Monday, May 26, 2014

Return of the Bad Guy; part II

The bad guy.  The villain. The rotten little bastard who deserves to be slapped around like a cheap punching bag in a run down gym on some forgotten back street and then sent to bed without supper . . . after putting a bullet hole through his forehead.  That guy.

Maybe the ONE character(s) in a Noir/genre novel that is an absolute must.  Creating a character who, more or less, fits the description of 'the hero' in a novel is all well and good.  But necessary?  Necessary . . . is perhaps too much of a demand (possibly another topic to explore some day?).  But a bad guy . . . ?

It's funny.  Most readers have found their heroes and have become avid fans.  They look forward to the next novel and/or movie that features them.  But there are those who secretly enjoy a 'good' bad guy.  One who revels in the amoralistic freedom of someone unrestrained in the normal conventions of acceptable behavior.  (the supreme amoralistic villain who fits this bill is, in my opinion,  Lord Voldermort from the Harry Potter novels.  Now THAT guy knew who to throw a party of exquisite PAIN!)

We love our good guys.  But many of us secretly admire the freedom and lack of conscience found in so many of the truly classic ne'er do wells.  I'm thinking of Justified's Boyd Crowder, for instance.  The guy is intelligent, witty, urbane . . . and best of all . . . ruthless.  But there is the classic of all urbane and witty villains;  Sherlock Holmes' arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty.  Every bit the equal to Holmes in every department . . . with the added pleasure of not being bothered by the normal conventions of society's mores. (Oh, how could we ever forget Hannibal Lecter?  Read one novel featuring him, or watch one of the movies, and his face and . . . especially his voice . . . is indelibly imprinted into your memory never to be forgotten)

So I make my case.  The villain may be the MOST important character of all.

A friend of mine, Richard Godwin, knows one or two things about the bad guy. (Richard is a writer, a journalist, a Renaissance Man of classic dimensions, and an all around good egg.  If you haven't read his novels . . . you should.   They are excellent.  Click on his name and you will get a quick review of his offerings.)  So I asked him to jot down a few lines and share some of his thoughts with us.  He graciously agreed to my request and supplied a rather interesting take on classic (Shakespeare) and his own version of a baddy from one of his books.  Read on.  You will find it interesting and provocative.

Richard Godwin.

To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, A fish doesn’t know it’s in water. The meaning of that may be deduced in his terms or the necessity of creating an anti-environment. What does   that mean? Fiction defines reality to create drama. A protagonist is meaningless if he operates in a moral vacuum, he needs antithesis. The Hegelian trinity thesis, synthesis, antithesis is at work here.
The antagonist is as vital to the protagonist as his own morality, in many ways he could be said to define his morality. A case in point is Othello. Othello and Iago operate as if they were part of the same psyche. Othello is the Shakespearian hero, flawed, as they all are. And here is an interesting issue: Shakespeare’s heroes all have a major flaw, which has been compared to the crack in a vase widening as events unfold. Iago is the voice inside Othello’s head, placing doubt, subverting him, the vice that suggests and then convinces you your wife is being unfaithful and you need to do something. And she is innocent. But you listen to your doubt, because it is the strongest voice inside you because you need it, because deep down it is what you resonate you. Or as Iago puts it as he calculates in soliloquy how to ensnare the Moor Othello:
“Cassio's a proper man: let me see now:
To get his place and to plume up my will
In double knavery--How, how? Let's see:--
After some time, to abuse Othello's ear
That he is too familiar with his wife.
He hath a person and a smooth dispose
To be suspected, framed to make women false.
The Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by the nose
As asses are.
I have't. It is engender'd. Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light”
And as he plays on Othello’s need for the seal of reputation:
“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.”

If I speak of my own villains, among the numerous, Karl Black in Apostle Rising springs to mind, or the notorious villain in Mr Glamour.
Black hates the police, he detests their stupidity in the novel, as he says to Castle and his fellow officer:
“‘How can I help you?’ Black said, the voice steady and unemotional.
Castle stood up.
‘A body’s been found in Bushy Park near where the original killings took place,’ he said.
‘The original killings - you make it sound like Genesis.’
His lips moved after he had finished speaking, as if a smirk was starting to crawl across his face, then it seemed to erase itself.
Stone could feel her hard professional persona kicking in.
‘We’re investigating a serious homicide, Mr Black,’ she said.
‘And you are?’
‘Inspector Jacki Stone.’
‘Nice to see a woman on the job. Of course I know you Mr Castle, I know you all too well, with your feeble accusations, all evidence of course, evidence of your complete inability to solve a crime. Sick of hassling motorists? Got something juicy to sink those whisky sodden teeth of yours into? Now, let me see. Police thinking. We interviewed Karl Black before, why don’t we do it again? And we wonder why there are so many criminals on the streets. Can’t do it yourself? Get a woman to do it.’
Stone started to move forward and Castle put a hand on her shoulder.
‘I’m not rising to that,’ he said, ‘and besides, we can always do this down at the police station.’
‘You find my surroundings too intimidating, do you? Not enough of a whiff of corruption? Perhaps you need to go out and shoot an innocent man. Perhaps a traveller on a train with no guilt whatsoever, so that you can boost your flagging career, but then again, it always was flagging, wasn’t it, Chief Inspector Castle?’
‘You haven’t changed, Mr Black.’
‘I have nothing to change, unlike you. It’s a pity you’re not like the chess piece you’re named after, you’re more of a pawn.’
Out of the corner of his eye Castle could see a look pass across Stone’s face. He’d seen it before when she was about to deck a fellow officer for sexism.
He got in between her and Black, knowing his game and ignoring his comment.
‘We’re here on police business.’
‘Another misnomer, for what do you police? The streets aren’t safe and you’re patently not interested in apprehending criminals, especially when most of them walk your corridors, so what should you be called?’
‘Now just a minute, Mr Black-’.
‘It’s OK, Inspector Stone.’
‘She spoke. How novel.’
‘A murder has been committed. It bears a striking resemblance to the first of the killings which I interviewed you about,’ Castle said.
‘Which you mis-interviewed me about. You know, I’m getting pretty tired of your time-wasting. You never linked me to those killings and the best you can do now is reel me in.
You’re a sorry pair. Need a drink Frank? I can see the whisky hanging off your lips. And as for you, Inspector Stone, your femininity cries out for a little male attention. You look like someone who’s all on her own. What’s the matter, hubby run off with someone else?’
‘I look forward to interviewing you Mr Black,’ she said.
‘I look forward to showing you up for the cretin you are. A double failure: as a woman and as a police officer. The name inspector should not be uttered in the same breath as a mediocre inadequate such as yourself.’”

If your protagonist has three dimensions and you deny the same to your antagonist you will create a series of moral platitudes. Drama exists in the spark, the realisation that the writer has articulated something you have felt in those moments that have disturbed you, it lives in the fiction between things, events, attitudes, positions and windows. Good drama should leave you trying to define your own morality. It has historically disturbed our conceits, from the Metaphysical Poets onwards, and it ought to subvert our complacencies.


Richard Godwin is the author of critically acclaimed novels Apostle Rising, Mr. Glamour and One Lost Summer, Noir City and Confessions Of A Hit Man. He is also a published poet and a produced playwright. His stories have been published in over 34 anthologies, among them his anthology of stories, Piquant: Tales Of The Mustard Man.    
Richard Godwin was born in London and obtained a BA and MA in English and American Literature from King's College London, where he also lectured. You can find out more about him at his website , where you can also read his Chin Wags At The Slaughterhouse, his highly popular and unusual interviews with other authors.