Sunday, July 25, 2010

When evil characters go bad

I'm happy to announce that Beatrice is dead. Overjoyed, in fact. I think I'm supposed to be feeling tragedy at the fact her life went so wrong, perhaps nodding at the injustice of her sheltered childhood and how it made her into such a horrible person. But no, I'm just smiling because she's finally dead and I can put the book down.

There came a time yesterday as I sat outside, enjoying the elusive perfect weather of mid-summer, with my dog happily at my feet and three young hawks chasing each other through the woods, when I nearly tossed the book into the unlit firepit. I read the few distasteful pages that killed any remote sense of redemption for wayward MC and closed the cover in disgust. Did I want to bother reading more about this horrible fictional person with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever? At that point, not really.

But the day was so lovely and peaceful and if I put the book down, I'd have no excuse to keep myself outside rather that endure the racket of my children reaquainting themselves with the X-box and television after my son's long electronic deprived week at camp. Toys were again scattered over my orderly floor, friends were visiting and my husband was busy drilling and grinding something in our workshop. No, it was far better to subject myself to quiet (other than the screeching of the hawks) and attempt to learn something from dispicable Beatrice.

Which means I didn't toss the book into the firepit. Instead I took a deep breath, opened the book, found my page and continued to read.

Beyond friday's post, here is what I learned.

- A MC has to have SOME redeeming quality or I want to see her fail. Please don't make me wait 600 pages to see her fail in two paragraphs of lackluster, I'm-ready-to-die action.

-When every other character in the novel can't stand your character, it isn't a good thing. It doesn't make her more evil or misunderstood. It just means they all see the logic and reason the MC missing.

- A MC who's motivation is the steadfast center of their life at the beginning of the novel shouldn't spend the rest of the novel contradicting their motivation in every bold way possible just to create conflict. It makes no sense and makes me want smack them upside the head and ask, "What the hell are you doing?" Deliberate self sabotage is not compelling

- If there is a direct conflict between the MC and another character, for goodness sake, act on it. The terror factor I praised in my previous post sputtered out shortly afterward. The words, "he's coming" only have so much effect when repeated for the next three hundred pages without anything actually happening.

- Do not point out the direct problem with the novel in dialogue. "It's like you wish things to happen and the gods just make it so." Yes, exactly. No one stands in the MC's way. Stuff just happens. Stupid stuff. Stuff that makes you look at the words again and just exclaim, "Why does no one at all question this? Why on earth would the MC even think of this course of action when there are twenty other far more logical options that never cross her mind?"

- Ruining other characters for the sake of it (because she's evil!!!), characters that would have helped the MC if only she had actually spoken to them in a logical manner, is just wasteful and makes me want to chuck the book into the firepit.

- Writing in first person with random moments of omniscent pov is disconcerting.

- A MC who knows they are evil but keeps being evil anyway, just cause, makes me want them to die horribly. Yes, this somewhat repeats my first point. Which is another point. Don't repeat everything in case I didn't catch the anvil the first time around. I got it. Thanks.

- Just because I enjoy some books by an author, doesn't mean I'll love them all.


  1. Hehe I enjoyed this post, Darla! I am not sure I could read that book, though I still am going to read a Phillipa Gregory book when I get time. I love a good villain and I love a tale told through the villain's POV, but, yes, the villain has to have some redeeming quality to make me stick with it.

    The one exception is Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me. (Recently read the book because the movie sounded interesting.) The MC is pretty much without any redeeming quality and he narrates the story himself, which is like having a front-row seat to Psycho Central, but I wanted to watch Ford's downfall and in some twisted way I couldn't put the book down even though it was disturbing. I think it was so realistic in him being a psychopath that that helped.

    I have had a few ideas for telling stories through the villain's POV, but the problem I keep hitting on is making them compelling enough for the reader to follow the narrator, despite the fact that the person in question is a particularly nasty piece of work. Hmm . . . *scratches head and ponders*

  2. The Other Boleyn Girl was very good. I'd recommend reading that one. I'm sure some of her other historical novels are good too. I think I have another one in my to be read pile that I'll have to try out.

    I like the idea of telling the story though the villain's pov. I'm all for it. However, I prefer for the villain to be reacting to something, pushed, tormented, swayed by voices, anything of the sort that I could see played out before my eyes as they sink into evil, cause havoc and either repent or get caught.

    In this case, the villain somehow didn't account for the fact she wouldn't inherit her beloved land, though it seems darn obvious to everyone else in the book and to me, decides it would be good idea to kill her father whom she worships, and figures she can rule through her brother, but doesn't take into account a hundred other things.

    It's like watching a nightmare of bad planning unfold, in which she bears not one but two incestuous children, goes on to kill her mother, intentionally ruins her brother, her beloved husband, her people, her beloved land and finally decides she'd just like to die as nothing is working out and all her actions were for naught.

    I think what annoyed me most was that I kept waiting for her to have an ephiphany, to turn around, to learn something and perhaps die, but redeem herself in some way. Instead, just when she finally finds love and a man who understands her, can help her get what she wants without having to do crazy, evil things, she acts like a two year old and hops on the evil bus again. *sigh*

  3. Wow! Hats off to you Jean! I would have thrown the book into the firepit. I salute you. You got grit girl! ;)

  4. Fun post! I do this with movies, but don't have the stamina to read a book that isn't holding my focus or frustrating the Dickens (or Hemingway) out of me. I have the attention span of a gnat.

  5. The fact I sat through it is only because I do normally like this author, and I truly was hoping for a point where the book and character made my time invested in them worthwhile. If this had been a new-to-me author, Beatrice would have hit the firepit around page 200.

    There are a pile of books in my attic that go in the annual garage sale/book donation box that I never made it past the first chapter or three for whatever reason. Books I love go on my trophy bookshelf. This particular book is going in the attic.

  6. I think that every writer has to write a 'stinker' sometime. A book that falls flat when it could have been much better "if only.."

    I'm a PoV Nazi, I would not have been able to finish a book that switched from 1st person to omni.

    The first switch would have been it.

    Consider this: You will never make the same mistakes, because you know that it didn't work for this author.


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