Writing a SymPathetic Villain

villainThere’s a fine line between love and hate, between madness and sanity, between a caricature and a character. It’s easy to paint a villain with broad strokes, make her or him larger than life–like the bad guy in a Bond movie.  But how does one create a villain whose villainy is a matter of circumstance, an individual who, under normal conditions, would actually be a pretty fun guy?

How does one make a character who does awful things elicit pathos in a reader?

Alice Sebold did this in her book The Lovely Bones. If you’ve never read it (or seen the film) it’s the tale of Susie, a girl who is kidnapped, raped and murder by a neighbour. The neighbour, Mr Harvey, is an utterly abhorrent, ghastly, depraved man, a serial killer, and Sebold manages to show his desperate loneliness in how he lives alone–and builds doll houses, which is creepy…and pitifully heartbreaking.

That small thing, the man alone building doll houses, was enough of an appeal to my emotions as I read the book, and, despite all that Mr Harvey had done, I remembered the loneliness that I had once experienced in my own life–and I felt pity for the man. Granted it was a fleeting sensation, but Sebold kind of blew me away with her skill as a writer.

When I wrote Alex, the villain in Next to You, I never really thought of him as a villain. CHIN NextToYou1920_1920x3022_1024I thought of him as the redheaded actor Eric Stoltz, a good-looking good guy having a really shitty year after a family tragedy and being dumped by the love of his life.

People do all sorts of less-than-intelligent things when life goes to hell. Alex walks that fine between love and hate, between madness and sanity, between wanting to do the right thing and winding up doing the wrong thing. I know what I wanted to do with Alex when I wrote him. I wanted to pull off a Sebold and show his humanity. I wanted the reader to have a little sympathy for him–in spite of his despicable actions.

Although it’s available for pre-order and on Netgalley for reviews, with the book’s release a little over a month away, it’s too early to tell whether I managed a balance between caricature and character with Alex’s reprehensible behaviour, if he comes across as simply a villain, or if he’ll elicit pathos of any kind from readers. Perhaps readers will find his desolation pathetic rather than sympathetic. However, I am hoping that someone besides me feels, for at least a fleeting moment, pity, or recognises his frail humanity.

 

 

 

When Your Work of Fiction Meets A Disturbing Reality

You know why there are seasons don’t you?

Zeus’ granddaughter Persephone was kidnapped and taken to the Underworld by Hades, the God of the Underworld. Hades he rode a chariot from a crack in the earth’s crust, saw Ms P and snatched persephher. Persephone’s mother, Demeter, the Goddess of the harvest, was devastated that her daughter had been kidnapped and went looking for Miss P, searching all over the earth. of course she searched alone because in Ancient Greek mythology there was no FBI, and Grandpa Zeus preferred to go around the world disguised as a swan so he could boink pretty women instead of helping with the investigation. Meanwhile, since Demeter spent so much time looking for Miss P, she sorta forgot about being the Goddess of the Harvest, which meant the crops withered, died, and it became winter.

Forever.

OH MY GOD WHAT A FUCKIN’ NIGHTMARE!Leda

Yes, I said that exactly like Marisa Tomei did in the movie My Cousin Vinny.

Then, one day Demeter figures out Hades, who it turns out is Miss P’s UNCLE, was persuaded to give up his niece Persephone for half of every year. So yeah, that’s why was have spring and summer. Part of the year Miss P is down with her Creepy Uncle, the other half of the year she’s making rainbows, drinking lemonade, and having a BBQ.

The point of this is, myths once gave explanations for what we now know to be scientific fact about the ear’s orbit around Mr Sun and blah blah blah.

It almost feels opportunistic of me to write this post, considering I have a book with an albino hero about to come out, but HOLY SHIT I read an article today that made me feel sick.  It was about African country Malawi, where people with albinism are being hunted for their bones because myths and superstitions say the bones will bring success and wealth, are made of gold, or have special powers, or can cure HIV. 

None of that is true. We have the scientific facts about albinism, but those bizzaro myths about the condition still exist. In the twenty-first century.

I feel very much like William Murphy standing on his soapbox today. I know tired to make light of something horrific. It’s the way I cope, or explain it to myself since I wrote a work of romance fiction with an albino hero who’s really just an ordinary great guy in a great suit. I tired to show William Murphy as a regular Joe with a skin condition that gives him fair skin and not so fabulous vision. But there are other fictions out there, like in Malawi, that continue to perpetuate myths about albinism–twisted horrifying myths. And they need to end.