This is a problem that’s pretty easy to solve in real life as there are no real witches. Or as far as I know there are no real witches.
Evidence for real witches = they’re real so they have to hide, unless they want to be burnt or tortured by the CIA. They wouldn’t do magic in front of people, it would give them away. If they’re evil, the first time you saw a witch would also be your last, so no one is left alive to talk about them.
Evidence against: no one’s ever filmed an interview with a witch. There are no videos of witches doing magic on youtube or dailymotion.
Actually, there are people who call themselves witches in the real world and on the internet, just like Willow from ‘Buffy’. Actually, Willow was different, she really could do magic [Floating pencil! Floating bag o knives! Floating skin of guy called Warren!] and she wasn’t evil either [except the last 4 episodes of Season 6 – but that wasn’t real evil, it was just black eyeballs and evisceration of someone who deserved it + shooting red energy into a totem pole]. But there are people who study/preach witchcraft and would call themselves witches, so the name itself is not unreal in our world.
A few years ago I got cursed by a witch. Obviously, it was someone I knew on the internet, not real life, but she was real enough to type e-mails so it still counts. After one of many arguments, she said I was toxic and then cursed me for making fun of Anubis, the God of Death [from her perspective, I suppose it was justified, though I still claim I wasn’t making fun of Anubis, I was making fun of the character in my book who was making fun of Anubis. That’s my official defence anyway. I might have convinced myself the wrong way, I’m not sure. It’s hard to know if you’re wrong when arguing on the internet, mostly because the other person is usually calling you toxic, which makes it a lot harder to actually listen to or respect what they’re saying].
But, far as I know, she was a real witch…in the sense that she worshipped Satan and believed in the power of spoken curses. And I was pretty anxious for about a week after I got the ‘curse’ e-mail…I didn’t go outside much, I didn’t go anywhere at night, I checked four times before crossing the road when I did go out, I looked up every now and then to make sure a crane wasn’t doing something dangerous above my head…
But nothing happened.
Reality doesn’t have much room for witches, so if you’re writing a novel where the main plot has a guy from our reality [a zine maker from London] going to stay with a woman in a castle near Ljubljana [Slovenia]…and that woman is, unknown to the main character, a witch…how should the main character react when he finds out?
To help you understand, I’ll give you the synopsis of the book:
Bermondsey, London: Building sites not building anything, ill-looking grass, five muggings in the same tunnel in the last month. Billy wants out. But how? All he has is a zine that no one reads, a starving bank account, and his best friend Jay telling him the harsh reality of things.
But then…an e-mail. From Ljubljana, a place he can’t even spell. ‘Come stay with me forever,’ it tells him. Signed ‘D’.
He ignores it…until ‘D’ calls him a genius and sends eight grand in the post.
Weird, but okay then, thinks Billy. Why not?
With Jay along for the ride, and others picked up along the way, Billy arrives in Ljubljana and quickly finds that things are a lot stranger than he could’ve possibly imagined. An art commune run by a man in a bear costume. A castle surrounded by continual snow, with ancient gods and 80’s board games, famous writers and forbidden rooms.
And Damijana…his beautiful, unpredictable host.
The way I have it now is:
He gets to the castle and, during the first few weeks, the witch talks about knowing someone from one of her paintings 400 years earlier. There’s also the ‘castle in the snow that no one in Slovenia knows about’ factor and the idea that she knows about him at all. His zines aren’t popular, how did she get a copy?
The reader knows she’s a witch, but the main character doesn’t. In fact, he doesn’t even suspect at this point…
Then, a few months later, they’re on his bed, him being a perv, her being blank and resistant [she doesn’t care about sex at all as she’s not actually human], and she ends up throwing him off the bed after he touches her. He’s drunk at the time, so he isn’t clear about what happened, but then she tells him straight that she’s a witch.
Here’s part of that scene, to give you a very slight idea:
‘I told you.’
‘You did? When?’
‘I don’t…I can’t remember any of that.’
‘Jaz sem čarovnica.’
She smiled. Well, half a smile. ‘I’m a witch, dear.’
I looked at her black cloak, her pale skin, her lilac eyes. I thought of all the weird things she’d done since I’d been in the castle…the weird thing she’d just done thirty seconds ago. ‘You’re a witch?’
‘And you can do…magic?’
‘Like…natural magic or…’ I rubbed my head again. This was too much to process, especially when I was both drunk and concussed. ‘I mean, does it come to you naturally or…is there a machine or some kind of…’
‘A source, yes. Machine, no. Actually, it is both natural and not. The source is merely an object used as a vessel of both transference and storage…like a book in a library, for instance…however, the actual power, the essence of the thing comes from me.’
