Bad Shoes and Bad Guys

who knows what we were doing in junior high
who knows what we were doing in junior high

I picked out the wrong shoes. The shoes were wrong because I thought they were neat. Yep. Neat. S., a girl who wore pink Oxfords and skinny ribbons in her hair, made it clear to everyone that my tennis shoes were uncool. The shoes weren’t the ordinary canvas. S. probably said it best when she strolled over to me during phys. ed. and said, “Nice shoes, Terrycloth-Tugger.”

All the girls laughed. She and her pretty friends called me that for two years. Sometimes in high school the name would pop back into her head and she say it when she passed me in the hall. She never said anything nice to me, but she still asked to borrow my pearl earrings for our graduation photo. S. was, of course, a cheerleader. Isn’t that a cliche? Bad, mean cheerleader!

Thanks to Darcknyt, I’ve been thinking about cliches and bad guys. In my fiction, I worry if my antagonists are cliche, cardboard, flat, not scary enough, or over-the-top. On Darcknyt’s blog people talked about why. Now, I want to know how not to. How can we see these flaws in our own bad guys? What are your bad guys like? Any favorite bad guys in fiction?

9 thoughts on “Bad Shoes and Bad Guys

  1. It’s a fine line to walk, no doubt about it. I think the trick is to make the bad guy endearing enough to be likable, yet still do evil enough things to make people angry at him/her.

    I gotta admit, I’m curious on this. A good bad guy starts to sound almost like an anti-hero. And how to inflict harm and chaos without resorting to comic book supervillainy levels of Joker proportions?


    I anxiously await the input of your readers.

    1. Perhaps the flip side of this is the problem of making the hero heroic enough and yet flawed. The flaw can’t be unforgivable. Or something like that.

      I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

  2. Depends on the kind of antagonist you want. I think Knyt was talking about mostly crime shows and blockbuster action films, but I saw Juno last night (highly recommended), and noticed something interesting. Jason Bateman played the antagonist, but this wasn’t a movie about fighting or killing or action of any kind. Jason’s character Mark was totally likeable, and not in an overly-congenial way that marked him as the villian, he was just a nice guy with some issues. The whole conflict hinged on his immaturity. He was just thinking about what he wanted, and it just happened to go against the other characters wanted. He’d gone along with what others wanted until it became too much, and he broke out. So maybe that’s the key. You don’t have to make somebody a “bad guy” for them to create the conflict in your book.

    That’s my perfect antagonist, one whom the reader likes a lot but whose chaos-creating issues come out a little at a time. Sort of like how you did Zane. He was a good villian.

    1. Yeah, I think Knyt was focused on those crime/action bad guys, but the issues are still the same. And super thanks for the Zane comment. I wasn’t sure how others would perceive him.

  3. That was an interesting post of DarcKnyt’s. (This one of yours is, too, but I’ve come to expect it here — it was my first visit there, so thanks for the link.) (And the title of this post is perfect, too!)

    I mentioned in a comment there ol’ Windom Earle, from Twin Peaks. Loved him. Also loved the (unnamed, I think) Cigarette-Smoking Man in The X-Files. Those guys weren’t super-villains, really — nothing like The Joker, say, or LotR’s Sauron. But they were exaggerations of facets of the “normal” people on the show.

    Everybody thinks of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, whispering his hints and depravities and evil-drenched in-jokes to Clarice Starling… but he’s not “really” the book’s/movie’s villain: Buffalo Bill is. But BB is so outlandish that you almost have to stop and force yourself to remember him. (I couldn’t remember his name at first, there — and even that isn’t his real name… was it Gump or Grubb or something like that?) Lecter is everybody’s worst nightmare, and it’s got nothing to do with cannibalism. Buffalo Bill is the worst nightmare of only his victims (although he’s a godawful nightmare for them, of course).

    Well, on re-reading the above I must say: I talk a good line. Fact is, though, I’ve never been really happy with any villains I’ve created for my own fiction.

    1. Thanks for the compliment, JES; I wish I could promise all my posts are as interesting as that one … alas, not so. I’m mostly boring with a dash of interesting tossed in, like sparse croutons on a cheap diner’s salad special, served by Flo, the gum-smacking, bouffant-sporting waitress.

      And the villain in SofL was Jame Gumb. 🙂

      1. Love Flo.

        And it is interesting how when people talk about SofL, they rarely talk about the Gumb guy. They talk about Lecter. He was far more interesting. (That was a scary movie I got talked into seeing. I thought it was great and I’m glad I saw it, but I never want to see it again.)

    2. JES, why aren’t you happy with your villains? What do you want from them that you’re not getting?

      Oh, Windom Earle! How I loved Twin Peaks

      1. I think part of the problem with my villains is that I try too hard to make them villainous — not even supervillainous, just, y’know, really evil. It’s like the problem writers and filmmakers have with the Holocaust: while there were, no doubt, absolutely appalling personalities pushing that agenda, most of those involved in “implementation” were plain, dull drones. (Like the saying goes: “the banality of evil.”)

        By trying too hard to make my villains mean, spiteful, hateful, I’m basically shouting in the reader’s face. If that makes sense. And even though I’m aware of the problem, I keep doing it. Which is one reason I avoid creating villains, instead pitting protagonists against themselves, or against “situations,” etc.

        (I don’t get mad very often myself and confess that I don’t understand really mean, angry, spiteful people. It’s like, say, if God set out to create Adam but was considerably less talented than the God which Judeo-Christian tradition has insisted on. S/He might end up not with Adam, but with one of Jeff Dunham’s dummies.)

        (And hey, I meant to ask — did you see Nathan Bransford’s post of the other day, asking for people’s favorite characters of all time? I didn’t even bother reading more than a few comments; there were just under 500 when I checked in there. But I thought to myself, Now dang, Marta thought of this topic first!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s