Are Your Bad Guys Bad Enough?

Most people don’t like bad guys. After all, they spend their real or fictional lives antagonizing others or themselves!

The epitome of a "bad guy" stage!

The epitome of a “bad guy” stage!

Bad guys make us sit on the edges of our seats, get sweaty palms, or even raise our heart rates. But are they really necessary for a good story?

YES! It’s been stated many times that conflict makes a story engaging or engrossing. What better way to create conflict than to have a bad guy antagonizing our hero. The greatest thrillers use this model and even dramatic stories successfully incorporate the bad guys into the plot line.

I’m a fan of Diana Galbadon (The Outlander Series and Starz Network Show). She has successfully created a number of bad guys that really set my teeth on edge and make my fingernails grow a couple of inches; all the better to claw their eyes out with! I hate the bad guys. I want them dead, gone, kaput! But, if they left the scene right away, what consequences would ensue? Sure, the protagonist would be “okay” but, would the story be as interesting if there was nothing to fear or be angry about? Would the reader really want to continue reading?

Not all stories use human characters to facilitate the bad guy persona. While many do, many authors are quite adept at using events and inanimate objects to antagonize the protagonists. A hurricane, health scare or disease outbreak, or financial crisis are just a few situations that are “bad” and can do much to facilitate character development and story interest. Situations a reader can relate to also help to grow interest and empathy from a reader. An author is not limited to human, breathing bad guys, but objects and events can be drafted to do the job.

I must admit I love “pulling the chains” of my “bad” characters. It is fulfilling, at times, to inflict emotional and/or physical distress on them. No, I’m not a sadist! But, writing in this manner is a great release of frustrations in my own life. I find it very cathartic and liberating. However, it is also rewarding to let some bad guys find redemption and become someone who is forgiven, loved, or even a savior of the protagonist. Either scenario, letting the bad guy stay bad and resolve the issues encountered with tragedy or letting him or her change and resolve the story in a more positive note make for writing that is captivating.

And if it makes for a best seller, all the better!

Until next time . . .

Family – How Important is it?

To my characters in Against Their Will, family is important in different ways. Not only are the relationships that are typically formed between family members an important part of what the characters do and experience, but the genetic map they carry also has implications that not many people take time to consider. But genetic composition as well as relationships are two foundations on which families are built.

I attended a family reunion today. I really enjoy getting together with this group of people from my mother’s father’s family. We have much in common; we laugh, we catch up and we joke about the changes in our lives, mostly on how we’re getting old way too fast! It occurred to me, however, that family really does influence our lives and having one is not something to take for granted. While we are all born of biological parents, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we automatically have a family. Deaths occur, marriages never happen or are dissolved, children are abandoned or adopted. Many things happen in life that disrupt the flow of life via the biological family. Even non-biological families can suffer from dysfunction, or can thrive through good relationships. It is a sense of belonging to another, however, that drives so many on a quest for family in one way or another.

Lack of family is what drives Lynn McCaine in Against Their Will. As we meet her in the opening of the story, she is distraught over things she has learned about her family. She is frantic to return to the only family she knows at the time, her cat. Her search for family is a driving force motivating her to set out on a quest for knowledge. That quest costs more than her life.

Matt Grayson has a loving family. And, he is blessed to be able to appreciate them in the present. Like most of us, he takes them for granted from time to time. But, when it’s crunch time, they are there for him and him for them.

While family is an underlying theme in Against Their Will, a parallel theme is that of being there for and supporting others in our lives. When Matt and Lynn’s ill fated flight ends in flames in East Texas, Matt Grayson doesn’t stop to think about any danger he may be in, or the non-existence of a relationship with the woman in the seat beside him with violet eyes and independent hair. He is focused on one thing, making sure he gets her out alive. Why would a stranger do something like that?

How many of us would do the same? Why would we? What’s in it for us? What drives Matt to do what he does?