Monday, 7 May 2012

Writer Craziness: How Ants Inspired my Fight Scenes

Many people ask about my writing process, so here is a bit of insight into the eerie way my mind works.

I found ants in my house. Ants may be common enough, but since I bought my house these are the first critters I've come upon, and they unleashed murderous rage in me. You know the feeling, right? "This is my territory. Begone, unclean fiends!"

Anyway, when I first discovered the ants in my master ensuite bathroom, I watched them with bafflement for a few minutes to see where they came from and where they were going. Scouting. Reconnaissance. An important element of any battle.

Mental Note #1: In my current novel I forgot to have my general character delegate recon before going in full-force with her attack. 

Before long, I grew rather impatient with watching, and grabbed the nearest implement (a piece of tissue, in this instance) and began slaughtering. The first kill was emotionally the hardest. I didn't press hard enough with my Kleenex-axe and I saw the insect writhing and thrashing its little legs about in pain. I felt guilt and remorse as I watched, transfixed.

Mental Note #2: It's impossible for a person to kill without contemplating death. Especially if it's the first time, or the first time in a while. I should have my character (spoiler) who's killing for the first time really feel it. Dwell on that for a bit.

This tiny ant was a real live creature. I was killing something alive. I thought about it for a moment, and felt how innocent and undeserving it was before I swung my double-edged, er, I mean double-ply weapon and thoroughly crushed the creature. Then, came the tiny rush of adrenaline and excitement.

Mental Note #3: Killing gives a sense of power. It's addictive. Once you get the first one out of the way, the next several kills are exhilarating. 

So, laughing hysterically, I used my tissue to kill several of the ant's brothers and comrades, a bit more viciously this time. Yes, I enjoyed it. Yes, I grew skilled enough through practice to kill in once swift cottony blow. Then eventually, I tossed the tissue in the trash and began using my bare hands. I could feel the insects crunching under my knuckles. This renewed the sense that I was really killing something, the physical contact. Getting a little dirty. Up close and personal.

Mental Note #4: Fighting at long-range with a rifle, shuriken, or javelin is obviously much less personal than being engaged in hand to hand, and feeling the warm skin of the other person underneath every blow. 

Then, having cleared out the offending insects, I went back to writing and eventually fell asleep. Upon waking up from my nap, I was horrified to see that the ants had gained ground. Yes, they had pushed their front steadily forward during my period of vulnerability and were now crawling around in my master bedroom! Enraged, I grabbed my heavy-duty vacuum cleaner and sucked them all up rapidly and fiercely. It was satisfying. Way better than tissue.

Mental Note #5: The type of weapon used is essential to establishing the mood of the fight and the emotions of the warrior.

And yet more came. Recognizing that my killing spree was futile considering my estimations of the numbers of this tiny army emerging from beneath my baseboard, I contemplated a long-term solution. More and more ants emerged in waves, and the more I killed, the more they sent. It was time for strategy. It was time to call my mom.

Mental Note #6: Meetings with council members and other military officials before taking drastic action. Risks and sacrifices must be considered and measured against the potential size of the threat.

I marched through the grocery store with determination on my face, and my hair flowing behind me, and my heels clinking, and I asked an associate boldly, "Where do you keep your ant traps?"

"In the housewares aisle. I think."

Upon finding the trove of weaponry, I smiled maniacally as I chose two different ant-traps and a spray. It was overkill, sure. But what if ants appeared in another section of the house? I needed to take preventative measures.

Mental Note #7: Effective strategical planning includes several different options to be prepared on all fronts. 

I spent the $15 on advanced weaponry, scoffing at my prior naive, desperate use of tissue-paper. Returning to my house, I ripped open the ant traps and placed them strategically around the hole from which the ants were emerging and along their general projected path of foraging. Namely, I placed some on either side of my door to stop them from entering my bedroom, and to force them back and "hold the line."

Mental Note #8: Location and terrain of both defensive and offensive posts are essential to understand and describe. My characters have to sound like they've not only read the Art of War, but developed their own signature strategies from experience. 

After the two types of ant-traps were deployed like explosive mines, and my special spray was kept secreted away in case of emergency. (Always have a last resort!) I nodded to myself in satisfaction.

Now we wait.

I confess it was difficult to watch the little ants slowly carrying the poison back to their little hole. It would have been so much easier just to crush them. I have so many other things nearby which I could use to crush them, like alcohol bottles, clock radios, hairbrushes, and even a hammer. It would be fun. But alas, I must stick to the strategy.

Mental Note #9: The vengeful whims of one person cannot sabotage the safety of the whole nation. Rebellious and rogue warriors must be disciplined by their general. 

I must allow the ants to carry my special poison home to their queen. There, she will die along with all of their hopes and dreams of conquest, and then they will all hopefully die in massive numbers. My country will be preserved. This is all I can do for now with respect to defense, and I must return to writing and my other affairs. But of course, my other affairs have been affected by this war. My writing has been inspired and tainted by my first-hand experience in battle, and my sleep will be fitful-- I will be keeping one eye open.

Mental Note #10: Do not neglect the political aspects of the war, and all the side effects that the struggles will have on civilian life in the Adlivun. The country is like a body-- you can't harm one part of it without affecting all the others. The parts are all connected. The people are all connected. Describe and establish an atmosphere of tension, fear, and anger. Certain people will be unified by the conflict and thrive on it, and others will be alienated and destroyed. 

I am not sure whether I will be successful in my fight against the ants since it is my first springtime in this house, but I am optimistic. I was renting a basement apartment in a pretty section of downtown Toronto last year around this time when I was similarly attacked by thousands of flying ants with wings that oozed forth from the laundry room floor. I went nuts, Wikipedia-ing them and jumping on them, and since they were flying, I gained ample exercise from kicking the laundry room walls to crush them. My current enemies seem much less powerful and skilled, and I believe they are unprepared to deal with an enemy such as the likes of me. Nevertheless, I will not underestimate them.

Mental Note #11: Historical evidence suggests optimism is acceptable. The nation must be filled with a sense of hope no matter how bleak the situation. And even if victory seems imminent, the nation must be cautious and prudent. 

In conclusion, if you're a reader, you may raise your eyebrows, laugh at me, and consider me crazy.

If you're a writer, you needn't go to extreme lengths for research. You don't have to kill people to know what it feels like-- just kill something small in your garden, and extrapolate. You don't need to fight a massive war to understand what it's like to save the world. Just spend some time by yourself doing silly exercises like this. Go and destroy a colony of ants or better yet, a hive of bees. Do it with a sense of purpose. Technically, you're killing a queen, and tons of civilians and warriors. They might be small, but they are real, living creatures. There might be a small degree of danger, especially if you're allergic to bees. You'll feel it. You'll think about it.

Extrapolate from anything. Cheers!

P.S. If I find an ant on my bed, there will be hell to pay. I'm getting out my butane lighter and having me a fiery massacre.


  1. It's warm enough up there for you to have ants???

  2. We only have them for a few months in the summer. I guess they hibernate in secret places for the rest of the time. =) And I guess this means it's finally warm enough for their evil uprising.

  3. LOL

    Maybe it's not such a good idea to post such murderous thoughts online, Canadian x) You may get pinned for something you didn't do! lol