Weekly Musing: Difficult Characters to Write

I admit I’ve been playing it incredibly safe in my writing up to this point. Safe subject matters. Safe emotions. Safe storylines. Safe characters. The problem lies in my risk adverse nature and the desire to please people. I don’t want anyone to be upset with me and I don’t need people to psychoanalyze my work debating if it is saying more about me as a person rather than paying attention to the story itself.

The stakes are high for a writer. You take an incredible risk when putting a story out for public consumption. And as someone as risk adverse as I am, this can increase the level of anxiety I already cart around. This is why over the past couple of years I have been so safe with my work. A lot of it is because I’m learning, or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. That excuse can last only for so long which is why I have been giving a lot of thought as to what I’m afraid to write.

I determined what scares me the most are not difficult subject matters, other cultures, or characters from a different background but difficult characters. I’m talking those low-life, soul-sucking, evil dredges of life. Straight up I’m-here-to-blow-up-the-world baddies. The unrepentant bitches of the world. Villains that do terrible things but for reasons we can relate to even if they are still criminals.

I fear THE DARKNESS associated with these types of characters. Getting into the mind of someone I find morally reprehensible to tell his or her story. Let’s face it, people don’t really care to see the human side of a bad person. I fear a reader’s dislike of an evil character will somehow come back to me and the reader won’t like me as a person. It’s really stupid logic. Idiotic thinking for a writer, too. If a reader gets emotionally invested in a character, that isn’t always a bad thing. Perhaps the writer’s doing something right.

A good villain taps into the darker side of all of us. That secret spot filled with thoughts we would be unwilling to admit to anyone of its existence. That there are those times we would love to be able to say nasty things to people, do hurtful things to people, to just unleash the primal form from within.

For all my reservations about going to the Dark Side, sometimes the most memorable and delicious of characters isn’t the good guy. I think about the characters of Augusta Pilaster and Micky Miranda in Ken Follett’s A Dangerous Fortune . Both are villains cut from the same cloth: power hungry, greedy, successful, liars, and ambitious. What intrigues me about these two is that throughout most of the novel, they get away with every lie, deceit, and falsehood. As the reader, I’m waiting with bated breath for them to get their comeuppance in the end while secretly enjoying a lot of the horrible things they do. It’s not that I dislike the good guys in the book, I root for them to have things work out for them, but those two antagonists are just so much fun. I do wonder if Mr. Follett had as much writing their scenes as I did reading them.