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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Evil Characters

Whether a book is a romance, a mystery, an adventure, a fantasy... There is always at least one thing in common. They each contain at least one character who makes the protagonist's life miserable.

It might be easy to portray an antagonist as something so evil that he or she has no redeeming qualities. In the show, don't tell rule in writing, this could be depicted as a child abuser, animal killer, or spouse abuser.

But sometimes, it's the little things that make the greatest impact.

It could be the way in which a spouse requires all the cans to face with their labels outward, as in Sleeping With the Enemy... When main character Lara Burney escapes from her marriage, we know her husband has found her when all the cans are reorganized with the labels outward.

It could be the way in which a spouse "edits" everything the other says, correcting and requiring them to speak in a specific manner.

Or it could be the way in which a parent turns a deaf ear to a child in need, refusing to hear or respond to their physical or emotional needs.

Every human being is multi-faceted. Sometimes the way evil sneaks up on a person is to portray them as someone we might have liked; someone whose characteristics draw us to him or her. But when we're sucked in, we find there are other layers, terrifying layers, perhaps sociopathic in one extreme or disconnected in another. Perhaps it's someone who seems normal on the surface but who is incapable of feeling pain - and has a quiet obsession with seeing it in others.

There are careers for those who want to live outside normal society. Mobsters, assassins or mercenaries are just a few that come to mind - careers in which the sociopaths are surrounded by others of their own kind. While Hitler undoubtedly laid the groundwork for hatred and crimes against humanity, it took more than one person to carry it out - sometimes those evil characters are found in the guise of doctors, soldiers, or otherwise ordinary civilians - more than 200,000 in all who participated in crimes against humanity under the Nazi regime. We think of a doctor as someone sworn to help save other human beings from pain or death, and yet many have crossed the line into something sinister and evil.

As an author, I must create a composite of each evil character in my book. I have to know as much about the way they tick as I do the protagonist. I have to find their good qualities as well as shine a spotlight on their evil qualities.

In The Tempest Murders, I introduce a character named Diallo Delport. He is a sociopath, a killer, a man who is patient enough to plan his crimes to the most minute detail. He is formidable, physically intimidating: 6 foot 4, 230 pounds, solid muscle. He is also an albino, his eyes a mixture of light purple and cornflower blue, his skin unusually pale. Perhaps a most alarming characteristic is a scar that runs under one eye and continues almost the length of one cheek; a scar that looks like a teardrop. It will be the last thing that many women see just before he murders them.

As an author, I am a people-watcher. When I see a character who disarms me, a character who frightens me or causes me to fear for my safety, I want to know why. The character of Diallo Delport was created in part on a character from the television series Justified. Brilliantly portrayed by actor Neal McDonough, the character of Robert Quarles is chilling, sadistic, mesmerizing, and terrifying.

What evil character portrayed in the arts has made a lasting impression on you?