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Friday, October 4, 2013

Light and Shadow ~ Rose Anderson

My son and I talk writing styles all the time, for he too is an author. When he was a boy, we studied Shakespeare hidden in movies together. He's a grown man now, and his tastes have changed.  It took him five years to convince me to watch Breaking Bad. I hadn't planned to watch this show. The topic of a meth-cooking, drug-riddled world of destroyed lives is hardly my choice for leisure entertainment. He says it's worth my time because of the “writing genius” involved and because he wanted me to see the anti-hero in action. Of course I have the whole hero thing nailed down in my mind, all of my novels have them. But an anti-hero? I had no clear picture in my head to go by, none that I was aware of anyway. 

The World English Dictionary defines the anti-hero as a central character in a novel, play, etc, who lacks the traditional heroic virtues. 

Oh, I knew that. I just didn't realize it had a name. It’s a character you find yourself rooting for regardless of their dubious qualities. Robert Louis Stevenson's Long John Silver is one of these anti-heroes. So are Scarlett O’Hara, Severus Snape, and Captain Jack Sparrow. They’re sort of nebulous-personality persons. You can't quite decide if they're good or bad, but somehow they strike a chord and you mysteriously end up cheering for them. 

Okay, if heroes are on one side of the character spectrum, and anti-heroes in that vague gray area, what about those not so nebulous persons? What about villains? My Exquisite Quills group recently had a discussion that peered into those dark cobwebby corners of our imagination where story villains linger. Very interesting.

I personally love crafting villains, especially sociopathic bad guys who create story conflict that must be overcome in the most interesting ways possible.  Sociopaths, by definition, are only interested in their personal needs and desires, without concern for the effects of their behavior on others. I can write that!

As a reader, I find such characters fascinating. Scarlett O'Hara is far more complex than her southern belle persona suggests. She's obviously a sociopath as well as an anti-hero. That's one of the things I love about writing these types of characters -- their complexity. Super villain Professor Moriarty is an intellectual match for Sherlock Holmes, the greatest analytical mind in the Victorian world. Now combine that literary fact of Moriarty with the definition of sociopath and you can see how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created an unforgettable foe.

As a writer, I find complex bad guys allow for a deeper internal monologue, and I'll leave this door open just a crack to show the reader a glimpse into my villain's mind to see the whys. My goal is to inspire a smidge of sympathy. Here are three of my most complex villains. Readers occasionally tell me they almost feel sorry for them...almost. 

Loving Leonardo: Conte Acario Bruno is a man born to privilege and raised on the attitude that servants, and other "lesser" people around him,  were merely property on par with the horses in the stables. Through his thoughts, the reader gets to see how that life of imbalances made the obsessive man he became. He finds love, a fanatical one-sided love, but the reader can see it's genuine on his part.

The Witchy Wolf and the Wendigo saga: Eluwilussit, aka Eli, is one of the story's ancient Native American shaman. As a true "I want what I want" sociopath, he just kept digging a deeper hole for himself with every evil deed and made himself the monster he came to be. The deeds meant nothing to him, and always, the end justified the means. Though there are far too many poor choices to possibly make amends for, his greatest desire is to return to the spirit world to say he's sorry things happened the way they did. You can see his sociopath's mind in this statement. He's not sorry HE did something. He's sorry things happened the way they did. His apology would sound like, "I'm sorry you made me do this." 

In my 5-book, 500k, as yet unnamed magnum opus (or MO for short), I’ve written an evil genius named Adrian Doyle. I don't know how it happened, but this guy ended up with such a depth of personality he surprised me. When the time comes, Adrian should meet his end in the MO’s own version of Reichenbach Falls the way Professor Moriarty did when he wrestled Sherlock Holmes and both went over the cateract. After emotionally investing in Adrian Doyle as a supreme villain, I’m sure my readers would expect nothing less.

I'm currently writing my first female villain. She too has her issues!

