As I approach the finale of In The Flesh, my online dark paranormal serial, I’m struck once again by just how much fun it is to write the baddies. In The Flesh is based on a very creepy short story I wrote a long time ago, a short story whose baddie didn’t even have a name. His lover thought he might actually be god! The idea of having a god for a lover, having a lover who is more than human and at the same time way less than human, who like the gods of mythology, considers himself above human law and ethics, never stops intriguing me. I revisited the idea in the Lakeland Witches novels and in the sequel serial novella, Demon Interrupted, as well as several other stories I’ve written. The baddie, of the short story is exactly the reason why I felt compelled to expand In The Flesh. At first, I planned only a novella, but the story was too big for even that, and the baddie opened up a whole new realm of questions to be answered. Just what makes a baddie, and how thin is the line between the monsters and the good guys? And more important still, why do we always on some deep level, want to fuck the baddies?
The best baddies, the ones I want to revisit over and over again, the ones I want to know more about, are the ones who are as intriguing and seductive as they are terrifying. The best baddies, the ones that I love most to read about or watch in the movies, are the ones by whom I’d secretly like to be seduced IF I could get away with it unscathed, which of course is always impossible. For a baddie to really work his magic in a novel, he has to entice the reader into the shadows. There needs to be something about him that we want. There needs to be depth and dimension that are well-rounded and dark enough to balance the hero in the seesaw of plot twists and turns that lead to the Happy Ever After. The best part about writing In The Flesh as a novel is that so many of the characters are ambiguous, so many of them could be viewed as monsters, and almost all of them walk a very thin line between hero and villain. That has made the novel one of the most exciting and fun works of fiction I’ve ever written.
I think the baddie has to do more than just make the hero shine. He also has to hold up the mirror that reflects back the hero’s own dark side. He has to elicit more than hate from the reader and the other characters. I think for a baddie to really make a plot sing, he has to elicit our own dark lusts and our own voyeuristic walk on the wild side. The baddie attracts us because he’s brave enough, bold enough, not to
care about convention, not to care about what civilised society expects. He’s quite comfortable with his dark side. And he gets what he wants because he doesn’t mind doing whatever he has to in order to get it. Of course none of us wants that for ourselves, and yet all of us want to know, vicariously through fiction, what that might feel like
As In The Flesh evolved from a short story to a novel, and the dark villain, though still nameless, acquired the title of the Guardian, I often found him terrifying to write because even in his darkest, most wicked moments, his logic seems to make perfect sense. His passions, lusts and desires seem so reasonable, and even when they don’t, the very conviction with which he believes them to be worthy makes everything he does seem almost sympathetic. Even as I wrote him in all his monstrosity, I found myself wanting to make excuses for him. I found myself wanting to redeem him somehow, and yet is there redemption for a proper baddie? Would they ever seek it out? If I’m being honest, it’s the villain’s darkness I love, and it’s his darkness that makes the fire of the hero and heroine burn brighter. It’s also the darkness that makes them question themselves and everything they believe in.
And that leads me to the true job of the villain in a good read, the villain is there for the hero and heroine to spark against, the baddie is there to help the reader get a better picture of who the hero and heroine are. And the baddie is the knife and chisel that sculpts the hero and heroine into something better, something stronger.
And finally the villain is the reader’s (and the writer’s) voyeuristic walk on the dark side. We can go on that dark journey with the villain and we can go there safely, have a totally wicked time, and be back in time for dinner with the hero and heroine. And the Guardian promises to take both reader and writer on a seriously dark and terrifying, as well as outrageously sexy, journey.