Character Study

There’s a character I’ve been writing about a lot lately who’s hard to get out of my head. He’s part of the project currently undergoing editing. Interesting guy. He had a good job a few years back, but the company he was working for went under, and things since then have been hard. He’s managed, though. Mostly by doing things that aren’t strictly legal, but, hey, everyone’s got to make a living somehow, right?

And he still does pretty well. His expenses aren’t much, and he’s got enough cash to indulge in his hobbies. He likes to read, especially surrealist literature; something about finding the connections and the symbolism appeals to him. Doesn’t care much for music; his biggest exposure to it these days is whatever comes through the ceiling when his new asshole neighbours turn their stereo up. He enjoys cigars, though, rich ones with character and complexity, something he can savour all day. Which he does sometimes, sitting back in that scuffed leather recliner he found in the hall when his old neighbours moved and just watching the smoke drift to the ceiling. He looks for shapes in it the way he used to look for shapes in the clouds as a kid. And the smell of the smoke reminds him of his brother.

A lot of things remind him of his brother these days.

He still misses him, even though he’s been dead a few years. He suspects he always will. His brother was the only person he ever really cared about, and the last person to ever really care about him. And ever since the murder, he’s been so terribly alone. Once, he wouldn’t have thought that would bother him—he never needed much from people, even when he was young—but he knows better now. Has been forced to know better.

So he sits, and watches the smoke drift, and thinks about nothing much. And feels the emptiness echoing around him and inside him.

One day, he knows, he’s going to find the woman who murdered his brother. She’s still alive in the city somewhere, he figures. Someone like her is too cunning to die. But she probably ghosted out of this part of town once her bloody job was done, and it’ll be hard to track her in his position. Still, he tries. Keeps taking jobs in different parts of the city, always keeping his eyes open. Just in case.

And if he has a chance…well, then maybe he’ll make her understand what she took from him.

Got all that? All right. Now, there’s just one more thing you need to know about this character: he’s the bad guy.

But not to himself. Everything he does—and, trust me, he does some pretty fucked up things—is totally justifiable to him. Because this is his story, right? Because, in his own head, he’s the hero.

That, I think, is the only real way to make believable villains. To make anything better than a cardboard cut-out for the heroes to knock down. You’ve got to get inside their strange, tangled heads, in where all the darkness gathers, and find out what makes them tick.

And then try not to be too disturbed by how much you understand them.

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One thought on “Character Study

  1. Agreed, writing villains is hard… it was hard to get us to like Tony Soprano, hard to like Dexter for that matter. Especially hard to like villains if you have no intention of ‘reforming’ them.. as so many villains are. Good luck, you’ve got me rooting for him (so far…).

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