‘It is difficult for you to comprehend. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything.’
‘No…I comprehend. I get it.’ I moved across the bed towards her, aiming for her shoulders. If I could hug her, she’d know I was sincere…even if I did think she was a little bit nuts. ‘I knew another girl who was a witch, back in London…she cursed me once…a real curse, seriously…she said I was a…a motherfucker…her words…and she put a curse on me. It was pretty weird actually. I didn’t go outside for a week. I thought if I did, something would drop on my head or I’d get smacked by a runaway truck or…I don’t know, something.’
‘Your friend was not a witch.’
‘No, she was…really.’ I reached out for her arm. ‘But it’s okay, I get it. I like witches, they’re cool. You do cool things. I mean, I know you’re not evil or anything. My friend was…maybe…but I know you’re not. You’re beautiful.’
Basically, I use my own experience and the concept of witches from our reality to create his reaction. He believes she’s a witch, but not a magical one.
I think this is okay as far as realistic reactions go…but as I’ve never met a real witch, I have no way to be sure.
Later in the book, she does more tricks and the whole situation becomes deadly and that’s when he makes the switch to believing that, yeah, this woman really is a witch.
And this is the hardest part of the book.
How do you react when a] you see someone who claims to be a witch doing real, live magic, and b] they want to cut your throat?
At the moment, I have him freezing for a while then running around in a panic, trying to find the source of her powers, whilst not 100% believing that she is a witch or that it’s credible for anyone to have a ‘source of powers’.
In short: I make him confused.
Is this the best way to do it?
The only help I’ve been able to get so far is from other films that have a similar situation. Like these:
1] The Witches
The premise is similar – there are witches in the world, but they dress like normal woman. Or middle class British women from the 1980’s. The main characters, a boy and his grandma, stay at the same hotel as the witches and try to stop them.
Does it help?
Not really. The boy has been trained by his grandma to believe witches are real, so the first time he meets one he knows what he’s dealing with. Comprehension of the idea is belief of the idea, basically, which is especially true with the mind of a child.
My character, on the other hand, has been trained to believe that witches only exist in films like The Witches or Hansel & Gretel: witch hunters. Comprehension of the idea equals what the fuck?
A young American girl enrols at a ballet school in Germany, not knowing that it’s run by an ancient Greek witch who spends most of the film sleeping.
This one is quite close to mine. The main character, the female student, lives in a reality where there are no witches. People disappear from the school and she doesn’t know they’ve been killed, just like my character. She’s staying in a place she doesn’t know, which is again the same as my character, who is staying in a castle.
The only difference is the underlying dread in ‘Suspiria’: the student knows something is wrong and feels uncomfortable being in the school. She knows she could fall into a room filled with barbed wire at any moment. Also, she has a roommate who warns her that something weird is going on. Everything points towards a sinister plot.
My character has no one to warn him. He’s gone to the castle willingly, and is infatuated with Damijana [the witch]. The reader knows the danger…the previous visitor to the castle is killed off near the start of the book…but my character has no idea. There’s no dread on his part, only a basic animal lust to get Damijana into bed. In a way, he becomes the monster…kind of…or maybe not…she is the one who cuts people throats…
So the reaction of the female student in ‘Suspiria’ is based on dread. She never encounters flashy magic, so she reacts as if a serial killer is after her.
Should my character react the same way when Damijana waves a knife at him? Or is it similar to coming up against the zombie version of someone you love? You freeze and try to persuade yourself they’re still the person you loved before, only with bloodshot eyes, grey skin and limited vocab.
3] The Lost Boys
Not witches, but the theme is the same. A small town [reality] harbouring vampires [the supernatural]. One teenager believes there are vampires because of the comics he reads, whereas his friend is unsure, but goes along with it when he sees his brother has turned into one.
His initial reaction is to be scared, to freeze a little, far as I can remember. Then, by the end of the film, to tool up and kill those fuckers.
This is pretty much what my character does too. The first part, at least. But then he’s not a teenager, he’s an adult, so perhaps he should be more resistant to the idea of real world witches?
I don’t really know.
I suppose I’m trying to pin down the exact thing my character should say when it’s revealed he’s staying, alone in a castle, with a witch.
Would he say anything?
Would he run?
Would he pretend it’s not happening?
Or is it commensurate with facing someone from the real world who, for whatever reason, wants to kill you…?
Also, I should add that the whole story is in tight first person [which is almost impossible to write action scenes in]. We see things as he sees them, and we read exactly what he’s thinking. So I need to know not just what he might say when seeing a witch, but what he would think too…