I believe these characters are necessary if one is writing true heroes. They're the other side of the coin...the dark side, the shadow. Example: Diana Gabaldon, one of my favorite authors, wrote such a villain in Black Jack Randall of the Outlander story. Each scene with the man is both repellant and fascinating. From A to Z, no matter what that man inflicted on the other characters, I couldn't look away. Some things were truly revolting. Oddly, I saw the point of this extreme because Diana’s Jamie Frasier is, in my opinion, an example of the perfect hero – self-sacrificing, loyal, courageous, noble, intelligent, wise etc. The truly good character needs the truly bad character to create a counterbalance. In other words, there is no light if the dark doesn't exist to make a distinction.

is multi-published award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and learning interesting things to weave into stories. She lives with her family and small menagerie amid oak groves and prairie in the rolling glacial hills of the upper mid-west.  

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Paris said...


I've never considered watching "Breaking Bad" from a purely analytical aspect but I may be rethinking that.

Rose Anderson said...

You never know what you'll see. My kids tell me the series Mad Men is actually Dante's Inferno. Look how many ways Romeo and Juliet played out in film, it's even West Side Story.

Liz said...

a sign of a complex and interesting story to me, is when the "hero" can be both...just like Walter. And Don read the Inferno in Mad Men just this year at the behest of his (at the time) mistress.
great post! thanks

Anonymous said...

Great post, Rose. I like it when a villain is more than just the pantomime bad guy. It's easy to write a character who is out and out evil, but quite hard to add some characteristics that show he's not always thoroughly bad. I thought Don Draper was a complex bad guy in Mad Men and a great character portrayal

Suzanne Rock said...

I, too, love the anti-hero. I feel that they have more depth and are often more true to life. I love the TV show Dexter for that very reason. Talk about an anti-hero! In my very first published novel, Spyder's Web, the heroine is a serial killer. One would think that I copied Dexter, but I wrote it before the series was on the air. Anyway, I found it both challenging and fascinating to have a serial killer as the heroine in a romance. I had to make her both sympathetic and evil, which is very hard to do. :) Great post!

Unknown said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, Rose. For some reason I always get great delight from writing a dark villain, and it flows so naturally I find it alarming! You've given me plenty of food for thought about the anti-hero. Those are very interesting characters but I had no idea they carry a different label. I do see why. The wheels are turning...

Kaye Spencer said...

Rose, I agree with you about Scarlet O'Hara being a deep and complex character. She's an interesting psychological study. Another one is Shakespeare's Iago. While I need (and want) my H/h to make it to their HEA, many times, it's the villain who makes a story for me.

Rose Anderson said...

Thanks everyone. It's funny how themes recur and how the human condition seems to stay the same regardless of the year. Some stories always seem to fit the moment, even thought they were penned ages ago. That's one reason I love the hero quest. It's a timeless endeavor. The world can always use a hero.

Anonymous said...

Good insights, Rose. I think villains are the most difficult characters to write because we need that complexity. It's a challenge.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

I wanted to watch Bad but just didn't have the time and am addicted to BBC dramas. lol. I'd never thought of Scarlett as a sociopath. She certainly has the self-centered preservation at no cost tude.

Sandy said...

Rose, I had never thought of Scarlet as a sociopath, but as a spoiled brat. lol

My editor for Addiction told me if you're going to make a villain make him very bad, and I did. However, I did paint in some scenes that might make you a bit sympathic.

Rose Anderson said...

We all recognize repugnant attitudes and characteristics when we see them.
They're personality traits in people we wrinkle our noses at. They're like blobs of ghastly colors on our writer's palette. We take a little dab of selfishness here, a little cruelty, or bullying there, and before you know it, you've painted the Picture of Dorian Gray!

I find my bad guys are so much easier to write than my heroes. I have a theory on that that's too big to share here. lol

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Rose,

You do write thought-provoking blogs. I am the reverse of you. I find the villain much harder to write than the hero in most cases. But a thriller must have both. My romantic suspense mystery thriller DEATH LEGACY has several very scary villains. We writers do what is necessary.

E. Ayers said...

Sociopaths are the most dangerous of the villains and the more intelligent they are the more dangerous they become because people don't see them for that they are.

Melissa Keir said...

I like really good bad guys who aren't redeemable. I also love those characters like Jack Sparrow who are selfish but don't see things as wrong!

Rose Anderson said...

Thanks for stopping by everyone. :)

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