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The Importance of Being Bad June 1, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, history, Texas, westerns, Wild West, writing.

All writers live lives of purity and honor. That’s why we enjoy the villains in our fiction so much (and if you believe the former, I’ve got some prime NM swampland to sell you–but you’d better believe the latter since it’s true).

You can have many conflicts in a story. Man vs nature is a favorite, especially in the western. But the man a man fight of hero vs villain is the mainstay of most popular fiction, and with a good reason. It’s fun. We can identify with the bad guy, maybe a little, and see what our baser impulses would be like running rampant. Choosing the antagonist in a story can be done in a lot of ways but firsts and lasts, especially in frontier fiction, is particularly rewarding. The era of exploration, taming and settlement. The closing of the frontier due to modernization). My good buddy Geo Proctor did the latter especially well in Enemies. And a more modern treatment of dying dreams in Before Honor.

But first and last baddies? I came across an article on Pearl Hart that intrigued me. A female stage robber? Maybe doing the last (or almost last) stagecoach robbery and then being the only female prisoner at Yuma Penitentiary? And going on to appear with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show? Now that’s an intriguing character, perhaps as much so as the more written about Pearl Starr daughter of Belle Starr. I’ve written about her (Slocum #67, The Dallas Madam) way back in ‘84 (1984, btw)

In today’s expectations of fiction, you have to show some good side to the villain, which in the case of true psycho killers is hard. What good there is about Billy the Kid or John Wesley Hardin strikes me as wishful post modern thinking. Jesse James and the Youngers and Daltons might have been good to their families but weren’t so good to anyone else. I can’t help but wonder if modern stories such as Thomas Harris’ dealing with Hannibal Lecter are not popular because Lecter is such undiluted evil. No equivocation, no chance for rehabilitation, a force of nature both psychotic and unstoppable. Do readers yearn for their baddies to be *bad* or is literary writing showing they are occasionally good to kitties and send money to a homeless shelter more important?

Whatever the villain is like, this is the fun character for writers and usually why the baddie shines as the standout in a book.

Geo W Proctor



1. bridgesburning - June 1, 2011

I have trouble with my baddies I think because I want to deny my own nature. Fortunately Stephen Ki g has helped me embrace the bad!

2. Bob Vardeman - June 1, 2011

These days you might have to rein in or you’ll be called racist (or need to post a disclaimer). People have to get back tot he notion that fiction is just that, made up!

Hooray for SK and some of the creepiest villains ever. Pennywise gives me nightmares yet.

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