I don't like to confess this, but I suck at writing conflicts. Mostly because I have a tendency to try and understand everyone's motivations around me so I can circumvent all conflict. If someone acts out of turn, I try to step back and figure out why they've acted this way so I can either discuss it with them, or we can come to a solution. This is great in the real world, but not so great when I'm writing stories that depend on conflict. I want my characters to be logical even in their anger and I'm super aware of creating irremediable characters.
So when I started to write Otto, the huntsman/shifter and main antagonist in Fearful Symmetry, I knew this was going to be a challenge. When first introduced, Otto appears as a friendly hunter to Dryden, the main protagonist and point-of-view. Otto is handsome, charismatic, and invites Dryden into his house where the two of them are together. During the next morning, Otto's true form is revealed and Dryden realizes he's trapped inside this cabin until he solves three riddles. Otto is definitely a bad guy, but he couldn't be a stock villain character, either. I needed to create him as a fully-fledged person with motivations that made sense, rather than blindly pitting him against Dryden.
In order to do this, I realized Otto needed to be deceptively beautiful. He needed to seduce Dryden physically, as much as he also needed to appear intelligent and generous. I needed Otto's thoughts--rather than his appearance--to be aspect that truly made him into a bad guy. Otto believes that he owns whoever steps into his cabin, because he thinks they've done so willingly. Once trapped, Otto insists that he learns from each victim, so they are never wasted but put to good use. He also insists that people have a choice with these riddles and that, if they really wanted, each victim could forgo the game and stay with Otto inside the cabin forever as his partner. By presenting this illusion of choice, Otto's villainy is more than someone doing evil things for the sake of it; Otto truly believes he's presenting a fair option to people he encounters. That makes Dryden's position in the narrative that much more challenging. Dryden not only has to solve the riddles that Otto presents to him, but also figure out Otto's faulty reasoning and disturbing thoughts. As I show in the story, that's not always an easy feat.
Maybe my incessant need for everything to be logical has paid off with this villain for this particular story. I can only hope that with more practice, I can get better at creating conflicts--or at least, more laid back in allowing my characters and their emotions to rule.
When something is perfect, it sets itself up to be destroyed, and for everything gained, something is lost.
Since Dryden was young, his mother taught him about balance. While she weaves jewelry to sell at the marketplace, Dryden learns how every unspoiled gem begs to be damaged, just like the universe corrects every misfortune.
But with age and experience, Dryden begins to see the cracks in his mother’s innocent view of life. If she is wrong about balance, she might be wrong about the supposed beast in the woods. Dryden ventures into the forbidden, where a handsome hunter named Otto saves him from a deranged fox and seduces him. But like so much else, Otto has an unseen side, and if Dryden wants to regain his freedom and break Otto’s spell, he’ll have to answer three riddles in three days.
With the help of his mother’s stories and the fox who once threatened him, Dryden must beat the monster and restore balance to his world. But it will come at a cost.
When a rose’s thorn plucked his thumb, Dryden barely noticed until he got back inside.
“You’re bleeding,” Otto declared. Dryden still held the flowers, some of their petals now stained with a darker red. Otto took the flowers from Dryden’s hand, tossing them on the table in a quick motion. He drew Dryden’s fingers into his palm, then lifted them to his face. Otto eyed the single puncture mark from the rose, then sighed.
“You’ve got to be more careful. The flowers bite here.”
Dryden was about to laugh when he felt Otto’s mouth on his skin. Otto placed Dryden’s bleeding finger past his teeth, over his tongue, and sucked at the blood that flowed. Dryden's finger stung with the sudden contact—then he felt nothing at all. Otto continued to suck on the wound, sealing it rather than draining any more blood away from Dryden. When Otto’s gaze caught Dryden’s midsuck, Dryden almost forgot he was trapped.
“How does that feel?” Otto removed the finger from his mouth and sandwiched Dryden’s hand between Otto’s own. Dryden swallowed hard before leaning in to kiss Otto’s lips. There was almost no thought involved. Just a single kiss to Otto’s lips—in that moment, it was the only response to Otto’s question.
Otto wrapped an arm around Dryden’s waist and held him in place. When their tongues touched, Dryden could still taste the blood on Otto’s lips. Dryden found his body giving in and giving over… before the jolt of fear shot through him.
“No….” Dryden pulled away. “Not right now. I have to….”
“Shh.” Otto pulled back and gripped Dryden’s face in his hands. “It’s fine.
Time will stop if you want it to.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can stop the clock if you want to be alone with me.”
“Like a break… or a forfeit?”
“I suppose it depends on your perspective.”
Dryden looked past Otto toward the hourglass. Even the sand now seemed to be falling at a slower rate. His heart beat fast as he looked at Otto again. His eyes were green, not gold or brown. He looked almost human. A human that I could love?
“No. I can’t. Not right now.”
Otto’s hands dropped from his body. Coldness replaced them. As Otto went back to the cutting board, Dryden stared back at the hourglass. The sand fell faster and faster, his punishment evident. It’s not fair, he thought, but he didn’t dare say anything more out loud. He had already given himself away too much.