Saturday, 27 February 2010

Goodies and Baddies

Today, husband pointed out to me that there are no "nasty" characters in the WIP (he's read the first - and only - third). This was something which hadn't occurred to me at all, and now I wonder whether I ought to introduce some bad characters, or whether a novel can survive without. When I think about it, most novels have a bad character in there somewhere, from Peter Rabbit (Mr. McGregor) to P&P (Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine de Burgh etc). The WIP has plenty of conflict (the situation the characters find themselves in), but no really bad characters. Will that do? Or do I have to introduce a villain? What does anyone else think/do? Help!


  1. Hello Frances, I have the reverse problem -too many baddies! I am trying to weed mine out. Perhaps we should get together!

    I don't think you need to have nasty characters necessarily, just flawed characters, or characters with views opposite to someone else's. I'm sure many books I have read have no outright nasty characters,but there is still plenty of tension and interest caused by the differences between characters - "Arthur and George" for example by Julian Barnes. Sometimes the required nastiness is supplied by the situation e.g The Plague provides the non-human nasty character in Geraldine Brooks "Year of Wonders" and there are plenty of menage-a-trois type books where the characters are manipulated by the situation and none of the caracters are exactly bad. I'm desperately racking my brains for an example now - and can't think of a thing - I'll get back to you!

  2. Frances, I always find the notion of "goodies and baddies" an unhelpful one. For me the question is always about plausible motivation.

    If you have conflict, your story will probably have forward movement, but if that conflict arises from a character's unexamined villainy, it's unlikely that it will have very much depth.

    On the other hand, if your characters have plausible reasons for behaving as they do (even if you don't share that with the reader), you're much more likely to come up with people who are neither unrealistically good nor unbelievably bad.

    Casting my mind back over the Austen canon, I don't think Emma has a really nasty character: the Eltons are petty and foolish,Frank Churchill selfish and immature. None of them is out and out "bad", and the engine of the novel is the conflict between Emma and Mr Knightley - not an unusual novel.

  3. I often think that the best baddie, as Dee says, is situation, where the protagonists are fighting something they can't possibly beat but must somehow get around, changing their own outlook on life in the process.

  4. Thanks for those comments. I think maybe 'baddy' (baddie?) is too strong a word. It's just that my characters are all a bit too sympathetic (although the main ones - two adulteresses and a tart - are not exactly good). But maybe that's it. If you have naughty main characters, that's enough. And perhaps that's true of Emma, too. If you have a really flawed heroine, you don't need too many faults in the other characters (although, Tim, I seriously dislike the Eltons!). And yes, situation can of course be the enemy, espcially if it's a big one like a war or the Plague (I loved the Year of Wonders, but read it so long ago that I can't remember any of the characters).

  5. Everyone is a hero in their own story, so villainy is all a matter of perspective.

    So I'd say it all depends on what kind of slice you take through life.

    You seem to have done just fine with no true villains before...(!)

  6. Hi David. Wasn't Ernest horrible enough for you?