Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Villian Around Every Corner

And thank goodness for that! At least in writing. In romance you need someone or something to upset an otherwise perfect relationship. Okay, in romance the hero or heroine themselves can cause those problems that bring about their dark moment. I guess that would equate with our own dark sides or moments coming into play. We humans do have a knack now and again for self-sabotage. You can’t really have a mystery or a true suspense without a bad guy to undertake some positively evil deed. So if you aren’t writing true crime or non-fictions, where do you find your villains?

A few years ago I went to a book signing for Harley Jane Kozak. She not only writes a good mystery/suspense, she has a fabulous sense of humor in person. One of the audience members asked her about her villains and she did admit that many, if not all of them, had characteristics of people who had done her wrong. Someone asked how that played out in real life and she admitted that most nasty people didn't see themselves as the bad guys in books. They either think they are too smart that no one will know what rotten things they’ve done or just don’t get it that the way they are portrayed in a book is how they appear.

Now don’t go thinking that every misdeed you have ever done has been observed by an author and we’re all going to write about what a mean person you can be. Each antagonist has their own unique characteristics. They can exhibit our worst fears or re-enact something particularly disturbing we witnesses or can be a slice of what we ourselves would love to do to someone who done us wrong. One of the joys of writing fiction is you can have the ending you really want. You can create your own happy ending and not just in a romantic way.

So where do we find our bad guys. Those dark creatures sheathed in the guise of human beings who bring such gloom, doom and heartache to our characters? How do we pick the particular characteristics we include in developing our offenders in the hopes of making them memorably nefarious? How do we take a particular icky part of our lives and transform an otherwise bad experience into at least a palatable one if not a feeling of justice?

As I recently told a co-worker who thought I had the most amazing imagination, we all have life experiences. Even sitting home by ourselves, not even turning on the TV or radio or picking up some reading material, we experience life. When we go out into the world, even the most mundane of jobs, we have experiences. Some are happy, some sad, some thrilling, some devastating and some down right nasty. They’re all part of the human experience. It’s what you do with those experiences that can take it from the mundane to the dramatic and from just an event to a good read.

For instance, not long ago I was sitting on the bus going to work. It was an otherwise normal day. Got on the bus at 6:48, sat in the seat next to one of my commute friends, we changed buses at the bridge and then chatted a bit on the final leg to work. We sat at a stop light a moment and one of the other passengers said “that’s a big gun.” In an instant we all turned to look out the window as one San Francisco police officer readied the shotgun and five or six others approached a car pulled off to the side with their guns drawn. As we rushed to the windows it occurred to me that what we should be doing was ducking down on the otherwise of the bus because if the officers had their guns out chances are the suspect was armed and if he panicked, shots could be fired. Not dramatic thinking; reality thinking. We pulled away and that was that.

Or was it? As I got into work I was still experiencing the visceral reactions to that two, maybe three minute incident in the street. I told a co-worker about it and the same physical responses I felt on the bus played out. As soon as I could I wrote out those emotions, what I saw, what I felt, what I heard on the bus and in my mind, a story began to unfold. Who was in that car, what had they done? Was a co-conspirator on that bus? What did he do to put himself in that situation?

To flesh him out I only needed to wait a couple of hours for something to happen at work and being peeved at someone a number of my villain’s characteristics emerged. All it takes is a word, a gesture, an expression and your own reaction and you’ve got a scene…for a book. Writing a painful demise is definitely a more appropriate way to deal with an annoying person than giving into your personal desire to punch them, roundly curse the out or run screaming from the office. And by making them the bad guy in your latest story, you get to have the ending you much prefer.

1 comment:

Maggi Andersen said...

Writers do it almost unconsciously, Regan. We tend to be easedroppers and voyeurs, lol.