Saturday, September 24, 2011

Making the Bad Guys Bad and the Protagonists Stupid.

Okay, so maybe not stupid, but blinded in the moment?

I'm reading Elizabeth Bunce's A CURSE AS DARK AS GOLD and thinking about my own WIP, Marks of a Horseman, as I read. As I'm in the revision stages of a novel that is part fantasy, part dystopian, part touchy-feely, and 100% adventure, I find myself reading more as a writer than a reader these days.

How are authors getting across the particular voice of their characters? Why do we feel so deeply for certain characters and not for others?

Here are my conclusions. The bad guys must be really janky (see previous post for definition). They must give us a visceral, gut-wrenching, want to tear their eyeballs out feeling as we read them on the page. In the case of Bunce's book, it's Uncle Wheeler. He is a complex, secretive, dandy of a man who I have grown to hate with a ferocity that might have spurred me to murder if I was actually in Shearing. But what's interesting is when we met him, we weren't sure. It was possible he might be okay, but as we're led through the book, he just gets jankier and jankier. He's a great villain.

And as for Charlotte, the MC, Bunce does a fantastic job showing the reader the error of Charlotte's ways while keeping her superbly blinded to her own flaws. I find myself screaming at her, saying "No, don't be stupid!", yet she can't hear me and she steps forward into a big kettle of losing the things and ones she loves stew. But isn't that what makes us read on - we care what happens to the character? We don't want them to make those mistakes. We want things to turn out sunny, or at least resolved in a satisfactory way (which isn't always unicorns on rainbow clouds but that can be okay, too).

So in conclusion, I've decided as I revise that I'm going to look for those opportunities to pepper my antagonists with evil and sprinkle my protagonists with stupid dust. At least in the moment.

And what does it say about me as a writer that I'm rubbing my hands in anticipation of the havoc I'm about to wreak? What about you? Delivered any torture to your kind characters lately?


  1. I adore that you used the word "jank." Ever since your post, I've been using it as much as possible!

    Anyway, I agree villains need to have a high degree of buyable nastiness but making protags stupid? Dangerous ground.

    And I'd even venture to say that boy protags can be stupider than girls... I know--double standard, but there's that acronym for female heroines: TSTL (Too Stupid to Live). I haven't seen that one applied to male protags, though it really should be.

    Thought-provoking post, Jaye! Thanks.

  2. I don't mean stupid stupid - guileless would be a better word. Just sort of an oblivion with, slower than the reader would like, growing awareness - it gives the reader a chance to "mother" or "bff" the character - make sense?


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