wine and ate their rich, fatty meals. They had an extra slice of cake and loosened another notch on their belt loops while the farmers in town tightened theirs to keep their threadbare clothing from falling off their limp frames. The upper crust of society doesn’t see these people, they don’t know how wide the gap is between have and have not – or maybe they just don’t care.
Gus tried to help where he could. He looked the other way when possible so a new mother could afford milk for her baby. He came by after his shift was over and helped put up the fences. He kept asking the king to lower taxes, dodging a look that burned through his soul, hoping his impertinence wouldn’t put his family at risk, too. But first, he collected.
He climbed off his horse and walked up to a brick house that had seen better days. Children played noisily in the front yard but scampered to the back when his footsteps approached. He frowned at the idea that his presence scared young children, but walked wearily up to the door, attempting to hush the rebellious whispers in his mind. He knocked and waited, listening to the weary shuffle and then stepping back as the door opened, tired mother appearing with an infant in her arms.
“Good afternoon, ma’am,” he said, taking his hat off to greet her. She rolled her eyes at his attempt at polite conversation.
“We ain’t got no money,” she said with eyes slanted, begging him to contradict her.
“I know times are tight,” he said slowly, making sure his words were civil but firm, “But whatever you can spare is needed for the rebuilding efforts.”
“We ain’t got no money,” she said again, with venom in her voice. He coughed uncomfortably, desperately wanting to look at his toes instead of her hateful glare. But he held her eye contact.
“Any goods that can be traded then? How are crops? Let’s see what we can arrange,” he offered, mentally calculating how he might turn corn into cash in the next city before heading back to the capitol.
“Allright,” she sighed after a moment, then turned inside and yelled, “Boy, get this man a bag a corn!”
An energetic little boy of seven or eight came running at her call, disappearing around the corner before Gus could so much as blink. The woman shut the door in his face then, her duty done and Gus blinked slowly, then turned and went around the corner to see if the boy needed help. He was already halfway back, dragging a bag almost twice his size full of corn. He met the boy halfway and picked up the bag, patting the tyke on the head.
“Go on back to your momma then,” he said and carried the bag back to his wagon and nearly died of shock when he found it completely empty. Just moments before it had been filled after a four day trip through the city, four hard days on the road – four days of having doors slammed in his face and four days of children running from him as though he were an ogre.
He’d been making his last stop of the night, about to head home to the capitol and his wife and children but how could he go home now with nothing but a bag of corn? He stared in disbelief at the empty street. He thought he saw a flash of brown hair disappear into the woods but after a quick jog into the forest, he met nobody except a few curious rabbits and a perturbed deer. He fought back tears as he made his way back to his wagon, afraid for his job and his family and nauseous at the prospect of figuring out what to do next.
I kind of liked writing from Gus’s point of view – I don’t know that we’d ever really meet him in the actual story and I have no idea why I named him Gus, but there you have it. Also, we never interact with my main character at all, sorry about that. She prefers not talking to people and follows that act first, apologize later mentality. I’m not sure if she would feel bad for Gus or not. Thoughts?