Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tip O'Day #359 - Who's the Villain?

Guest blogger William D. Hicks on antagonists.

Some stories have obvious villains. Others don’t. Think of those old movies where the heroine is placed on the tracks by a man dressed in black. Nowadays, people don’t like stories that obvious. If a reader knows who the evil character is in paragraph two, why bother reading to the obvious ending in paragraph 42?

As an example, while it seems easy to determine who the villain is in Frankenstein, it truly isn’t. Is the real villain Dr. Frankenstein or the village people who want to destroy what they don’t understand? Is it the monster? To some degree, it’s everyone in the story. Yet the only real victim is the monster. He had no choice about whom or what he was. Such is the case in most horror stories where man alters the world around him.

This is true in my story Killer Flies. While the flies are the ultimate villains who do the killing, they are also the main victims. Without some kind of human intervention, they would have remained normal house flies, unable to do any harm other than annoying their human counterparts. But all good writers know that villains are good and bad. Just like in real life. Some part of each character causes a situation, making it hard to decipher who to blame.

Readers love these shades of gray because life is like that. Not clear cut. Curious. Scary. Exciting.

Especially for a kid. At seven I was a bit of precocious child and didn’t like people directing my actions. I walked home from school every day. Alone. I lived in a safe middle class neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. I’d been walking myself home without a problem since first grade.

One day turned out to be different. The cinder block grammar school felt old and gray, more like a haunted church than a place of higher education. Maybe because the sky was oddly dull and overcast on this early November day. It should have been bright and sunny instead of autumn dreary.

This day I had helped a teacher clean some chalk board erasers so had left at 3:30 and missed the mad rush home. A few kids lingered and were still mulling around the school but not many were heading my way. That was fine by me. It felt like rain. The wind had a bite and smell I had begun to associate as a storm front.

The school loomed over my shoulder and a shiver rose up my spine. I was passing the girls’ chain linked playground area, so named because there were two sides to the grammar school. One side where the boys played baseball and one side where the girls giggled, spread rumors, talked about makeup and sometimes got little boys to play tag. I hated this side since some girls had convinced me to play and I had been teased by my friends afterwards.

No kids were in this fenced in area since school had let out 15 minutes before. A man yelled at me from a black van and told me get in. The vehicle had no side windows. I jumped at the sound of his grating voice and veered toward the chain link fence. I hadn’t seen the van pull to the curb beside me. The man hailed me again.

I couldn’t see him. I didn’t recognize the voice. I didn’t know the van. I bolted and ran like hell for home. No boogey man was going to child-nap me. This all happened. In my mind it was all true. The man was the villain. But was he really? Did he have malice in his heart — or was he a concerned parent with a kid my age who wanted to make sure I got home okay?

Who then was the villain — me for possibly falsely accusing this unknown individual, even if just in my own head? Or him for not identifying himself and scaring me to death? Or was he a real life villain — there to kidnap me?

Who knows? That day everything seemed sinister and suspect, just as it does in many stories. But when I wrote the story I intentionally left much to my reader’s imagination. Because to be like real life it couldn’t be so black and white. It had to have some suspense. Read my e-book Killer Flies and you’ll see what I mean.

Check out these e-books by William D. Hooks on Amazon: Twist and Killer Flies.

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