Heroes and villains
The topic at hand this week is to do with heroes and villains, and what literary bad boys and girls we in the Fictionistas can’t do without. Before I get into that, yes, I missed my weekly video because I have shingles! It sounds like an olde-timey disease, like dropsy or the vapors, but it feels like a fanged beast has sunk it’s teeth into my side. It’s a mild case and it could be WAY worse (programming note: DO NOT GOOGLE IMAGE SHINGLES) but I wasn’t feeling too camera ready so I’ll confine myself to the page. Apologies, my sister Fictionistas. And thank you to the fine folks who bring us Percocet.
So, Heroes and Villains. I’ve come to think that when writing, the challenge (and the fun part) is to make yourself a hero and then spend the rest of the book tormenting him (and her – both Rhuun and Lelet run into the whirling buzzsaw of plot.) I always asked authors I was interviewing, how can you create a character you love and then do terrible things to them? And then I found out, it’s irresistable. Your hero won’t know their own worth, or depth of love, or quickness of mind, until it’s been put to the test. Without painful, heartbreaking, seemingly insurmountable challenges, Rhuun’s just a beautiful wreck, and Lelet’s just a spoiled bitch.
And then there are villains. That’s even more fun! Creating someone who is doing terrible things to characters you already love, but doing it for reasons that are fair and just (to the villain, anyway) and then – AND THEN – turning that person into someone you find you’re rooting for, and maybe even starts to love? That’s the brass ring. (Working on it.)
So, the best example of a hero/villain I can think of is Lestat. He started his (after) life as a straight-up trashy nouveau riche user, crass and tacky. Louis looked down his stuck-up provincial nose at Lestat (if I remember correctly) for his lack of table manners as much as his lack of any discernable moral compass. But as Anne Rice wrote about the pair, it became quickly apparent she grew bored of the depressed, sanctimonious Louis in favor of her one true love, Lestat. He took over the story and her life. She’s still writing about him.
The same thing (almost exactly the same thing) happened to Charlaine Harris. It’s possible she had Bill’s betrayal of Sookie planned from page one, book one, but it was Eric Northman who captured her audience’s imagination and ultimately Sookie’s heart. (The last book did not happen.)
We’re all watching Game of Thrones (some of us through our fingers) and in those books the scales are weighed fairly heavily in favor of villains. But what’s the difference between, say, Arya and Stannis? (I’m speaking of the HBO version now, not the books.) Stannis has killed multiple people – some of whom I was VERY FOND, STANNIS – but why? To save Westeros from looming disaster. He believes utterly only he is capable of saving the realm, and he’s willing to pay the soul-killing price for the Iron Throne. Arya, meanwhile, has also killed a great big heap of people. Her motive? Revenge. It may be justified but it’s certainly more personal – maybe even selfish. So why do we love Arya and are no longer on Team Stannis? (I know, it’s because she’s adorable and he’s got a stick of Valyrian steel up his butt.)
So it’s a neat trick, drawing the line between good and bad, and the finer that line is, the happier (and more frustrated and more invested and furious and in love) the reader is. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go take a pain pill and think of terrible things to do to my heroes.