Bending Bad

September 15, 2012 at 1:41 am (Fervor, Royce, writing) (, , , , , , , , )

Okay, I admit it…I’m totally addicted to the show Breaking Bad. Truth is, I have a fascination with good guys who, as a result of extreme duress, do things that would have been otherwise unthinkable to them under normal circumstances. I also find myself revisiting the notion of bad guys, be they bullies, thieves or even murderers, proving to be not so bad after all, maybe even doing something altruistic or heroic despite a shady and/or despicable past. People rarely land on one end of the ethical/moral spectrum or the other. The good guy may have at one point cheated on a test, or fudged his taxes. He may be willing to lie or to get violent for the right reasons. Just because he or she usually is well-behaved, doesn’t mean they always were, or always will be.

Bad guys can be equally gray. I’m reminded of an episode of Legend of the Seeker where Richard, in disguise, accompanies one of the enemy home to his family. The man, it turns out, is not evil to the core. He does things he doesn’t like doing for the sake of his job, his sense of duty and his need to provide for his family proving to be stronger than his sense of right and wrong. But he does have a family, and he loves that family. After seeing the soldier interact with his wife and children, Richard finds himself struggling with the fact that he then has to betray the man.

Furthermore, there is something essentially rewarding about a villain who has chosen to cast off evil ways for the sake of redemption. It suggests that all is not lost for those who have strayed from the proper path. Maybe they had been tainted by bad influences, but are willing to change once they realize the error of their ways. Maybe they were misunderstood, choosing an inappropriate way to express fear, pain or insecurities, and are uncovering a better way to cope. Granted, those characters usually end up dead, as other people are not likely to accept their new outlook on life and once the character has achieved redemption, there is no place left for them in the story. On the other hand, sometimes they manage to carve a new place for themselves despite the distrust and displeasure of others.

One of the most difficult bad-good characters I’ve ever tackled has been the character of Royce in my Fervor series. I’m working on the fourth book in the series, Providence, right now, and he is proving as trying as ever. He started off a bully in Fervor, gradually cast off by those who were supposed to be working with him, and after sinking as low as he thought possible, he set aside his pride and begged them for help. When he seemed to be mellowing and turning a new leaf, he reacted to a stressful situation with a shocking act of violence, destroying most of the new-found trust he had established. Eventually, he does end up an ally to the heroes of the series, after suffering for past wrong-doings as well as breaking a little in response to a cruel twist of fate, but their alliance remains a tenuous one. While he behaves heroically and has the odd occasion of self-sacrifice, he remains brash, impulsive and bitter. He exists as a constant dichotomy: both a bad guy you love to hate and a good guy you hate to love (but still do) at the same time.

As challenging as this type of character can be, having to weigh the rare good deed with reminders of the bad things he has done and still thinks about doing, they also add the most excitement to the writing experience for me. While other characters are more predictable, Royce will turn on a dime, shielding his cohorts from harm one moment and taunting or bad-mouthing them the next. With him, the negative aspect of his personality extends beyond just a response to environment, and is inherent to his genetic make-up. This means he’ll never completely change, nor will the others completely understand him.

While some good characters might “break bad” and some bad characters might have an instance of enlightenment and transformation, Royce has evolved to be bent both ways – and to me…that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I only hope he never bends so far that he actually does break.

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