Of Pain and pen

Some books stay with you, mark you with their words, score you with their emotion, and leave impressions in your soul like the rings in a tree.

Of Mice and Men was one such book.  I was profoundly impacted when I read this book as a kid.  Most of what I read was along the lines of King, Poe, Lovecraft and Tolkien.  These books wove tales of death, friendship, struggle and sacrifice.  Killing blows were dealt between protagonists and antagonists – something a kid didn’t have a problem wrapping his mind around.

But what Steinbeck did was a little different.  THE killing blow was between best friends, and was done with compassion.  It took me a while to understand the warring emotions in my head.  I’m sure you have all read the book, but here’s a little background just in case.

George and Lennie, migrant field workers during the Great Depression, are best friends.  George is an intelligent (albeit uneducated) man, and Lennie is a very large, strong man with mental disabilities.  Lennie loves to touch soft things, mice, rabbits, puppies, etc., but usually ends up killing the animal unintentionally (which breaks the big guy’s heart).

George and Lennie have a dream. They want to own their own place and live off the fat of the land (Lennie only wants to be able to tend his own rabbits so he can touch them).  At the end of the book (spoiler alert), a woman is unintentionally killed by Lennie.  A lynch mob forms to kill Lennie.  George and Lennie meet in a predetermined place to “get away”.

George is able to calm his friend down by telling him about their dream.  Lennie, caught up in the dream of having a place with his best friend, isn’t aware of the lynch mob that is coming, and isn’t aware of the emotional hell that George is going through as he pulls out a gun.

Lennie dies as he looks ahead, dreaming of rabbits and freedom.  George kills his dreams as he kills his best friend.  The emotional tug-of-war at this part of the book is stunning.

There are a number of directions I could go with this.  How can I write something that has a similar impact on my readers?  Can I compose something so visceral that feelings created by my novel will reverberate around in the head of my readers for years to come?  What are the keys to being able to pen such vivid pain?

I could also go a completely different route.  Would I have shot Lennie?  Putting aside all legal and moral implications of this scenario, did George do the right thing?

How to you grab your reader’s hand and make them feel what you want them to feel?  Would you have shot Lennie? 

I’ll let you take it from there. 



10 comments on “Of Pain and pen

  1. YIKES! You do take your readers to the dark side of impossible choices, Zack.

    I think George did the right thing for his friend if there was no hope of outfoxing the lynch mob. In the end, it was George who made the ultimate sacrifice, because he’d live the rest of his life with the pressure tick in his trigger finger, the smell of gunpowder, the sound and sight of blasting a hole into his friends body.

    Could I or would I have been able to do it? No. I couldn’t. I’m too much of a dreamer. A blue sky, someone-will-come-to-the-rescue dreamer.

    Could I write an emotive, painful ending such as that one? No, again.

    I write conflict. The only way I can make my main characters suffer is by understanding they’re suffering for a reason and everything will ultimately end with a Happily Ever After.

    Stellar summation of the basics in this classic.

  2. zkullis says:

    Thanks Gloria! I try to push the limits. Going to the edge and then stepping just beyond can often tell us quite a bit.

    I agree with you. Sensory perceptions such as smell and sound are powerful triggers to memories that are otherwise locked up. There are sounds, sights, and smells of blood and gore that I will never be able to scrub out of my mind. Lennie has his rabbits, but George is changed forever.

    I’m glad you’re a dreamer. We need the buoying power and abilities that dreamers are endowed with.

    I want to thank you for the amazing compliment. I always enjoy reading what you write, and think very highly of you, so hearing the word “stellar” from you is outstanding.

    • Stellar is well-deserved for this piece, and for the is it real or fiction? Tale of Darkness.

      I read it twice, but haven’t yet commented because I (1) want to read it again, and (2) suspect it’s true.

      Which produces a big YIKES! No bongo drums around Zack! internalization.

      Back atcha on “thanks for the compliments.” I love mutual admiration societies.

      • zkullis says:

        Thanks Gloria! I was starting to wonder about the Tale of Darkness post….

        You are fantastic Gloria.
        *big embrace*

      • Reread that again this morning, Zack. Still sitting on the fence on whether or not it’s fictional.

        One thing I’m sure of is that it deserves more exposure.

        Look for a ping-back on my next post.


        My next post might not be the one you want as a promo for Tale of Darkness.

        Why? If things work out as planned, it will involve a call to the KegelMaster Customer Service number…during which I will put myself in the mindset of a clueless character I plan to include in my book. Yes. My character will purchase one. No. This is not a “friend of a friend of a cousin of mine” ruse.

      • zkullis says:

        Should I swing you one way or the other?

        Thanks for the “deserves more exposure” comment, I appreciate that. I will eagerly look for your ping-back!

        I CAN’T wait for the KegelMaster call post! 😀

  3. moondustwriter says:

    you pose a great question as well as a great challenge. Steinbeck I am not but I hope that the people who have read my work are impacted at the moment – that is my goal anyway.
    Thanks for your visit and the moment to ponder – writing…

    • zkullis says:

      Thanks Leslie!

      I really liked Girl Ghost. Combining those great pictures with your talented writing makes for a fantastic blog to follow!

      Thanks for leaving a message, and thank you for the follow on Twitter.


  4. I don’t know how to tell you how to create such a classic, but I can tell you that Of Mice and Men is short. The dialect rolls out the obvious differences between the two men’s intellect without a lot of explaining.

    I have always wondered about the ending. I agree that George was showing Lennie a kindness of sorts. He would have been ruined by jail, absolutely. And while I think George loved Lennie and was devastated by having to make this decision, he also possessed a kind of toughness that would allow him to function — almost like war vets — who have done what hey had to do. He would be able to go on, even with the blood on his hands. Such a great post. You always get me thinking.

    This is a book I have read many times, but I have never taught.

    I know the 9th graders LOVE it. I can’t wait until TechSupport reads it next year!

  5. zkullis says:

    Renée, thank you such much for the reply. I liked your insight!

    To me, George took Lennie at the best time (at least from Lennie’s point of view). If the mob wouldn’t have killed Lennie, it would have been a life behind bars for the big guy. As it turned out, Lennie was in the middle of his dream, his happy place, even if it was only in his mind, during his last moments.

    Thanks for the compliment, and thank you so much for the shout-out on Twitter!

    On a completely unrelated note, I admire the connection you have with TechSupport. Sounds like a keeper. 😉 As my Grandfather told me, the apple never falls too far from the tree.

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