Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Villainy!

or How a Gas Cap Helped Me Write
by Bethany Maines
 
So today as I was driving to the Starbucks (because I was too lazy to make my own oatmeal) I saw a woman driving with her gas cap perched on the hood of her car. I was going to honk and try and indicate the issue when I realized that little door covering the gas hole was completely missing.  So I didn’t honk.  I figured that clearly this wasn’t the first time she had a problem like this and it might be better for her if she just rid the car of all accessories that weren’t bolted on.  Less to keep track of.

Facebook friend reaction says this was not the appropriately kind, good-Samaritan thing to do.  I should have honked and pointed, or pulled up alongside and yelled my message.  My reaction to such ideas?  Meh.  What would be the point?  She’d probably just do it again three weeks from now.  Some people are just Teflon coated against help.  And then I realized… I was the villain! Admittedly, the villain on a very small scale in a very tiny drama, but still, I was the bad guy!

Maybe I shouldn’t be so excited, but when I’m writing I sometimes I have a problem with villains. What excuse could possibly be enough to justify the villainous behavior of the bad guy? If my villain isn’t a sociopath or someone with a personality disorder of the highest degree, then they have to have a reason for doing what they do. At some point, they have to choose to do the bad things. And that where I struggle – coming up with reasons of sufficient validity to actually kill someone (or any of the other dastardly deeds they do). I remember a villain in one of my early attempts a novel writing seemed to have been cut from a Dickens novel – abused, with an evil uncle, penniless and starved as a child he set out to seek his revenge on all and sundry. He was one twirling moustache away from being Snidely Whiplash. My writer’s group told me in kind and restrained terms that just like my hero couldn’t exhibit all the traits and talents of herodom, possibly it would be more realistic if my bad guy acted like a human being.

In The Wild One Marlon Brando was asked “What are you rebelling against?” and he replied “What do you got?” Maybe that’s closer to the truth of villainy. It’s not that they’re not bad for a particular reason; maybe some villains are bad because they just don’t care.

11 comments:

  1. I had to laugh at this because I remember, early on, thinking...but why do they have to have a reason. They're just BAD.

    LOL.

    Though I don't completely subscribe to the dropped on their head and beaten things either. Sometimes "bad" could even just be an experiment, you know?

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  2. When I was teaching a survey course on writing one point I'd try to make is that all characters benefit from true human complexity and depth. Yes, just pure evil makes for a nice, temporary jolt to the story, but think of the villians we love to hate, the ones we hold in our memories: a Hannibal Lector, a Frankenstein monster, etc. We were frightened and horrified by what they did, wanted the hero opposing them to win in the end, but something about them also made us feel a touch of sympathy and even made us root for them a little, made us like them--just a tiny bit, but enough to make the character more intriguing, more compelling, less forgettable.

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  3. Sometimes people become villains because they didn't think before they acted, then had to keep on doing bad stuff.

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    1. I think that's an excellent point Marilyn! When we were kids, my Dad used to ask, "Are you letting your fingers get you in trouble?" (aka Small child, why are you holding that expensive glass ornament?) Because sometimes the fingers act while the brain is not engaged. I think it's one of the more human paths to villainy.

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  4. "Some people are just Teflon coated against help." That is a great line! I've actually met folks that fit that discription. Thank you for the laugh!
    Anjali

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  5. Bethany, I saw someone driving with the door to their gas tank wide open, too, and no gas cap in sight! I figured it was way too late to honk because the gas cap was MIA. (Aren't they supposed to be attached by something? My gas cap is. Hmm.) Anyway, I love trying to figure out why someone would do something bad in a book. It is complex sometimes or, like Marilyn said, just a simple mistake that led to lies and cover-ups (or more bad behavior). The only thing scary about writing villains is realizing that it's hard to write about people who are worse than some of the people we read about in the headlines these days. Makes me want to lock myself in my house and hide (and write, of course, surrounding myself with made-up people, good and bad). ;-)

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  6. I think the majority of the people I know who can be classified in the villain category are ones who make a bad choice, freak out and in trying to make it better make it worse. Fun post!

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  7. Often the powerless find they can hurt others and it makes them feel powerful-how far they go is a matter of how much sociopathy is present. And the food for you all's books. The gas cap? I've done it, but only once :)

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    1. I think we've all done the gas cap once. ;)

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  8. This is my first time comment at your blog.Good recommended website

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