December 7th, 2009


It's Complicated . . .

Yesterday I celebrated the end of NaNoWriMo with fellow NaNo’ers (Is that even a word?). Toward the end of the celebration we talked about the books and characters we love. We all agreed we love characters that push a moral button within us, make us squirm. You know? The character that commits heinous acts throughout the book, but there is something about them that lures you in. You find yourself cheering them on despite your good moral upbringing. Dexter (a Showtime original) exemplifies such a character. Dexter knew from an early age he possessed antisocial tendencies. His adoptive father shaped those tendencies. We in the psychology world call it sublimation (taking an unhealthy behavior and channeling it into something adaptive). Dexter learns how to murder. Huh? This is good? No . . . and yes. He only murders “bad” people. The slugs of society . . . serial killers. Each time I watch the show I am painfully aware that I love Dexter. I find him endearing and support his murdering 100%. Yikes. Severus Snape from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is another character that makes you question, squirm, and ultimately pulls on your heartstrings.

Creating a character that possesses these elements is hard work. You have to show the evil/bad parts as well as the good/soft underbelly . . . but not too much of either. I have such a character in my Diyari Chronicles series. I agonized for days (weeks really) about words, facial expressions, reactions, motivations. I knew I nailed it when my beta reader called and said, “I found myself cheering on “J” when he was fighting “R.” At the end of the scene I was breathless and felt . . . odd. How can I cheer for “J,” who is so clearly evelllll?” Well, is he? The idea of a person being all “good” or all “bad” is . . . well LAME. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things. Capturing that dichotomy in a character is complicated. Life is complicated. People are complicated. Watching characters grapple with the good and bad within them is intriguing, memorable.

So how about you? What good/bad character do you love?