Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It depends on where you're sitting

Do I think like the hero or the villain?

I’d like to say I think like the hero, and mostly I do. I tend to follow the rules, try to help people out, and just in general be an annoying goody-goody. I’m so bad at lying that I have to call my sister when I need a whopper. I won’t tell you which sister, and I have three. But one of them is a genius at lying. Simple lies, complicated lies. She’s got the gift. She doesn’t lie all the time, but it’s there when she needs it, and it’s also there when I do.

So, I think I’m mostly a hero.

But recently I borrowed a friend’s car. A non-writing civilian with a real job. He was having problems with his boss and told me not to put anything in the trunk so it would be empty when I picked him up from work. Without missing a beat, I said, “So you can put in a body?” He looked at me in total astonishment and said, “So I can put in the boxes if I have to clear out my desk.” And that was when I realized that maybe I think a bit like the villain after all.

I’m trying to pass that off as a good thing, so pay attention here (and, no, I didn’t call my sister before coming up with this explanation). Every hero has some bit of villainy he needs to vanquish in himself and conversely every villain has noble reasons for her actions (yup, I’m messing with the pronouns just for fun).

Hero? My main character in A TRACE OF SMOKE thinks long and hard about taking in an adorable five year old orphan who appears on her doorstep one night. She doesn’t send him out into the darkness alone in the middle of the night, but she thinks about it.


Villain? My main villain is based on a historical figure, top Nazi Ernst Roehm, who was sure that he was the hero who was going to restore Germany to greatness. He did terrible, reprehensible things. He also had a warrior code that he lived by, he suffered horribly in World War I, and he was a highly decorated soldier. Like all villains since the dawn of time, he was human. For better and for worse.

10 comments:

CJ Lyons said...

Becky, I think Ernst makes an awesome villain for just those reasons!

And remind me never to look in the trunk of your car.....

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, CJ. Luckily for the world, my big car's trunk is always too full of junk to fit a body in there. And my other car is a Mini Cooper, so no luck there either.

Probably best to borrow a car for that kind of "work" anyway.

Leslie said...

Becky,

I can so relate! I think I've found my people. ;-)

When I was showing off my new car to my family a few years ago, I noticed there was a florescent yellow release lever inside the trunk.

I commented that I would need to make sure the bodies were actually dead with this car, but all I got was weird looks, no one seemed to have my sense of humor. I quickly shifted the subject and told my nephews they should never play in car trunks since not all of them opened from the inside but if the trunk closed and trapped you, you could kick out the taillights and signal to people for help. Again with the weird looks.

I guess I identify with both the hero, or the feisty victim, and the killer too!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks for joining us, Leslie! The strangest things get weird looks, don't they? And good for you for educating the next generation! I too have had the "what to do if you're ever thrown in a trunk" discussion.

You just never know...

Leslie said...

Exactly! We're definitely on the same wavelength... And like your friend, my brother, seemed to think I'd taken a detour to crazy town. ;-)

Kelli Stanley said...

Wonderful post, Becks! :) I've gotten the strange looks over the off-hand plot comment ("Gee, I bet that electronics store is a front for a prostitution ring" ... or "How much sand do you think it would take to bury someone on Ocean Beach?" -- that kind of thing.

Oh, well ... it's why we're Criminal Minds. ;)

xoxo

Jen said...

Gregg Hurwitz told me the longer he's written the more he's gotten away from writing villians and more toward writing antagonists. It's so rarely black and white. Those are the best kind of book is one where you can't completely hate the bad guy/gal.

Kelli, that's so funny. It's what makes you great writers...always in the "what if" mindset! I love it!

Jen said...

Yeah...it's kinda late and my brain is a bit fried...that should have said, "The best kind of book is the one..." Not all that gobbledy gook I wrote. Sorry.

Kelli Stanley said...

Jen, sweetie, no worries!! We knew exactly what you meant!! You should see what comes out at the end of a six hour writing day ... I try not to do marathons because I'm always facing a rewrite the next day if I push beyond the limit. :)

And I agree with Gregg--antagonists are more interesting to write than "villains" ... though whether or not a mystery needs to have a moral center from which to radiate is a probably a question the CMS should take up at some point ...

Thanks, Jen!! Your comments are always so inspirational! :)

Kelli

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Kelli: I'm glad I'm meeting you in New York this time, far from the tempting sands of Ocean Beach...

Jen: Nice to see you over here! I think nuanced villains are the most interesting. Pure evil Dick Dastardly types just don't cut it any more. We need more layered villains, you know, like Wiley Coyote.