Sunday, November 06, 2011

Are the bad guys really bad?

The question was asked if writers find characters from books they've read creeping into their own writings? Of course. It's human nature.

When I'm starting a new novel, I find the good guys seem to be formed already--the hero has his white hat in hand, and the heroine is smiling, her perfect white teeth glistening in the sun. Blech!! That was a bit much... anyway, my main good guys are formed from bits and bobs of those around me whom I admire.

The bad guys, on the other hand, tend to form themselves. [I know, I know, horrific grammar.] I have a general idea of what I need for the novel but no definite grasp on what their specific badness will be.

If the villain has no redeeming qualities, what is the point of his being in the story? As readers we need to have some empathy for all the characters so we can root for, or boo, them.

No one I know feels any remorse at the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, being put to death, but there were those who held some admiration, albeit grudgingly, for Ted Bundy. He was charming, good-looking and genteel. Even Ann Rule in her book, Stranger Beside Me, admitted to overlooking him as a suspect for the serial killings because he didn't fit the profile of a serial killer. He was just too nice.

In a current novel I've penned, the villain creeps everyone out and makes them look over their shoulder. His traits were loosely based on a convicted murderer who created the same effect in real life. The reality was he was raised in a middle class home where he did all the normal things others around him did. He graduated high school, got a job and went out on the town with the rest of us. No one had any idea of the turmoil bubbling beneath the surface. We had glimpses but when he exploded and killed four people and wounded twenty, the nation reeled. [This was in 1981 long before young people began solving their problems by shooting classmates and relatives. It was a complete shock.]

Having readers ask when the next book will be out so they can find out what happened to a character tells us writers we've done it right. So I'll continue to use the bits and pieces of folks I know to incorporate in new characters. After all, it's worked so far!

Celia Cooper/C. L. Kraemer

1 comment:

Rhobin said...

Enjoyed your post! I think we sometimes forget each of us contains both good and evil and everything depends on how we react and what we chose to do. One of my favorite characters is the much maligned man who is in reality honest and good, or trying to make reparations for the moment when his actions caused evil.