Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How bad should your baddies be?

I've been thinking about baddies - an occupational hazard when you're a crime writer, and how bad they should be.

I did an impromptu survey on the baddies in books I had read in recent years and was surprised by the number of them that were serial killers or multi-murderers or had been quietly wrecking havoc for decades. Is bigger and badder necessary better? I don't think so.

While I think we all get a thrill out of the thought of an arch-villain, a Moriaty, or a criminal mastermind, in reality murder is far more often an act of passion, or momentary stupidity. Of course, you will say, the whole point in reading fiction is to escape reality, and the often base motivations behind crimes. Real crime is seldom well thought out, with complex diversions and red-herrings and darstardly schemes. But, God, we love that in a novel!

But here are a few questions for you to consider, while sitting in your safe, comfortable home this evening, when it's dark outside, and you are by yourself, or surrounded by your loved ones.

What is more menacing?

The underground drug and gang scene that you never see, only read about in the paper and is only evident in suburbs far away and of a lower socioeconomic group than yours...?


The guy next door who always seems to be watching you.

Is it the serial killer who seems to be preying on real-estate agents...?


The neighbour whose family you haven't seen for a while, but he's been doing a great job of their new concrete driveway?

Should the face of crime be evil? Or ordinary?


Dave B said...

Not sure if you wanted a reply here, but here goes.

The realism or potential for affecting me in reallife is what gets me. For example if you had a serial killer who was a preschool teacher and did her killings on adults so she didn't take it out on the kids - that would hit home to me.

I also have a problem with writers like Wilbur Smith, John Connolly etc that go into TOO much detail or use unnecessary violence. I like things where the reader is left up to his own mind as to how the crime visually took place.

The drug and gang scene is something I don't know about and wouldn't care as much about. If a gang has a war and a bunch of them get hurt, well they knew that when they joined the gang that gangs fight and people get hurt. I kinda think it's far less upsetting to me.

In short, mothers, children and innocent people getting hurt bug me and will put me off a novelist.

Oops I nearly written a novel.

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Unfortunately for me, I live in a war zone. The drug and gang scene has moved into my neighbourhood. The sleepy suburb I once enjoyed is now contested territory between two rival gangs, and I'm just a few houses away from a house that was gutted by a fire after a molotov cocktail was thrown at it. There have been drive by shootings in the area, and patched gang members wander by on their way to the dairy. Vicious attack dogs wander around biting people.

And yes I'm moving, because I'm sick of it.

But all the same, I don't find any of that as scary as I find the fine upstanding citizen who harbours evil in his (or her) heart and plots for years, sneakily, to do damage. I think it's deceit and betrayal that is the really chilling crime, not just mere stupid violence. The best villains are always the once who were not what they seemed.

Tania Roxborogh said...

Like I said to you, it's the silent, creepy dark-eyed student who sits in your classroom, rejected by the peer group, who is the most scary. The one you think: yup - can see him (or her) bringing a gun to school to 'fix it all!'

Have too many times seen such kids - scary.

Peter Rozovsky said...

The criminal mastermind has been a topic of panels at crime-fiction conventions I've attended. And I'm hard-pressed to come up with such a figure from my own reading.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Vanda Symon said...

Thanks everyone for your comments - it's interesting to find out what really chills people. But of course what chills in life may not in fiction.

Because of the nature of crime novels - people get ratted off if you give away who the murderer was, I couldn't discuss the particular nasties in the books I'd read. But so many seemed to be of the thoughful, scheming and long-term plans variety, Peter.

In Overkill I purposefully kept it shall we say, ordinary, as more often than not it is the people in your neighbourhood...

PC- no wonder you're moving. The view on your blog from your new home looks like a haven. I'll have to invite myself around for a cuppa...