But I Devoted All of My Time to an Egomaniacal Psychopath (and other writing truths)

“I wonder if I’m just trying to make him a character because I feel bad. The “stable” ones never have a storyline and are never interesting. And they should be! They can be! … But I devoted all of my time to an egomaniacal psychopath.”

Story of my love life, or commentary I made to a friend on my current in-progress novel? If you guessed the latter, you get a gold star (although some could argue my past romantic choices have been colorful). The thing is, the bad ones are so much more fun to write.

We love our villains – the more dastardly, the better. Just look at Game of Thrones, Hannibal, Once Upon a Time – hell, even Titanic had a bad guy (the iceberg just wasn’t doing it). And when I look at some of my favorite authors – Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway – they all have a distinct quality about them, and that quality is “trouble”. Back in college I used to say that my life would be far more put together if I just stopped falling in love with dead alcoholic writers.

The old saying goes that you don’t choose who you fall in love with, and I would argue that’s just as true for the characters we write as it is for the real people in our lives. If you want to start writing a novel and actually finish it, you need to be in love with the characters you’re working with, whether you love to hate them or love to love them. And the funny thing is that even though you might not know exactly who they’re going to be when you start off, by the end of it you realize that you’ve poured your heart and soul into them. You do love them, whether you’ve written characters that are angelic or horrific.

But why isn’t “good” interesting? Most would argue that even Harry Potter wasn’t the most interesting character in Harry Potter. That’s the question that’s pushing me to see if I can uncover more of a character who was previously just a catalyst for the start of my story. I’m frustrated with myself for not digging deeper, but I also question whether or not I’m digging just to prove I can make something out of it, or because this character could actually serve a greater purpose and be someone I’d love to love. Good should be interesting, because the motives behind it can be just as complex, just as frustrating and strange as the motives behind evil. But there isn’t much that’s glamorous or mysterious or intriguing about the surface of “good”, and I think that’s where the challenge lies. In the real world, I love good. I’d hope that most of us do.

So why is it so hard to get excited about it between the pages?

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One thought on “But I Devoted All of My Time to an Egomaniacal Psychopath (and other writing truths)

  1. Maybe the good characters need more challenges. I know I’d be interested in seeing a typically good character in a situation where their goodness was severely challenged. Maybe that way you can let them surprise you so you get to know them better? There must be some ugliness in them too, otherwise they’re just symbols.

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