clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bad Company

I've brewed the tea and now am prepared to write. At left: Mae West who was prepared to do just about anything.

Tonight I'm contemplating making a "bad guy" likable which tells you something about the company I keep. I'm finishing story A and thinking a little about the next draft of story B. That doesn't happen to the best way for me to work.

I've got a string of characters who are protagonists while they do engage in activities would describe as nefarious. Of course they're up to no good. Priests and banker seldom show up in crime writing.

Wait, they do. Bad example.

The question is - given the desire to start in media res - how to show a bad guy that is our good guy?

The protagonist carries the emotion of the reader forward and unless you have more talent than I've seen in person, it's bloody hard to start a story with a bad guy doing bad stuff and then have him remain with the reader.


Bad guy doing stuff to other bad guys. Crime readers seem to give you a break in the scenario.

Bad guy doing almost "full evil" but pulling back at the end with a gesture of mercy or compassion (even better: compassion). This is a nice cinematic technique. Call it "the Bruce Willis grin." It's a little harder to pull off in text because the object is to show a guy pulling up just a little without becoming a whole different person.

Bad guy doing some bad stuff and then breaking down before doing more bad stuff. This is a fun technique where the proverbial hitman is overcome by the victim making a "go ahead and do me a favor."  Maybe the hitman killed both the guard dog and the bodyguard. The bad guy is so moved by the intended victim's hard luck story that he shows he has a heart of gold. This technique usually requires the cover of the book to feature a character having a vague similarity to Burt Reynolds in the early 1970's.

Bad guy doing bad stuff caught up as the target of other bad guys who do worse stuff. This is the inverse of the first twist. It's big in some pulp. Think drug dealer pursued by corrupt cops.

Lastly, detachment. This is where "it's just a job" and the writer sells it to the reader. Often this requires "bad stuff" to happen off screen until the climax. The lesson is that there is a big different between Big Louis telling his dog that he shot two people today and the reader seeing Louis sneak into the house and blast a man and wife as they sleep with double-ought buckshot. Huge difference.

So, not a comprehensive list but certainly there are some ways around the protagonist as a "bad guy." After all, it is the company we keep.

What's fun is to make up a path that you know you can sell to the reader. Oh, you probably read it somewhere but you don't remember.

I once wrote three quarters of a novel that turned out to be a dull Michael Caine movie from the late 1970's that I don't remember seeing. I must have though. I even named the protagonist for his character in the movie.

Do something bad tonight. Write for an extra hour past bedtime. Mae would. I will.

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