Friday, November 18, 2011

WHEN GOOD CHARACTERS GO BAD

Can the good guy be bad?
I saw a post from a very talented thriller writer, Jason McIntyre, author of Thalo Blue, on twitter asking if his character could commit cold blooded murder. I had to put in my 2 cents and say, yes.

I'm struggling with a similar circumstance with my hero, Nick Dempsey, from my mystery/thriller Nature of the Beast. I think some of the reason I'm putting off finishing my sequel, Ties that Bind, is because I have taken him down a darker path than most characters/heroes venture down. Okay, at least darker than the human heroes! I, for one, am enjoying the trip. Nick, maybe not so much.lol 

It won't be a permanent personality change or maybe it will be, but people change and are changed by their circumstances. We read about it and see it all the time. It leaves me wondering how fans will react to Nick's transgressions and rightfully so. No one wants to create an unlikeable hero or ruin a favorite. I've been feeding bits and pieces to selected readers to see what kind of reaction I get.

I think I have and always will create "real" characters who are flawed and human because that is what I want to read myself, and, after all, I'm flawed and human, too.

The definition of antihero,
A protagonist of a drama or narrative who is notably lacking in heroic qualities. This type of character has appeared in literature since the time of the Greek dramatists and can be found in the literary works of all nations. Examples include the title characters of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote(1605 and 1615) and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749).

We see they have been around for centuries, so we should have no fear to give it a try!? Maybe we won't create a true antihero but we'll let them wander down that path for a ways. I think the key is to give an underlying quality or circumstance that the readers can relate to. My character's meltdown is inspired by an attack on his wife and few other things I won't divulge at the moment.

Creating a great hero will let the character do just about anything and still retain the fans' loyalty. Our readers are investing their time and money. Is there a "You had me at hello" type of deep connection or maybe he or she is just a hottie...you decide.
How far is too far?
Rape, murder, incest, animal abuse, adultery, lie, cheat, steal, do drugs? These are all things we expect to see from our villains, but what about our good guys, the heroes? How evil can we make them and still call them a hero? Are readers even looking for heroes today or just the thrill of a good, exciting story?

My favorite character is Joe Pike, written by Robert Crais. When Joe's friend Elvis Cole is wondering what to do with some bad guys Joe can be often heard saying "shoot them." Shooting them would not be out of character for Joe but harming an innocent woman or child would be. Now that I think about it, the bad guys these two face never seem to make it to prison. That's what I have come to expect from these two characters.

My Nick's, transgressions are small in the grand scheme of things but they could still alienate some readers. A revenge killing and adultery are not the worst things I could have him do, but they were integral to moving the plot forward and shaping the future psyche of the character.

The thing I love about self-publishing is that it lets me think and act outside the box of traditional publishing. It gives me the opportunity to write my real character without a 'no, no' slap on the hand.
I was watching parts of Grand Torino with Clint Eastwood, he was not a likeable character but we got a glimpse into the past that created him and into the pain he endured and I think into the promise of a different future. I think we see more of the flawed hero on the big screen and I'm okay with that type of character. It makes the character more interesting and there is usually some redeeming quality we can cling to.
When all is said and done, as writers we need to write our characters, the good, the bad and the ugly and let the chips fall where they may.

Next time you see a bad, good guy, realize that we put a lot of thought into what you are reading and that are we trying to give the most enjoyable and realistic reading experience possible.

HAPPY READING!

3 comments:

Jason McIntyre said...
Another great anti-hero doing questionable things in modern pop culture is Walter White from AMC's Breaking Bad. He is definitely doing some nasty things in the name of his family...And, heck, some of it might not be for his family any more. Great post, Jodi! Glad we connected over this very interesting topic of debate. For the record, I've accepted the challenge of taking a good guy down a dark path -- in a MASSIVE way. :) j. //
Jodi Langston said...
It's something I've been worrying about, too. I need to just charge ahead and get it done. Best of luck. I can't wait to read it!
Sheilagh Lee said...
Excellent post Jodi I think as long as we can see the character as still human we can accept them flaws and all.

Monday, November 14, 2011

EVOLUTION

    I write this as both a reader and a writer. We adapt, we evolve, we change. That is the nature of the beast.
   Why is it that the reader has such a hard time accepting the change, the evolution of a character when it is the inevitable fact of life that everything changes? Our moods, the weather, and for me a good character changes, too. I guess we don’t like be out of our comfort zone. We want the familiar character we have grown to love.
   I was scanning some reviews at Amazon for some authors I like to read and it made me wonder. I saw many one-star reviews simply because the character was evolving, changing or doing something that was unexpected. Should an author be penalized for doing that? I don’t think so, in the end as a writer we have to go where that story takes us. We have to listen to what the character is telling us.
   There is nothing more boring to me than a character that never changes. Book after book I’m read the same thing, but at some point I have to stop reading. As a reader I want to be shocked, I want to sit there and wonder why the character did that. As a writer I aspire to rock your world with a deep and somewhat unpredictable character.
   As much as I love Stephanie Plum I haven’t read a book all the way through since Ranger was shot. I think Evanovich is giving the majority of the readers what they want. The few readers like me who drop out won’t be missed. I love Steph, Morelli and Ranger, but until something life shattering happens, I won’t be reading. I have seen no forward movement in the characters and I lost interest, to me they have become predictable.
   I recently started reading the John Rain character by Barry Eisler. I started in the middle of the series with Requiem for an Assassin. Rain is a quintessential anti-hero, assassin for hire. I’d like to say Rain is an anti-hero with a heart but I’m not sure if that is an accurate statement. From what I’ve read, Rain is evolving, longing for, or at least, wondering what a ‘normal’ life would be like. That sounds good to me because it leaves the door wide open for so many plots and I expect a character to grow. Some of the readers didn’t like this step in his evolution, and I guess that is to be expected. Rain is now a father and that changes a person whether we can admit it or not. If you think you can find 'the love' for an assassin give a John Rain novel, a try.
   Last but not least, my favorite character Joe Pike, written by Robert Crais. Pike has ventured off from Elvis Cole into his own series of books. Elvis is always there to lend Pike a hand when needed. Elvis and Joe are a good pairing, like John Rain and Dox.
   Pike is changing and ‘thinking’ about evolving.  In The Sentry, he actually lets his guard down and lets a woman in, it just turned out to be the wrong woman. I was so proud! Okay, I’m a huge Pike fan! I see growth and change and an inner dialogue that says can I be normal? I can see him as a husband and father. That I think, will be too much for most of his readers to handle. That’s okay because I write fan fiction stories, so I’m good. Pike will always be the hero who hides his pain behind dark glasses and the man of action who is willing to die for a cause. He is a killer with a conscience, John Rain, not so much. Pike will never show up to a party and talk your arm off. I like the fact he keeps me guessing, wondering what is going on behind those dark glasses.
   Crais books have crisp, clean writing with just enough amazingly poetic descriptions to keep me interested. His writing is Spartan, you won’t be inundated with too much of a good thing and I love that.
   
   My character Nick Dempsey, seems be to simultaneously evolving and devolving if that’s possible. I'm going where he is leading me, good or bad. He has made great strides to live a normal life but one horrific event will lead back down the dark path in the sequel to Nature of the Beast. You either face your demons or you spend a lifetime running from them.
   I think our characters change over the years as we do. We become more cynical or less cynical. Our characters age as we do and they feel the grip of mortality, they think ‘what if.’
   I can see why there is trepidation by some authors to evolve their characters…you will alienate some fans in the process, but in the end your character knows best.