Saturday, April 23, 2011

Question: How do you create a character who is as ice-cold as a cadaver when it comes to killing someone--yet one who actually posseses a conscience?

Or put it another way, in a sea of hit-men/assassin killer types found floating around face down in the dark waters called hardboiled, how do you create a character who is different. Different--unique--sympathetic.

A challenge. And that's putting it mildly. But one I wanted to try out one day on a kind of a spur-of-the-moment writing exercise. And . . . I'll be go to hell . . .what popped up on the screen was a guy named Smitty. Fully developed. Mean as back alley Wolverine with an aching tooth--with the black eyes of a pit viper who took in everything and anything in one glance. Reticent in speech--yet rather eloquent in his reticence.

One mean sonofabitch. That's Smitty. Yet . . .

Read the stories closely and you discover Smitty only takes out those justly deserving to be taken out. He's like the grim Angel of Death coming to collect his due among the miscreants and sadistic. And he does it spectacularly. Guns, poisons, explosives--even the front end of an F-150 Ford truck. It doesn't matter. When Smitty sets his eyes on you as his next prey--buddy, you're as good as dead.

Ah. But now, how to make him sympathetic? Make him someone from the dark side who you wind up willingly . . . or unwillingly . . . rooting for? Therein lies the McGuffin, as Alfred Hitchock used to say concerning his films. There's the catch that hooks the reader. And the answer is; I haven't a fraken' clue. It just happened.

One day Smitty was born in the back of my subconscious. He came out like some god of Greek mythology; sprung from the sea fully formed and magnificent to behold. But a god clearly hailing form the shadowy lands of Hades.

Take him for what he is, kid. The guy really does get under your skin and makes you want to read more about him.


  1. Even Socrates commented that, although poets were guided by the Muses and produced truly inspiring works full of meaning, they seemed to have no clue of how the process worked or to even grasp the full meaning of their material.

    Hey, you went Greek first...

  2. Sarah, yeah. I'm a Greek. But not a Greek god.

    Benjamin. Yes, my little handiwork. Had to let the child in me out.

  3. Must we sympathize with such a character, or merely empathize, for him to be successful?

  4. From what I've been hearing from those who read the Smitty stories--they wind up empathizing and rooting for Smitty. Some reluctantly rooting for him.