In the Shadows

My son and I talk writing styles all the time, for he too is an author. When he was a boy, we studied Shakespeare hidden in movies together. He’s a grown man now, and his tastes have changed.  It took him five years to convince me to watch Breaking Bad. I hadn’t planned to watch this show. The topic of a meth-cooking, drug-riddled world of destroyed lives is hardly my choice for leisure entertainment. He says it’s worth my time because of the “writing genius” involved and because he wanted me to see the anti-hero in action. Of course I have the whole hero thing nailed down in my mind, all of my novels have them. But an anti-hero? I had no clear picture in my head to go by, none that I was aware of anyway. 

The World English Dictionary defines the anti-hero as a central character in a novel, play, etc, who lacks the traditional heroic virtues. 

Oh, I knew that. I just didn’t realize it had a name. It’s a character you thfind yourself rooting for regardless of their dubious qualities. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Long John Silver is one of these anti-heroes. So are Scarlett O’Hara, Severus Snape, and Captain Jack Sparrow. They’re sort of nebulous-personality persons. You can’t quite decide if they’re good or bad, but somehow they strike a chord and you mysteriously end up cheering for them. 

Okay, if heroes are on one side of the character spectrum, and anti-heroes in that vague gray area, what about those not so nebulous persons? What about villains?

My Exquisite Quills reader/writer’s group once had a discussion that peered into those dark cobwebby corners of our imagination where story villains linger. Very interesting.

I personally love crafting villains, especially sociopathic bad guys who create story conflict that must be overcome in the most interesting ways possible.  Sociopaths, by definition, are only interested in their personal needs and desires, without concern for the effects of their behavior on others. I can write that!

sherlock_holmes_statueAs a reader, I find such characters fascinating. Scarlett O’Hara is far more complex than her southern belle persona suggests. She’s obviously a sociopath as well as an anti-hero. That’s one of the things I love about writing these types of characters — their complexity. Super villain Professor Moriarty is an intellectual match for Sherlock Holmes, the greatest analytical mind in the Victorian world. Now combine that literary fact of Moriarty with the definition of sociopath and you can see how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created an unforgettable foe.

As a writer, I find complex bad guys allow for a deeper internal monologue, and I’ll leave this door open just a crack to show the reader a glimpse into my villain’s mind to see the whys. My goal is to inspire a smidge of sympathy. Here are three of my most complex villains. Readers occasionally tell me they almost feel sorry for them…almost.  

LL.duoLoving Leonardo: Conte Acario Bruno is a man born to privilege and raised on the attitude that servants, and other “lesser” people around him,  were merely property on par with the horses in the stables. Through his thoughts, the reader gets to see how that life of imbalances made the obsessive man he became. He finds love, a fanatical one-sided love, but the reader can see it’s genuine on his part.

ww1&2.with.border (2) The Witchy Wolf and the Wendigo saga: Eluwilussit, aka Eli, is one of the story’s ancient Native American shaman. As a true “I want what I want” sociopath, he just kept digging a deeper hole for himself with every evil deed and made himself the monster he came to be. The deeds meant nothing to him, and always, the end justified the means. Though there are far too many poor choices to possibly make amends for, his greatest desire is to return to the spirit world to say he’s sorry things happened the way they did. You can see his sociopath’s mind in this statement. He’s not sorry HE did something. He’s sorry things happened the way they did. His apology would sound like, “I’m sorry you made me do this.” 

In my 5-book, 500k, as yet unnamed magnum opus (or MO for short), I’ve written an evil genius named Adrian Doyle. I don’t know how it happened, but this guy ended up with such a depth of personality he surprised me. When the time comes, Adrian should meet his end in the MO’s own version of Reichenbach Falls the way Professor Moriarty did when he wrestled Sherlock Holmes and both went over the cataract. After emotionally investing in Adrian Doyle as a supreme villain, I’m sure my readers would expect nothing less.

Diana Gabaldon, one of my favorite authors, recently reached overwhelming success when her Outlander –a book written more than 20 years ago– was made into a TV series. She wrote such a sociopathic villain in Black Jack Randall. Each scene with the man is both repellant and fascinating. From A to Z, no matter what that man inflicts on the other characters, you just can’t look away. And believe me, some things are truly revolting. Oddly, after reading Outlander 20+ years ago, I came to see the point of this extreme.

Why? Because Diana’s Jamie Frasier is, in my opinion, an example of the perfect hero – self-sacrificing, loyal, courageous, noble, intelligent, wise etc. Black Jack is the other side of the coin to Jamie…the dark side, the shadow. I believe these characters are necessary if one is writing true heroes. The truly good character needs the truly bad character to create a counterbalance. In other words, there is no light if the dark doesn’t exist to make a distinction.


My Other Weekend Happenings

Weekend Writing Warriors

My Sexy Saturday & Sexy Snippets

Sunday Snippet
**A promo op for you too!**

I blog the 4th of the month at Romance Books ‘4’ Us and my post will be up for a RB4U purplefew more days. In honor of Valentine’s Day, this month the RB4U authors are writing to the theme Dinner for Two. I shared a deliciously sensual short story. Come see!


phraseologyPhraseology I often wonder where certain words and sayings come from. For the next few weeks this word collector will examine familiar phrases to get at their heart. I think you’ll be surprised.

The phrase for today is ~Speak of the Devil

This one references the person who appears unexpectedly while you’re talking about him.
Two versions of this show up in print in the 1600s: The English say, talk of the Devil, and see his horns, and Talk of the Devil, and he’s presently at your elbow. This thought comes from the superstition that it was dangerous to mention the devil by name because he’d show up. That’s why no one says Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. He becomes “he who must not be named”. Throughout history we find many names for the devil – Old Scratch, Old Nick, Old Harry, Old Horny, Prince of Darkness, the Horned One etc. Perhaps that’s what J.K. Rowling was going for.


RB4U purpleToday our guest is Author Berengaria Brown.

Romance Books ‘4’ Us ~ Our February contest is on.
Two – $50 GIFT CARDS & MORE.


If you enjoy my daily musings, subscribe to get them sent to your inbox, or if your inbox is as packed as mine is, check out the Networked Blogs tab on the right and get all the blogs you follow in one daily notice. A year full of curious and compelling posts awaits!

all7books-smallSample my scorching love stories for free!

~Coming Soon~



About ~RoseAnderson

Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes under the pen name Madeline Archer.
This entry was posted in Past Posts - you'll never know what you'll find and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to In the Shadows

  1. treknray says:

    I really enjoyed today’s blog. Captain Jack Sparrow is one of my favorites. Mentioning J.K. Rowling in Speak of the Devil blog, I think her personal story is the stuff of novels. Her rise to fame is what the rest of us try to do by buying Lotto tickets. She just did it because she is that good. I once waited in line to vote. There was a ten year old girl who was reading Harry Potter and it wasn’t her first one.

    • There are so many delicious layers to the Harry Potter story. At its core it’s the classic hero quest on par with Odysseus. We have Netflix for movies. Last weekend I watched the J.K.Rowling Story. You’re right. She is just that good. I’ll bet the publishers that turned her down are still kicking themselves.

  2. MonaKarel says:

    I find characters who are so deeply good or deeply bad kind of boring. I much prefer the anti-hero, or the villain with a reason to do what he’s doing.

    • I agree, Mona. If a villain is bad just for the sake of being bad, it makes no sense. The best anti-heroes of literature are never bad just because, and they’re never in their minds — they’re justified in taking every step they took to get what they want. And those “wants” are always deep. Thanks for stopping by today. 🙂

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s