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Ramblings on the Bad Man

December 22, 2008  Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Characterization, Plot, The Craft   2 Comments

In The Baby Dancers, the current work in progress, there is a crucial battle scene where our heroes (Zeke and Josh), do battle with the forces of… what exactly?

To be honest, I do not know. Certainly I know all the motivations, and I have a clear ending for a the book. Indeed, unless I have the last chapter outlined in my head, I do not start working on a novel.  I learned that one the hard way with Unfinished Book.

There are the protagonists, stuck in a bad situation, and all that remains is the journey to the end of the quest.

All in a good, fun story, of course. With no preaching!

There is nothing like a good old story about good vs. evil, but is that interesting in today’s world of complexity? Do young adult fantasy readers want more?

There is a price to be paid for wantonly attacking a group of martial artist who have sequestered themselves in the northern mountains of Idaho. They isolated themselves for a reason. They are the best of the best, and should be left alone. When all is done and the battlefield is covered in blood,  the antagonist is clearly the bad guy. But is he evil?

His actions are evil, from the point of view of the protagonists, just as the Indian’s actions in The Searchers were evil to Ethan Edwards. The novel The Searchers was an extraordinary book, and the film even more so.

I wonder why I can’t remember any teen novels with the complexity of The Searchers. Do publishers feel that the subject matter is too complex? Is it? I do not think so. No, to this day I remember being fascinated by the story that held no clear winner.

The Searchers anchors  around the theme of the family and personal honor, a point often overlooked. This theme runs through The Baby Dancers, but I believe I have found a certain clarity. The protagonist, Zeke, has a moral code and a divine directive. He will suffer no man’s evil. But, Zeke is a thinking young man.

When the antagonist is gray, when evil comes in bits and pieces and not wrapped in bow that is easily identifiable, the stakes are high. Once could say they can go no higher from our protagonist. For, like Ethan, when faced with the quest, the power he wields puts him on the razor’s edge. To fall the wrong way in the quest is to become the bad man.

The sword has but one purpose.

I’m not going to preach to my readers, Lord knows I have several writing friends who will kick my ass if I do.

But I am not going to make it easy. Sometimes the journey is not the the reward. Sometimes, the journey is a long, terrible path, fraught with peril and a stain on the mortal soul.

2 comments on: Ramblings on the Bad Man

  1. Alex Moore December 23, 2008 at 7:51 am

    A*s Kicking Service, at your service. 😉

    Hmmm…i have been giving all of this a great deal more thought that i intended to. my latest theory: there must be a moral dilemma, something the heart and soul must ache over. (all great novels contains this, yes?) Otherwise, the protag is two-dimensional and static. I think the rule must be something like this: the author dipped in awesomesauce just can’t bash you over the head with it.

    AND the moral dilemma should be universal in nature, something that all humans everywhere (& aliens too, of course) can identify with and dither over. like shakespeare, it should span time and continent. (thus, carbon footprints are OUT)

  2. Alex Moore December 23, 2008 at 8:01 am

    you bring up another point too: the antagonist. And you are so right. Truly scary, hard-hitting antagonists have to be 3-D — they have to be grey and multi-dimensional and full of motivations that we can identify with. the scariest thing is to read a book and say, “whoa, i know what this guy is thinking & i understand it.”

    the point, however, is how far down the road we’d travel with the guy. Everyone feels X emotion at a given time in four score and seven years; but not everyone will kill for it or perform Y for it. I suppose evil is not in the emotion but in the degree to which it’s carried out. (I’m not certain I’m sticking w/ that last statement. I might have to think on it awhile…)

    one last thought: the antagonist *does* have to be identifiable and bad. i’m thinking about one book in particular where i actually liked the antag & ended up hoping he might win in a way. although a couple of his actions were despicable, i sorta glossed over them. his motivations were clear & understandable and he was delightfully personable and uber smart.

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