This months IWSG question, whether I'd rather write heroes or villains, raised some interesting thoughts in my writerly head.
My first response was neither. I tend to like books where the hard and fast lines between good and bad are blurred. Those are the kind of stories I strive to write. But that answer is a little disingenuous. Of course, stories need good and bad. Of course, the two play against each other. That's how a good story is created. And I've written my share of heroes and villains, The worst of them held a knife to my heroine's throat. The best of them saved a man from being buried in an avalanche, risking her own life to do it. Certainly, these fit the good/bad pattern of behavior.
The best characters I've created, though, carry both good and bad to some degree. And I think the secret (which isn't really a secret) to writing any character is to make sure they aren't cardboard cutouts, that they are characters not caricatures. The best are like the people you and I know, folks who sometimes make bad decisions even though they are good people. Or do good even if they would never consider themselves heroic. Kind of like us, only more so--with a bigger push towards good or evil.
I'm thinking, now, of a character in my novel The Tender Bonds. Jack is the estranged father of the protagonist, Patty. The story is about her reconnecting with him and with her family roots. But Jack isn't the wonderful man she remembers from early childhood. He's in prison for vehicular manslaughter--driving drunk he killed a woman and three children. He's not done well by his daughter, making little attempt to stay in her life. And yet. He isn't a monster. He, in fact, loves his daughter. How do you reconcile the two? In the end, I figured out that it wasn't Jack's "badness" that made him so flawed, it was his weakness. He's an alcoholic who could not or would not deal with his drinking problem. He's a father who feels that he can't raise his daughter and feels she'd be better off without him. He's a husband who could not keep his marriage together. And he's a man who's carelessness causes a ton of collateral damage--including a daughter who feels she isn't worthy of love. I like Jack as a character. I like the complexity I was able to create with him. It's more difficult, I think, to try and make characters that are complex, that mix good with evil to varying degrees. But it is also more rewarding.
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