Saturday, January 20, 2007

Character Genesis - Tommy Knowles

Status: broke the 10,000 mark last night.

I thought my whole character/plot thing might be easier to understand if I gave an example.

Tommy is the primary bad guy in POISON DOOR. He's one nasty, warped, twisted piece of work, but he didn't start out that way.

Originally, PD was going to be a noir study of two bent cops trying to break loose from the drug lord who'd come to own their souls. Except that one of my cops just... (Shatner voice) simply... refused... to stay... BENT. Which, as they say, is another story.

Point being, Tommy was in there from the beginning.

He was always a drug lord involved in a turf war, always proud of having his hooks in two of New Zealand's finest, and always British.

And he had to be an asshole. A hero's only as big as the villain he faces (which is why Superman vs. a purse snatcher is dull as dishwater), and I needed Tommy to be really, really nasty. Not superhuman, just foul. My hero is Sarah Crane, a pretty dark piece of work herself and someone who could just as easily show up as a villain in a different story. Part of Tommy's job is making us glad she's on our side. Nuff said.

Tommy started out very slick and polished. A Mephistopholean puppet master.

Cardboard. Yawn.

But through conflict, his character deepened. Every scene I write puts the viewpoint character in conflict. Even (especially) if the point is to show a bit of that character's personality, it's going to come out by giving them an objective and putting something or someone in its way. I'll write more about that tomorrow or the next day.

I realized that what Tommy wanted was safety. Everything he did, from his Big Plan to his smallest action, was an attempt to feel untouchable, to feel safe. He was an orphan, a street kid (one of several in this book). Crime was a way to make himself part of the scary guys on the street, the ones no one wanted to fuck with.

Except of course that those guys are like sharks. They'll feed on each other the minute they smell blood in the water. A footsoldier's life was worthless. Tommy's only way out was up.

So he rose. Every move was savage and treacherous, and to keep the ones underneath him from doing the same to him, Tommy had to keep them terrified.

Tommy started to get interesting.

His expensive suits and toys were a sham. Like his savagery, they were a way of trying to fool the world, to draw attention from the frightened little kid nobody wanted.

And with no one he could fully trust, with his one big chance to maybe this time finally grow so big his enemies will never get him, Tommy did something wildly important to the book, something that threw my feeble outline out the window.

He decided he had to stay awake.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

The point that the hero is only as big as the villain is so true. Fiction fails for me when the hero is just "mowing" down his enemies.

I like your discussion of the villain's character as well. In the column I just submitted I point out that "good" characters, whether they are heroes or villains, want the same things that all of us want. Wanting to feel safe is a perfect example, and a great motivation.