On heroes, villains, and what I can get away with.

A while back I got a rejection letter (I know, shocker, right?). It was nice as far as rejection letters go. Said my writing skills were tight. The story itself was too dark, though. I know this because the word ‘dark’ was used five times in two paragraphs.

It made me realize that I’m not so good at telling my heroes from my antiheroes from my villains, and that this could actually be a problem.

click the pic to learn more about One ShotSometimes I don’t cross a line by much and an editor will tell me how to revise. In the original manuscript of One Shot, Riley was much scarier than he is in the published version. When I made him nicer I made the mistake of not toughening up Nick by a proportional amount, but Nick’s still a little hottie in my book so that’s okay.

click the pic to learn more about Want MeWalker Cain from Want Me, however, didn’t get dialed down at all. For good or ill, it was one of the reasons I chose to self-publish. It meant I could go crazy with the storyline. I got to write a character who literally had no concept of right and wrong, not even as other people saw it. He wanted. He took. That was his life. Unfortunately what he wanted most was Joel, and the spiral they were thrown into as a result turned out to be razor sharp and painful for both of them.

Ahh, how I loved that book.

Still, there was an element of likability to Walker. Partly because he just didn’t know any better. Innocence born from madness.

click the pic if you'd like to learn more about Just PerfectDraven Donnor is not mad. He knows exactly what he’s doing. And he knows that almost everything he does is not right by human standards. So that would make him a villain, yeah? Except that he’s not human. He has a moral code, but it’s a product of who he is, of a culture very different than ours. And when it comes to Cody, he’s all about loving, he’s all about protecting, he’s all about getting closer. So he’s got flaws, but he also has one really, really good trait. Maybe that makes him an antihero. But…

When he becomes an assassin, he finds that he enjoys his job. That never changes. No angst. No crisis of conscience. Plus at the beginning of the story he steals from Cody. His best friend. Which brings us back into villain territory. On the other hand, from his perspective he is a natural, right being, rightly doing what comes naturally to him. Then again, most villains think the same thing about themselves, meaning Antihero Upgrade denied.

As you can see, I’m not entirely certain how I should feel about my newest character. But I feel for him all the same. He is Draven and I love him. Just like I love Walker. Just like all those psychotic characters I adore so much in anime. (I’m looking at you, Akabane.)

This says something serious about my psyche. I’ve yet to figure out what, exactly. As the writer of such stories, am I the hero or the villain? Maybe I’m trying to write the best story possible with a concept that’s always intrigued me, and maybe I hope Just Perfect catches on and its popularity will let me write more of it. Some of the stories I’d like to tell are cool and dark and possibly twisted. And I believe they belong on the shelf right next to my fluffy stories, because I love fluffy too.

Perhaps my ultimate goal is to bring balance to my backlist. That’s a worthy aspiration, even if the road is five times as dark.

Does that mean I’m the antihero?

Or am I just a writer with wicked thoughts, trying to see what xe can get away with?

5 Responses to “On heroes, villains, and what I can get away with.”

  1. AS says:

    Walker Cain was dark and edgy, but I probably liked Joel better, overall. (Not to say I didn’t like the story – I loved Want Me. And at times Walker was insanely hot, in that scary way–more times than I care to think really…)

    Draven I liked though. He’s got some flaws, to be sure, but I don’t think they’re as serious as Walker’s (despite some similarities in certain things that they do).

    Maybe because Draven has more purpose? I mean, despite the negative associations with his job title, in a way, he’s doing a job that needs to be done. Not doing that job would be worse. So that I can rationalize. Even stealing from Cody, I can understand, based on the character’s own insecurities at that point. (Not approve of, in a true moral sense, but understand, certainly. His motives make sense.)

    All in all, I think you do have a flair for darker characters – either antiheroes, or villains-who-ain’t-half-bad, however you want to characterize it. Their flaws and self-contradictions are what makes them interesting. (I mean, reading a story about Stan the perfect guy, who just goes around being perfect, gets a bit boring after a while. Unless he falls down a rabbit hole or something. Stan in Wonderland. That could be interesting.)

    Likewise, although I probably ended up “liking” Joel better than Walker, it was Walker who drove the story, to a large degree. And would Joel be so interesting/likeable, without crazy Walker to interact with? (Had Joel stayed the way he was at the beginning of the book, it wouldn’t have been that interesting, after all.)

    Real humans are rarely perfect. Full of flaws and contradictions, good and evil. That’s what makes them interesting and infuriating and, well, human. (Even the characters that are not quite human.) A lot of your darker characters have a supernatural power… and there’s the saying about how “power corrupts.” I think they tend to illustrate that point to a degree. Their power has corrupted them, to a degree, by letting them take what they want. Yet they’re not wholly evil, not without feeling, not without redeeming qualities. It makes one wonder “What would I do, if I had that power? Would I be able to stay totally ethical?”

    tl;dr: Dark can be interesting, and therefore a good read.
    🙂

  2. Anonymous says:

    I like Draven a little more than Walker, though I love them both. I, too, find these “dark” protagonists particularly intriguing. What I love about these characters is that they cannot be characterized as simply “good”. Instead, they’re complex, realistic depictions of people who are corrupted by their own power. Yes, these kind of books are not exactly mainstream, but I hope to find as many stories like these as possible. Excellent writing combined with fascinating, complicated, and somewhat morally ambiguous protagonists. I’m so grateful for these stories!

  3. @AS – lol! Walker’s hawtness bothered me *while* I was writing it. I kept looking down at the keyboard and saying, “What did I just do?!”

    With both characters I wanted to create people who did some pretty horrendous things, but whose motivations were also understandable (even if most people would definitely make a different choice). I’m glad that came across.

    @Anon – I’ve never been a mainstream writer, which gives me a certain amount of freedom, I think. And that sometimes takes me to…interesting place. I’m grateful that people are willing to take that ride with me.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hello, I have all of your published works and enjoy the fact that in many of your stories it is hard to tell hero’s from the villains. Lone was my introduction to your ability to see the good in even the blackest hearts, honestly your characters seem the most life like to me, no life form is wholly good or bad. I just finished Just Perfect and believed the characters exchange labels according to the situation, like all people. Thank you for writing a story that I can read without making my teeth rot. I would purchase sequels with Driven.
    A Fan
    J. Hearn

  5. @J. Hearn – Haha. Well I’m all about good dental hygiene. 😉

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