What’s news for horror writer Paul D. Dail?
After much longer than I had originally intended, the print copy of The Imaginings is actually a print copy… kind of. Currently in the proofing stage, but it was pretty cool to be able to hold my first novel in my hands, to be able to flip through the pages.
Shouldn’t be long now. I’ll keep you posted.
Still shopping around a couple short stories that I’m pretty excited about. Now just hoping to find a publisher who will agree.
Also working on the early stages of a couple other stories as well.
And, uh… ahem… yeah… still trying to get started on the edits for my next novel.
But now, without further ado…
The following is a re-print of a piece I wrote a couple years ago for Suite101, a site for informative articles of a myriad nature. This article was under their “creative writing” section, but I tried to make it entertaining to the average reader as well. The result was a two-part piece that reads much like Stephen King’s On Writing.
Not that I consider myself on par with Stephen King or anything.
In fact, I’ll take this moment to officially purport neither to be an expert in this field or a strict follower in my own writing of all of the things I suggest here all of the time. However, I think I have some interesting perspectives on the topic and would like to believe I’ve written at least a couple decent bad guys in my time.
What I meant to say is that, much like On Writing, the first part I’m posting today is probably more accessible to general readers, with the second part geared more toward writers (but hopefully still interesting to more dedicated readers).
So NOW without further ado…
What Makes a Good Bad Guy? Part 1: Hate the sin. Love the sinner.
When it comes to creating a good antagonist, the first step is understanding why people often like the bad guys, be they on the screen or on the page.
Putting aside the character background bios and the “dinner dates with your main character” recommended by many authors, to get down to the root of character development, I think most writers have to establish some form of a connection with the characters we are creating. If you believe in some sort of higher power or deity, this is probably much how that god/goddess/whatever certainly must feel.
See why writers are a little messed up?
To write a story, to create a world and bring people to life is to be like a god. There are few things in the world to compare. The question is, how do we deal with the devil? And perhaps more importantly, how do we make people like him?
But let me say again: To get down to the root of creating any characters, writers generally have to establish some form of a connection with the character. Most of my characters carry some reflection of myself, even if only glimpsed on the window of a parked car as they walk past it. And in addition to the general public’s support of the rogue, I would venture to say that most genre fiction writers have a love for creating the bad guy (and yes, I know the correct literary term is antagonist, but that’s what I’m going to call him/her/it for the sake of this article). Probably many of the more “literary” writers feel this way as well.
What has surprised me is how many horror writers I’ve met over the past few years who are also the nicest, gentlest people you might know. Yet our pleasure in writing often comes more from the creation of the adversary than the main character. Why is that?
In matters like these, I like to defer to Joseph Campbell and The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the hero’s journey, but you can find it anywhere, from the Greeks to the Bible to the tarot deck. I’ve always been a fan of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s take on it (which influenced Campbell’s work), specifically the collective unconscious, and in this case, the archetype of “the Shadow.”
In a nutshell, the Shadow is the deep, dark side of our Self. It’s very often the opposite of our projected Self and usually hidden from others. And we all got one. If you think Gandhi never got pissed, you’re fooling yourself. He just had more control over it than, say, the Unabomber.
Everyone has a darker side, with the tricky part being that in order to be a complete person, you have to recognize it without giving in to it.
Add in the idea of a collective unconscious, a universal storehouse of shared memories, and you might have what we could call our common connection to Evil.
But it doesn’t have to necessarily be evil. Keep in mind that the Shadow is the side of us that we can’t express… at least not in polite society. That doesn’t necessarily make it evil.
With a huge surge in vampire literature as of late, many in the horror field have wondered what the next big thing will be once the vampires stop glittering and start desiccating in the sun. It’s been proposed that werewolves will stick around and find more popularity. This makes sense to me, because the werewolf represents something similar to the Shadow. It is our wilder side. And in a world where many would say–regardless of which side of the fence you’re on–that if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention, the werewolf represents the ability to rage against the rules that dictate civilized society.
So in closing of Part I, I will say that we like the bad guy because he/she/it gets to do the things we can’t do, but very possibly would do if we were given a “free pass.” Think about the popularity of movies like Pulp Fiction. With the exception of maybe the cute French girl, there wasn’t a single person in that movie who did what would be considered by polite society to be “the right thing.”
Maybe it’s like Jung proposed. To be whole you have to recognize the darker side. And maybe sometimes it’s okay to even like the darker side.
Just try to keep it on the page, buddy.
And speaking of writers, my next installment, Turning the “Shadow” into flesh and blood, will address how I think writers can put some of these ideas to the task of actually creating a good bad guy.
What do I want from you?
How about you? Who are some bad guys (or girls) you loved to hate?
Or hated to love, for that matter?
And don’t forget to check back for Part 2.
Finally, I know posts are sporadic as of late as I pursue the writing career, but if you’ve enjoyed what you read here, please subscribe to receive posts via email or RSS feed (on the right hand column) so you won’t miss anything when I do get the opportunity to say something. NO SPAM, I promise.