I Fell In Love With an Antihero

Le Sad Clown Quixote

Le Sad Clown Quixote

I don’t write much here anymore. But I will write more soon. Much more. If you read me often, you’ll know it’s because of my job: it takes up all my thoughts and energy, and by the time I get home in the afternoon/evening, I don’t have much left to dedicate to other thought. I’m one of those strange people who need to live a balanced life: up time and down time. So instead of writing, I make dinner, or unwind some other way. Go on dates.

One of those dates incorporated watching a recent release, Seventh Son, with a Don Quixote-lookin’ Jeff Bridges mumbling into dragon mouths and the guy from Stardust proving he could wrestle witches with the best of them. Spoilers aside, I give it a five. I think it’s two movies smashed into one. The bad guys are ten times cooler than the good guys.

It highlit a trend I’ve been seeing in movies, TV series, and books of late: the evolution of the antihero. I like it. I want to talk about it.

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How to Fall in Love with Your Villain

Even when we don't want to be. *sigh*

Even when we don’t want to be. *sigh*

I’ve noticed a recent trend where the main character of a book, TV series, movie is antagonistic. It’s spun off several seriously strong TV series such as House, MD, Fringe, Lie to Me, and the british Sherlock Holmes. In the written world, most ‘punk’ genre literature has an antagonist for a MC; someone who’s been beaten down and has a serious need to break the system–and the reader agrees with this. The trilogy The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, for example, contains a pretty ‘punky’ antagonist with Ms. Salander. She does what she wants. And farther back, if anyone remembers this, an old-school TV series called The Pretender had an antagonist for a main character.

While these people AREN’T villains, they are brilliant starting points to get into a villain’s head: if you were to look at any of these perspectives out of context, or with a slightly different view, the MCs in these works would be “villainous.”

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I Dreamed Hard-Boiled

(Apologies for the constant Blog name-change. I’m looking for my voice, a little)

75% of the inspiration for my writing comes from my dreams. This is 98% why I write fantasy. Since I was 2 years old I’ve had vivid dreams and vivid nightmares, and I remember most of it. You can understand my confusion toward labeling my work fantasy vs something else simply because, in a way, I’ve lived it.

Movies are great. Books are great. I don’t write based off books (except for Dresden and an Animorph fanfic when I was a kid) or movies unless I’ve dreamed about them (which has happened).

Last night I dreamed I read (in the dream) a hard-boiled, gritty detective novel and, simultaneously, lived it through flashes of “real” characterization of the novel. Talk about esoteric; I dreamed that I dreamed about a book I never read.

I’ve always wanted to write hard-boiled (Dresden as example). I’ve always wanted a dark, brooding, antagonist main character in a world of absolute truths shrouded in layers of the socio-psychological and an animalistic need for survival. To try and find inspiration, I read historical fiction like Angel of Darkness and detective-heavy Sherlock Holmes and, even, Lovecraft’s dedication to the scientific method in his Meta sequence. Yet I’ve never succeeded in writing it. I chalked it up to not ever meeting, or knowing, a lover of detective fiction that could bounce ideas around with me, and tell me where I’m screwing up (if I even am! I might be writing it perfect, but getting all the negative feedback to convince me otherwise).

The dream was complicated, but as my subconscious often does, put me in an entirely different mindset than what I’ve been used to: it showed me what “it/I” liked while showing me a detailed writing style I’ve never had. Or, I’ve only had in my subconscious? In fact I had a conversation with the MC. Looking back on it now, it seems silly, but we were on a boat in the Hudson River (setting: Noir York?) after dumping a body and I asked him what he’d do next: pursue prosecution through the police or fighting through to the truth?

He looked at me, square jaw and four-day growth of stubble on his face, and said, “I’m not some emotional pussycat that fumbles around with personal motive and what I’m eating for dinner. I don’t stare into the bottom of my coffee cup and whine to myself how unjust this world is. I chew on the coffee grounds, I smoke cigarettes, and I sacrifice my body and hone my mind. You don’t reach this state without systematically removing all motivation, and motive, from your own life. My life is a mirror of my job; it has to be. Otherwise I’d be the body on the bottom of the river.”

Terrifying realization, this, because I had spent my writing life dedicated to busting the mystery’s balls instead of the character. It’s twisted, and possibly sick, but I have to work my MC to the bone before I can work my mystery to the bone. In fact, the mystery will write itself if the MC is carved away enough before the story starts.

I’ve never thought this way.

