Bad Guys

As I writer, I’m fascinated by human motivation. Lately I’ve been really interested in how we respond to fear. A friend of mine said the other day, “sometimes you have to be the bad guy.” That struck a chord with me on several levels. No one wants to be the bad guy. Okay, maybe someone does, but mostly not so much. What makes a person the bad guy? Well, that’s not so easy to define. Maybe you don’t do something that other people very much want you to do. Maybe you say something that someone doesn’t really want to hear. Maybe you get in the way of somebody trying to accomplish something because you think it’s a bad idea.

I’m not talking Hitler here. What I’m talking about is every day life and how a bad guy evolves. When I was a lot younger, I remember reading a quote by Mercedes Lackey that said something to the effect of ‘even evil wizards get up in the middle of the night to eat chocolate chip cookies.’ That has stuck with me a long time because it really points to the idea that the bad guy really doesn’t have to actually be evil (i.e. not wearing the black hat and black mustache and killing kittens because he can.) In fact, such bad guys are really boring.

Bad guys can be very admirable. They can be motivated by truly good things–honor, self-respect, a desire to accomplish something, and so on. Bad guys can also be really good people who fail to act–maybe they can prevent a crime but don’t, maybe they don’t speak up for themselves when they should, maybe they are simply weak in a moment that requires strength.

The point is that bad guys and good guys have a lot in common. And who is who may just depend on your point of view in a given situation. And here’s the thing–People fear being the bad guy. I have a sign in my office that says “you say bitch like it’s a bad thing.” And really, there’s a lot to be said for being a bitch–since often it can mean being the bad guy, the one who stands her ground though other people don’t want her to; the one who holds on to her convictions and follows them though it would be more comfortable if she didn’t; the one who speaks her mind when no one wants to hear.

The thing is, a lot of people are motivated by fear. They are afraid of what other people think. I know I fall into that trap more often than I like. I think we’re trained to be that way in this society. It takes a lot to overcome or circumvent those rules of politeness or playground codes of honor (don’t tattle is one. Why the hell not if that means stopping someone else from getting hurt or abused or a theft from happening and the list goes on). It takes a lot to decide to follow your own choices and code of honor when everyone else doesn’t understand or doesn’t support you. Peer pressure is a terrible weight.

So as I reach the middle of my book and one of my main characters has undergone a terrible event, she’s left with questions about being the bad guy and being the good guy and what makes a person one or the other. She’s not quite sure what she is, given the upheaval she’s undergone and the new knowlege she’s obtained. What she thought was good isn’t any longer, and what she thought was bad seems more reasonable. She’s going to have to make choices and her moral compass is bent and she is full of fear. Fear is not the best basis for decision-making. She may just be the bad guy. And I think I’ll be fine with that. Because more and more I’m coming to understand that in my books, anyhow, the good guys and the bad guys are all the same people and it isn’t until they choose what they will do that you find out just who is who.

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Author Information

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. Path of Fate was nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Recently released was The Turning Tide, third in her Crosspointe Chronicles series (look also for The Cipher and The Black Ship). In October 2009, look for Bitter Night, a contemporary fantasy. Diana teaches in the English Department at the University of Montana Western, and is an avid lover of all things chocolate. Visit site.

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