Interview with the winner of WEbook's March Challenge - Rainbow Blight
Back in March, we asked you to submit a story that tested your ability to manipulate the reader. The WEbook Monthly Writing Challenge often falls somewhere between a technical exercise and a bit of fun (well, we try and set them up with this premise, anyway...), and this challenge certainly fulfilled that brief! (brownie points...)
Not only did we have a whole host of excellent stories, but they were, more often than not, the kinds of stories that stick with you and make you think. Some of the stories did this through a straight-up manipulation of the reader, others by encouraging the reader to trust with the villain, before unleashing their evil into the story. Considering each approach, many of the entries submitted to the Challenge were interesting and unique in their treatment of the task.
A huge thank you to everyone who entered the Challenge, and a massive congratulations to everyone who was shortlisted.
Following on from her win, we had a chat with RainbowBlight to find out some more about her, the inspiration behind Recess Lessons, and how she approached the technical side of the March Challenge: A Victimless Crime, to become our winner.
Behind the Pen Name...
"I’ve been writing since forever. I’ve just finished writing a YA novel about an adrenaline junkie trying to kick his habit, and I’m working on revisions."
"I’ve been enjoying the WEbook monthly challenges as I revise my MS. I make my living as a copy editor; I also have a photography business and license some of my photos through Getty Images US."
"I love reading, making art, taking long bike rides, cruising around on my motorcycle, dancing to hip-hop, and running crazy-ass OCRs like the Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder."
"I suck at Scrabble and always try to open doors the wrong way."
WEbook:Hi RainbowBlight, thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your winning submission!
Your visual depictions of Aiden's drawings are as engulfing to the reader as they are to the villain. Yet rather than letting the reader become overly compassionate toward Aiden, you regularly shatter the villain's descriptions of Aiden's art with stabs of rage, insult, and a subtle but present vein of jealousy. This not only makes the reader pity the protagonist, but it encourages us to forgive his final action, despite its violence and irrationality.
When you decided to write this story, how did you approach the development of a character that as a reader, we were supposed to hate and sympathise with all at once?
RainbowBlight: It’s easy to hate a bully; it’s hard to understand him. When my daughter started public school, she had to deal with a bully who rode her bus and sat next to her in class. It turned out that the boy was being abused at home; he treated my daughter according to the rules he knew. This didn’t make him bad, only misguided.
In Recess Lessons, Drake isn’t modeled after that boy, but he is based on the complex and conflicting set of emotions I felt in that situation: a strange mix of anger and compassion. I knew I had to show the depth of Drake’s loneliness in order to make the reader empathize with him, and I had to contrast that with the violence of his actions.
WEbook:The main character in your story, the villain, is full of a violent anger that he wants to teach his victim to experience. From the villain's point of view this is rationalised as way of saving the victim from greater, future pain. Could you give us some more insight into the 'strength of good versus the strength of evil' theme that you have structured your story's action around?
RainbowBlight: I see Drake as living in a home environment that crushes good where it finds it. He’s young enough that compassion and hope haven’t been entirely beaten out of him, but old enough to know that exposing vulnerability will only get him hurt. To Drake’s mind, if someone he identifies as “good” is going to have a chance in the world, that person must learn to defend himself as early as possible from the evil that exists—the kind of evil Drake has experienced firsthand and he assumes Aiden has not.
Drake’s reluctance to act stems partly from how he feels about Aiden and partly from his fear that if he does this, he’ll become the kind of monster he hates. When the fight of good intent and evilness/anger inside him reach a fever pitch, he acts, and when it’s over, his tears of regret are both for himself and for what he’s done to Aiden, and, by extension, the art Aiden will hereafter produce.
Good: Aiden will be safe.
Evil: Aiden’s art, and Aiden himself, will no longer be so free.
WEbook:The villain's narrative is almost entirely taken up by his description of Aiden's, chalk drawing of the universe. There are specific focuses on use of colour and the mixing of elements that shouldn't go together, but do. It's difficult not to interpret this as an attraction to Aiden, rather than purely to the freedom of his art. Especially when it is considered in light of the villain's treatment of love in the first paragraph.
Is the freedom that Aiden displays and the villain covets intended to be a freedom (and frustration) of sexuality as well as a freedom (and frustration) of the mind?
RainbowBlight: At the age of twelve, kids are just starting to wake up to the world of sexuality and physical attraction. I wanted Drake’s unacknowledged attraction to Aiden to add another layer of complexity to the combined jealousy and awe with which he views Aiden and his art.
Drake wants both to have Aiden and to be him; since he can do neither, he resorts to the next-best thing, which is to force Aiden to change in a way that Drake hopes, subconsciously, will make him love Aiden less. Drake’s experience of human touch has only been violent, so it’s the way he imagines physically interacting with Aiden. Drake’s survival instincts have led him to hold the belief that you hit because you care.
TL;DR: Yes. :-)
WEbook: Underneath the brilliant descriptions of Aiden's art, there is a character that every reader will have met - the angry, malicious, violent, bully. In life, as in literature, this character often appears, and so it can be difficult to develop a convincing portrait of a bully that does not slip into the trap of cliché. How do you deal with this, and other literary challenges, in your writing?
RainbowBlight: Complex fictional characters reflect human complexity; we all have contradictory elements to our personalities. One person might be both laid-back and drawn to adventure, while another might be gregarious around close friends but clam up in larger groups. It’s the same with bullies. They’re as human as any of us, motivated sometimes by greed, anger, or lust, and other times by sadness and pain. Avoiding clichés is sometimes as simple as showing your character’s complicated, conflicting inner motivations—which is my favorite aspect of writing.
WEbook: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us about your winning entry, Rainbow Blight! We look forwards to reading more of your entries over the coming months.
To read RainbowBlight's winning entry, Recess Lessons, head on over to the March Challenge page.
Don't forget that the May Challenge: First Line Imitations is now OPEN!
This month we're challenging you to take the first line of your favourite book and write a completely different story.
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