The reason I’m writing this post is because, in the past, I spent so much time trying to explain to people how I’ve come to the insights I have through sleep, and they laugh and say it’s impossible. Yes, I’ve read a few detective novels. Yes, I played Max Payne. But my thoughts wouldn’t have clicked the way they did without the vivid dream.

I know it’s unconventional. How do you work through your uncertainties?

Antagonist Birthday Book

My title is the first three words on my “tag cloud” widget or whatever scene word one uses to describe such a thing. It’s beast.

I’ve spent a lot of time studying the tropes of an antagonist, and somewhere in the recent past realized I can’t make a good antagonist to save my life. I can make an incredible zealot dedicated to opposite goals from the protagonist. I can make an army of them mechanically acting to a set of action/reaction.

But to write someone that exists only to be evil, or only to aggravate the MC eludes me. I’d assume it’d boil down to a psychological issue, or a defense mechanism (like a pathological liar), but I haven’t yet been able to drop into that mindset. Either the bad guy is a force of nature or he’s entirely redeemable and not nearly “bad” enough.

Some of my favorite books have had antagonists that were simply in the way of the protagonist. Like Ender’s Game. While the threat was the buggers, or whatever they called them, and the safety of humanity was at stake, Ender fought off several bullies and bucked a system some guy upstairs broke to break him. It was awesome. Ender literally fought the system, which is cool. Yet some of the antagonizers were the bullies that tried to force him down.

Yet that’s not entirely my point of this post. I want, desperately, to write a good antagonist MC. I’ve written Discordant Protagonists (my Urban Fantasy, for one: a cry to the darkness of all things literary to please birth an antagonist out of the Dresden-esque fantasy soup… nope), and I’ve written Sarcastic Protagonists that get into a lot of trouble and redeem themselves.

But antagonists as MC? I don’t know if it’s in me. Satirical, system-changing vigilantes? I’d love to. I really would. Some brooding figure so mired in his own unhappiness he ignores all the warning signs of a healthy, logical individual? Yes, please.

I don’t think I have enough disgruntled, misdirected anger for that. Maybe if I work hard enough I’ll start to hate.

Starfish by Peter Watts

I read this book a while ago, when it first came out. This book was the novelist’s first foray into fiction writing, and he exploded my imagination. Unfortunately my brother owned the original copy, and the book has since gone out of print.

I had the good fortune of getting it as a birthday present this past weekend. Every moment of downtime I get, I read this sucker. It’s scifi, cyberpunk (though not as cyber as the sequal, Maelstrom), and plays heavily on “pre-adaptation” of mentally unstable/twisted people to handle extreme pressure; literally, tending to hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor and figuratively with the cramped quarters, and high tension.

I have no idea why this wasn’t a bestseller. It’s brilliantly written. Violent, complex, and very easy to understand. From a psychological perspective, the characters are very paper-cut out: emotional damage to all the “unstables” is generally one-dimensional and caused from a single incident, psychiatrists that look at patients and say, “I get lots of people coming in here saying what you say, but I think you’re the first one who actually believes what’s coming out of your mouth,” (I know a lot of mentally unstable people… Of course they believe what they’re doing is right…) and a plot that’s as simplistic as saying, “Lord of the Flies.”

But it’s the periphery that gets me. The details. With the environment being so simple (bottom of the ocean, submarine-like living quarters, etc), and the plot being nothing more than six people fighting to keep a lid on their emotions while fixing portions of the power plant, the details of this world permeate everything.

I think that’s why I enjoy it so much: the writer does something I’m not used to writers doing. Those things that are usually frontrunner in a reader’s head–plot, environment–are actually in the background while periphery is key. It’s oddly subtle, and quite near fantasy if you look at it close enough:

Phytophyllic skinned rich people, adults that can revert to a childlike state by taking the right pills, and the way the government/private corporations run everything is eerily efficient.

The antagonist and main character, Lenie, is a woman that had been sexually abused earlier in her life. The prologue pits her in the colony with just one other person–a normal, oddly cheerful woman. The other woman snaps, eventually, the mental tension of living such a life becoming too much. Lenie snaps, too, in a strange way: she finds empowerment in the depths. She’s in control, there, and she’s in charge (Again, a little bit cardboard: someone who spent her life holding onto such a damaging memory won’t simply resolve it when she absolutely has to. In fact, fixing such a damaging memory usually takes a rewiring of self, and a long period of habit-forming positive reinforcement).

She gets strong, and sets precedent for the rest of the book. Book two (part of why I love this series so much) has her on a rampage through the United States, and Starfish feels like just a precursor to prepare the reader for what he needs to know. It’s complex. It’s awesome. I can’t put it down.

~x