Who are you calling bad?
I admit it. I like a bad guy. I'm intrigued by the man in black, the saboteur, the bringer of danger. And no, of course I don't mean in real life, but in fiction - most definitely.
There is something compelling about a Hannibal Lecter type of character. Yes, he's malevolent, evil and sick but reading a story such as his allows the reader to safely explore humanity's darkest aspects.
However, that's not really the type of character I have in mind when I think fondly of fictional bad guys.
Nor is it the classic baddie or anti-hero, whether it's the moustache-twirling, cape-swirling plotter of dastardly crimes or the warmongering, power hungry king, dictator, leader of an alien race who is intent on domination of country, planet or universe. And even less so is it the perpetrator who is unmasked at the end of a who-done-it.
No, for me, the fascinating bad guy is the tough, flawed, damaged individual. He could be Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind or the Phantom below the opera house. He's perhaps aggressive, even violent when he needs to be, but only in the furtherance of a just cause or in the defence of himself and those he loves or protects. He may be blinkered and misguided, but he has an interesting back story, can ultimately be a force for good, and there's often the possibility of some sort of redemption. Yes, the ubiquitous maverick cop springs to mind, but it could equally be a rebel soldier, politician, lawyer, journalist - whatever - bad guy will be a boundary pusher and bender of rules. And that edge of unpredictability, unconventionality and danger will make him sexy, intriguing maybe even lovable - as the Beast was to Beauty.
Bad guy pops up in all the genres, and can be the protagonist or antagonist or, indeed, both rolled into one. But as long as he's badass which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as both tough and good, then he'll work for me.
But, wait a minute, this bad guy thing - it seems all very male doesn't it? And if I go back to my dictionary I see that the O.E.D. defines guy (singular) as 'a man' BUT guys (plural) is defined as 'people of either sex'. So surely there should be some leeway for the gender of bad guys?
I must admit, I'm at a bit of a loss to come up with a sexy and intriguing bad guy-woman who has made any sort of impression on me. I know the baddies in fairy tales are often women - and boy are they wicked. The evil stepmother, the wicked queen, the bad witch - scheming murderers all. Then, in comic-strip superhero world there are the Catwoman types and their cousins the femmes-fatales and the tarts-with-a heart who appear in spy thrillers and crime novels. But the bad-in-a good-way female guy - she seems rare if she exists at all. Why that is - well there's a whole PhD thesis in the answer to that question.
But male or female, for writers wanting to employ the services of a captivating bad guy the important thing to remember is complexity. Yes, bad guy can be on a mission to fight a one-dimensional baddie be that a person, organisation or demon, but your guy needs to be nuanced, intriguing and beguiling - just as any other protagonist/antagonist needs to be. However although my preference is for deepdown-good-bad guys, your bad guy doesn't have to be likeable. The notions of 'bad' and 'good' are difficult to define objectively and are open to the writers' and readers' interpretation. The truly irredeemable and entirely wicked individual is rare in life and literature, but where a writer creates such an individual some degree of subtlety, ambiguity and credibility is good. As the saying goes there's a banality to evil, but you don't want your writing to suffer from the same label.
So how do you like your bad guys?
Hmm, thinking about all of this has given me an idea for a novel. Main character is a kickass, badass girl-guy, complete with scar, blackbelt, aggression and a mission. She's afraid of no-one as she battles through the plot, saves the world, and is ultimately saved from herself by cardigan-guy.
Watch this space for the publication date of Badass Beauty - I may be some time...
Anne Stormont is an author-publisher. She can be a subversive old bat but maintains a kind heart. As well as writing for this fine organ, she writes fiction for adults – mainly of the female-of-a-certain-age persuasion – and for children when she goes by the name of her alter-ego, Anne McAlpine. She blogs at http://putitinwriting.me – where you can find out lots more about her.
Websites at : annestormont.co.uk and annemcalpine.co.uk