A vigilante or a murderer

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.


AUGUST QUESTION: What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it you learn something, or you are inspired to write, or try the new technique. And why?

MY ANSWER: I’ve never read any of the writing textbooks more than once, even the best ones. But I re-read my favorite fiction authors regularly, and every time I do, I learn something new. When I know exactly how the book ends, I pay more attention to the way the author handles dialog or scenes, pacing or tension. I consider good fiction the best writing books out there.


Speaking of fiction, I recently re-read Sharon Shinn’s The Turning Season, a quiet and thoughtful book. Like many works by this author, it raised some hard questions. One of the questions touched me deeply: who has the right to kill? A soldier sanctioned by the government? Obviously, YES. A policeman – ditto. But what if the government doesn’t care about a certain segment of the population, doesn’t protect them? Who has the right to kill in their defense? Who can protect them? And if someone (a character named Ryan) appointed himself to the role of the protector, is he a hero or a criminal?

Personally, I lean towards Ryan being a hero. But many of the novel’s characters wouldn’t accept his killing, even though he doesn’t kill to get money or power for himself. He doesn’t enjoy his killing either. He kills to protect the others, to save lives, and his motive makes all the difference for me. While many characters in the book face a moral dilemma regarding Ryan’s killing or outright condemn him, I don’t have their problem. I cheer for Ryan.

Maybe because I lived half of my life in the Soviet Russia, a totalitarian state, I don’t trust a government, any government. In most cases, it is not my friend, even though I now live in Canada, one of the best democratic countries in the world. I’d still trust a vigilante before I’d trust any government. After all, we all admire X-men and Batman and Spiderman, don’t we? They kill the bad guys, and everyone rejoices. Why would Shinn’s characters denounce an identical behavior on Ryan’s part?

Just because Ryan doesn’t have a piece of paper signed by a government official, giving him ‘a license to kill,’ it doesn’t make him a villain. In the novel, they call him a murderer. But when a local sheriff kills him in the end of the story, that’s OK. The sheriff did it ‘in the line of duty,’ as was his right, and everyone is fine with that. That hypocritical ending made me long to scream in frustration.

What do you think?


Some unrelated news. My online friend Widdershins just published her fantasy book The Last Dragon in London. I made the cover for her, and you could see my cover everywhere where books are sold. It was a fascinating project for me, and I’m proud of the result. Here it is.

This entry was posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to A vigilante or a murderer

  1. Huge congratulations to your friend – and to you for that very enticing cover.
    And yes, I learn things from each and every book I read – including the books I don’t consider well written.

  2. Steph W says:

    It is interesting how we allow certain taboos (like killing) in certain contexts. Society plays an interesting role in granting power to individuals and condemning others for trying to use that same power. As I was reading your retelling, I thought of Dexter. Also, great cover, looks like a good read!

  3. soniadogra says:

    Lovely cover Olga. I also liked your perspective on heroes and villains. Who decides really. Books are a great way to learn the writing craft. I have read books on the craft but just like you none as the Bible. I try to soak in what I read of other authors.

  4. spunkonastick says:

    I definitely don’t trust the government now. I’d call Ryan a hero.

  5. Sadly doing the right thing isn’t always legal.

  6. Congrats to your friend and the cover you made looks pretty.

  7. patgarcia says:

    Sometimes those very same governments use people like Ryan to do the dirty work. Then they can say it was not official. They didn’t know anything about it.

    I like the cover you developed. It is indeed very good.
    All the best.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  8. Loni Townsend says:

    I thought Batman’s stance was that he doesn’t kill anyone? He’ll beat the pulp out of them, but leave them alive. But I’m not quite up on my DC knowledge so that might be wrong.

    I’ve got a lot of killing in my stories, and the right or wrongness of the act is completely slanted by whose perspective we’re in. From one perspective, he did it because it was necessary. From another, he’s a cold-blooded monster. It’s just like real life, and the many opinions that exist. Nothing is ever black and white.

  9. WOW, that cover is amazing!
    I’d be outraged at that ending, too. I have characters who kill in self-defense. But it’s all fiction. Murder in any form is wrong in my eyes, but I’ve always been an idealist. 🙂

  10. emaginette says:

    I think you posed a great question I need to think about.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  11. cleemckenzie says:

    Your answer to today’s question is perfect. I’ve learned more from reading talented authors than by any other method.

    That question-who has the right to kill?–is a tantalizing one. I’ve marked the book TBR. I’ll be interested in seeing how the author handles it.

    Congrats to your friend. Her book cover commands you to open it.

  12. Jenni says:

    Congrats on your beautiful cover! That must’ve been fun to have a different role in bringing a book to life.
    I learn a lot from reading other people’s books too. I’ve even outlined my favorites to see how they handle plot structure and beats.
    Interesting questions about heroes vs. villains. Of course, villains always think they are the good guys, and so does the government.

  13. Jemi Fraser says:

    Great cover!
    Reading great authors always teaches something. Although, I’ve learned a lot from reading some pretty awful books as well 🙂

  14. Lee Lowery says:

    I agree – I’ve learned far more from reading talented authors than by reading any craft book.

    Stunning cover! Your artwork is always beautiful.

    Definitely a hero, in my opinion. I’m not going to get political, but when the “Government” doesn’t protect us, we have every right to protect ourselves. I’ll take an anti-hero by my side in a dark alley any day.

  15. Julia Quay says:

    Beautiful cover, Olga! And thanks for recommending The Turning Season.

  16. PK Hrezo says:

    That’s a great point, Olga — about re-reading books when you know the ending. I find that so so helpful too, in piecing together the story mechanics. 🙂

  17. kimlajevardi says:

    I re-read my favorite fiction books as well. I never did before, but now that I’m trying to master my craft, it seems like the perfect opportunity to study from the best writers.

  18. That book sounds and looks like something I would enjoy reading. Gratz to your friend and you with the publishing.

  19. yvettecarol says:

    I really believe that reading great literature helps you improve as a writer. Keep reading the sorts of writers you aspire to be.

  20. Diane Burton says:

    Very thought-provoking post.

    Sometimes, reading quality fiction can help more than a how-to book.

  21. I really love the cover you designed. That’s great that you learn from reading fiction you enjoy. I do too.

  22. mlouisebarbourfundyblue says:

    Beautiful cover, Olga. Like you,I often reread a great book to see how the author creates it. I recently read a fabulous book called “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. I’m going to learn a whole lot by examining his book. Canada is my native land, so your words about it warmed my heart. I haven’t been able to go “home” since 2019. Interesting times in my adopted country, the USA. Stay safe, and happy writing!

  23. I agree. Reading fiction is essential if you want to write fiction. It’s the best way to learn.

  24. Denise Covey says:

    Congratulations on the cover. I hope your friend does well. You raise quite a question. I think during this time of Covid restrictions, people are trusting their governments even less. Killing though is a big thing in any context.

  25. You did such a wonderful job on that cover! Kudos!
    I agree you can pick up a lot of tips in reading exceptional authors.
    Have a great reading/writing day.

  26. That is a great point, about how much you learn from reading fiction. Agreed–and glad you mentioned it! And what a gorgeous cover. You are rightly proud of it.

  27. Thank you Olga for your answer. Fully agree with your take. Thank you for the reference to The Turning Season. you hjave wet my appetite. Looking forward to reading your WEP entry. Enjoy the last summersaults of this peculiar summer.

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