Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Are the “Bad Guys” really All Bad?

For the past couple of days I’ve been looking back over some of my blog posts from as far back as 2007. Okay, so it’s not that far back, and for some reason my archive stops in July 2007 then restarts in January 2008 – I suspect I was only posting to MySpace then. Perhaps that a minor project for when I’m really bored – to import my blog entries between August and December 2007.

But anyway, I tweeted, buzzed and facebooked a few of the entries because, even now three years later, I found them to be an interesting read. One of them even prompted my post on Tuesday about casting film versions of my books.

One post, well, two actually, that struck me was to do with “hate mail” – or in this case a particular piece of correspondence regarding Reunion and one person’s reaction to it. The general position I took in the posts was that I prefer my characters to have depth and be multidimensional rather than one-dimensional. I like flawed heroes and damaged heroines. I love sympathetically evil villains that at the same time have you hating their guts yet understanding their pain, fears and maybe even feeling a little sorry for them.

In short, I don’t do stereotypes.

I guess this fits in with another post I found about the difference between erotic and porn. Porn is full of stereotypes, erotica isn’t. Or shouldn’t be.

Perhaps it’s a failing of mine as a writer, or perhaps it’s a strength, but I do spend an awful lot of time thinking about my characters. About what motivates them. About their past and how it affects the person they are at the time of the story. About how they would react in different circumstances.

And I spend as much time examining the antagonist and secondary characters as I do the hero and heroine.

The first time I really examined my antagonist closely was when Phaze picked up Lost & Found but asked me to make some changes before publication. The main changes centred around the antagonist, Beth’s father, Colonel Burnett – or simply The Colonel.

I was told that I’d made the Colonel too one-dimensional, that his motivations weren’t clear. In short, I’d done exactly what I strive not to, which came as a surprise to me because I knew what motivated The Colonel and I knew that he wasn’t one-dimensional. At least, I thought I did. What I hadn’t done was get this across in the story. So that was my aim – to give this important character some depth.

I’ve always tried to write from strictly one character’s point of view and in the case of Lost & Found it was from Chris, the hero’s viewpoint. But to really get under the skin of The Colonel and show the readers what I already knew about him, I figured I’d have to write some scenes from his viewpoint. Which is what I did. And in doing so I found that I didn’t really know The Colonel at all on a conscious level. Oh, he was there, in my sub-conscious, waiting to get out and explain himself, but writing those scenes really opened my eyes and really taught me a lot about the art of characterisation.

And it taught me that ‘the bad guy’ is just a point of view. In Lost & Found, The Colonel is ‘the bad guy’ because he’s the one hell bent on stopping the hero and heroine from being together. He’s irrational and stubborn – a domineering father who demands everything be his way.

But from his point of view, he’s not doing anything wrong. Far from it – he’s actually protecting his daughter and trying to hold on to the only child he has left now that he’s lost his son. And he’s not stubborn – he’s proud. And he’s not domineering, he’s living the same military life he’s always lived, even though he’s retired.

The more I wrote, the more I felt myself empathising with him – but when you read the book as a whole it’s clear he’s still the bad guy.

Which brings me to Eternally & Evermore. This book has the most obvious and clearly defined bad guy I’ve ever written. And yet, right from the start, I wanted to get the reader asking why John Nugent behaved the way he did. What drove him? And that’s because, come the finale, I wanted the reader sympathising with him just enough to add to the tension of the scene.

So early on, in the first section of the book when all the main characters are eighteen year olds, I made it clear that the hero, Will, and John had once been very good friends, but something drove them apart – something that none of their friends knew. So even though John is thoroughly unlikeable, you find your self asking if he’d always been like that – because Will couldn’t have been friends with him if he was, and what happened between him and Will to make them hate each other so much.

And when they meet again as adults, the animosity is still there, at least on John’s part, and you again find yourself asking why he still holds a grudge given that…. Opps, nearly gave away an important plot point there. John’s softer side is mentioned by some of the other characters, and in the end, when all is revealed, you can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for him. The man has suffered. More than any man should. It doesn’t excuse his behaviour or what he’s become, but it does make it understandable to a small extent.

At least, that’s how I’m hoping you feel when you read it. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Eternally & Evermore is released in the Summer. Lost & Found is available now.

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