Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Dark Side

Hi there! Karlie speaking.

Most of us (well, okay, me) tend to need beautiful people in our stories. And not only beautiful heroines and dashing heroes, but those mustache-twirling villains who get in their way. Black and white is easier, less work, and more swoon-worthy.

Most of my stories follow this stereotypical criteria in more subtle ways, but it's still there. They don't need a reason for their actions, other than one simple fact: It's their role. That's just the way they have to act. Heroes don't whine, they don't back away, they don't let the damsel save them. The villain is just monstrous because you need a villain. And in the end two perfect (literally) strangers fall instantly in love and ride away to happily ever after.

News flash - it don't work that way, folks. 

My New Year's Resolution is to give my good guys a dark side. A secret passion, a buried longing, a moment of weakness. A fatal flaw that somehow manages to rise to the surface in a critical scene. 

I have slowly fought my way out of the perfect princess trap (at least, I like to flatter myself that I have). Now my damsels aren't always the ones in distress - heck, sometimes they ARE the distress. 

I'm having a little more trouble on the antagonist front -  my villains shouldn't be there just because they're evil. No one is born wanting to hate, kill, destroy. Someone made them that way. Twisted them beyond recognition until their soul only wanted to emulate the darkness they learned. 

Perhaps, in that darkness, a shred of compassion can also be born. And the reader can think, "Maybe he/she isn't completely deserving of hatred." And that's when you know you've done your job.

So from now on, I'm going to take a close look at my characters - and find the gray mixed in the black and white. The rust inside the shining armor, the cheekiness in my perfect heroine, and the reasons behind the villain's handle-bar mustache. 

What do you have the most trouble with - the good guys being too perfect? Or the bad guys being too evil? And how do you propose making a truly monstrous man/woman deserving of sympathy?

Readers, what are your New Year's novel resolutions? What are your favorite characters to read?

After Lisa's and Caitlin's answers, I fully expect some of your thoughts on the subject below. Hey, I'm nosy!

CaitlinI have a very gray (i.e., not black and white) view of people in general, so, I don't struggle too much with this. I like my good guys to have faults and I like my bad guys to be sympathetic.  If anything, I run into the problem where my bad guys (and girls) are too sympathetic and readers grow too attached to them and then don't believe they are capable of what I have them do. Heh. 
In one book, I did have a side character whose main role was to, well, be a bitch. She wasn't that important and didn't have a ton of screen time, so I didn't spent a lot of time developing her. But it bothered me more and more that she was a "bitch without a cause." I'm revising that manuscript now and it has been really rewarding to "learn" more about why she is the way she is. I think the book is much stronger for it. 

LisaI thought I had fully fleshed-out good guys and bad guys until I really sat down and thought about this post. I'm thinking I could do better at both. The love interest in my recently finished book only had one flaw - a past transgression. Granted, it was a pretty big one, but his personality at present is perfect. He could be a little more flawed. And my bad guy in the book was just bad. There's no depth, though I never considered doing anything more than making him bad because the spotlight isn't supposed to be on him and what made him the way he is. He's just the bad guy that pushes my main characters to do what they have to do. However, I could have more of a backstory for him that I don't use in the actual story. That backstory might peek through in some of his dialog, his actions, etc. I think I'll work on that. Thanks, Karlie, for a great question! Don't forget you can leave your thoughts on the subject in the comments below.

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