Researching ‘Conviction’

Part of me just wants to start writing Conviction but I did promise to blog as-I-went-along and I made my writing goal to be following the writing process. (Whatever that is… now in hindsight maybe ‘the writing process’ is whatever works for you, and I’m still in the midst of finding mine).

Fair warning: Conviction is a story about the Islamic State. It will be a faith-based story. (Oh, and this contains SPOILERS to the story).

The three key aspects of any story are Setting, Characters and Plot. All three of these elements have a symbiotic relationship in the story.

Plot

Let’s address briefly the plot first, because that impacts Setting and Characters.

As yet, I haven’t defined much of the plot. I know I want my main protagonist to be a Christian, captured by IS. That’s the sum total of what I have so far; I need to do more work on plot.

But I needed to know that much in order to be able to pick a setting.

Setting

The setting (or location) for the story will be Karamlish, Iraq. (Note there’s alternative spellings of the town’s name).

Location
via Google Maps

In finding a location I didn’t want it to be a major city, but preferably close by. I know that I wanted some Western military personnel in the story, so I have to give them plausible access. It is also quite close to non-IS controlled areas (as shown by the green shading below), where I can base them.

From Institute for the Study of War http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ISIS%20Sanctuary%2070812-01.pdf
From Institute for the Study of War http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ISIS%20Sanctuary%2070812-01.pdf

When you’re writing a ‘real life’ fiction, it is much harder to do setting than writing a fantasy story: the settings should be as authentic as you can get it. By choosing a near-to capital city it should be easier to do further research than choosing some town out in the middle of nowhere.

The town is currently under the control of IS and has an incredibly rich Assyrian history, being conquered by numerous empires. It also has (had?) a large christian population, which fits the bill.

Characters

One of the articles or books that I read (and now can’t find) mentioned that naming characters because of the meaning of the name was not wise. The premise was that chances are the meaning of the name will not be mentioned in the book, so it’s something only the author can appreciate.

I did this in Vengeance Will Come for two of my antagonists.Regent Menas Senay is a ruler so his name Menas (‘A Great King to which the horizon bows down) and Senay (‘Gift from Above’) fits his role. His number one (somewhat psychopathic) henchmen is named Terefi (…which I now discover I transposed…) Teferi ‘Is Feared By His Rivals or One Who Is Ferocious’.

Perhaps naming characters this way is considered wrong by some, but it works for me… so for Conviction:

The protagonist’s family

  • Amir (main protagonist, major character) whose name is Arabic meaning “prince”. Amir will be 17 and a Christian.
  • Oda (grandfather of Amir, medium character). Oda is a Christian and his name means “servant of God”. He is 68 years old, infirm. He was previously an archaeologist and worked for the previously famous Mosul museum (which has been destroyed by IS), after being educated in England. He is the patriarch of the family.
  • Laleh (Amir’s mother, minor character). Aged 47, her name means “Tulip flower.” She wasn’t a Christian when she married Amir’s father, but has become one since. (Amir’s father is deceased).
  • Istir (Amir’s sister, minor character). Aged 14, her name relates to the biblical Esther.

The French journalist

  • Henri, aged 43. He will either be a prisoner of IS, or embedded as a reporter with them – I haven’t decided yet.

The Western Military – I haven’t identified these yet, but there will probably be two: a Private Military Contractor and his friend, a base commander.

That’s it for today’s post.

A few sources I have found helpful so far have been:

The Dangers of ‘Conviction’

One of my current writing projects that has been simmering away in the background is the short story Conviction that I am planning to write and blog-through the entire writing experience.

Conviction, as I explained will be based on the Islamic State and the persecution of the populations in the areas they control. So not some light-and-fluffy reading material.

There is an immense responsibility that I feel in writing this story, one that I find quite daunting and scary. I’m not writing click-bait by any means, trying to use sensationalism to my advantage; quite the opposite. What worries me is,

how can I try to faithfully render something so emotive and so sickeningly steeped in human suffering?

I don’t want to trivialize the subject by air-brushing it just because I’m incapable of writing it well. I am convicted of the need to write the story – even though part of me would rather not. To not write it would be even more disrespectful; we have enough vapid journalists already. I’d rather raise it to consciousness and do so poorly than to ignore it. I don’t write this story for fun or entertainment value. It is not a story I look particularly forward to writing.

The truth is more horrid than most people, especially in the West, can conceive. I haven’t watched the IS propaganda videos and I’m not inclined to. To do so would be good research, but I don’t particularly want those images in my head.

I have written quite violent scenes in my novelette Escape from Hell and my first novel Vengeance Will Come but these are fictional violence in fictional settings. What I will be describing in Conviction is too real to be comfortable.

There is so much in the story to consider. So much humanity and so many angles to be explored. Though I don’t plan it to be a long story I think it is going to take a long time to write.

I’m aware of the irony… I sit at a computer feeling uncomfortable because of what I am contemplating; others’ are currently undergoing the reality: that is why the story must be written.

Writing ‘Conviction’

This is a short story I have been wanting to write for a few months but have been prevented from doing it because of attempts to complete Vengeance Will Come.

I need a little break from that personal tome so today I begin the preparations for Conviction. I thought it might be interesting to share the writing of this story together in a series of blog posts. Note a huge spoiler warning that if you read these blog posts, you will be getting countless spoilers to the final story.

Conviction: a firmly held belief or opinion.

A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble. (Mahatma Gandhi)

Where did the idea for Conviction come from?

The inspiration of Conviction comes the news headlines over the last few months: I wanted to write about the Islamic State (IS) and the persecution of the populations in the areas they control. Finally I want to juxtapose that against the Western church as a challenge.

As an author, putting my own viewpoints across – be they political or religious – is a potentially dangerous thing. Conventional wisdom would say not to do it under the guise that the reader doesn’t want to be “preached at”, or that I might be alienating a large body of readers.

I understand this response, and I too feel resistant when I read something which I don’t agree with. But do you know what – I don’t often read something I disagree with. Sure, I may start something but if I don’t like the way it is pushing, I just stop reading. And the reader is always free to do that too.

I hope that if I am upfront about the purpose of the writing, then the reader can make an informed decision, and respect that I gave them that information in advance.

I want to write this story because I feel that we are so isolated, and paradoxically also desensitized to the ongoing suffering. I also feel that those Christians enduring the persecution have much that they can teach to the Western church, which understands so little of standing up for their faith under persecution.

Writing Goal

Normally I like to try choose a writing goal for a short story, i.e. something that I particularly want to practice in my writing. For example in The Captive I wanted to experiment with a “gotcha” or surprise to the reader. And in the subsequent short story Alone I paralleled The Captive from another viewpoint, while still revealing more storyline from an alternate perspective.

My goal for this is to follow the writing process through diligently. I could easily bang out a few thousand words on my keyboard right now and get a reasonably decent story, but that’s not what I want to do. I want to spend some time researching and outlining so that the end result will be better.

Next up in the Conviction journey: Setting