Monday, June 24, 2013

Things That Go Bump In Your Head

Right, so here goes.

In keeping with the current theme, I want to discuss something that is difficult for me. Villains. While the name itself seems cliche as I write it, I do not necessarily mean the tall, shifty eyed man with the black cape and oily mustache who is going to tie Pauline to the railroad tracks or send her into to the deep south to spy on Johnny Reb. However, in my genre, there is invariably a struggle between light and dark. It is difficult enough to dream up an antithesis to the hero of the tale without it being someone/something that has been done a thousand times over and thereby making the character ineffective from the start. It is that struggle to make that character interesting that I wrestle with on each and every page.

Mythology, from the beginning of man's dreaming all those millions of years ago, is essentially the struggle between fear and hope - good and evil, if you will. The genre of Fantasy is, for all intents and purposes, modern day mythology. This is why stories in this vein tend to cleave to this basic principal. It appeals to the need for the human mind to dream. All fiction derives from this, in my opinion, but it is more vibrantly so in the Fantasy world. Of course, I might be biased in this opinion. 

In order to weave a dream that others will want to share, there must be characters worth investing your time and emotions in. Heroes - while not exactly easy - are for me, much simpler to define. I have a much easier time wrapping my head about Darby's motivations and thoughts than any of the variations on the darker characters thus far. What motivates this man and/or woman to be who they are? What has happened to them to make them this way? I could fall back on the stock answers used so many times in television, movies, or pulp novels, but that leaves the character flat and uninteresting. And if your anti hero is ineffective then your hero becomes lackluster as his motivation dims in direct porportion. So, this is where I struggle.

I should count myself fortunate that my life has been such that I have no frame of reference for the fear and pain that motivates a dark character. I have not been to war. I have not lived a life on a thin margin fighting against disease and poverty just to survive. I can imagine these things, but I know that this pales against the reality of such things. It must. Therefore, I must strive with each of these dark ones that I place within the pages of my mythology to make them as true and believable as I can.

Writing dark scenes is the easy part of this. It is finding a novel (pardon the pun) and engaging rational for the character as potrayed. That's the hard bit. I find some inspiration in history as there seems to be no lack of models for brutal and deviant behavior. Yet, unless the history is written by that person, the theories behind the motivation are subjective. Thus, as I write Vessa and Cossine or the (currently) unnamed anti-Darby, I have this mantra rattling around in the back of my mind. "Is it believable? Has it been done before? Does it resonate?"



  1. Finding a good bad guy is hard to do. Right now, I'm writing about a guy who just enjoys a challenge and ends up in bad situations. He really isn't intrinsically evil or anything, but he gets into situations and suddenly winds up way over his head.
    He hurts way too many people in the process. Luckily, most everyone in the novel are willing to get past it. Wish it were that easy in real life.

  2. Sounds more like a protagonist than an antagonist to me!

  3. To me, the most villainous characters are the ones who led an honest life but turned to evil, as if "good" was the wrong path and human life was but a flame to extinguish. From Satan to Darth Dick Cheney; evil by choice is an incredibly terrifying paradox to me. Even scarier if they are good-looking, blonde, and blue-eyed!

  4. There is dark in all of us. I think we can tap that source of energy, of emotion, of power from us all. The trick is to find the path. WE have to become a person we don't wish to be. For me, my path was chosen for me by pain by many years, but yielded me a great character in my novel. That character, the darkest, is my most favorite and the easiest to relate. Whether we admit it or not, the creepy bad guys are popular because people like them. They can get into their heads even a little and understand why they do what they do. The trick as writers is to make the readers understand that or even root for the creepy guy.

  5. You mean people should root for Dick Cheney?