I had a really fun conversation with another author this week. As we talked about my past and the years I spent as a pastor and counselor, he asked how I am able to create my nasty villains since I spent all that time in such a “nice” role. He is the first person to ask that question out-right, but not the first person to read one of my books and say something like, “Where did YOU come up with that? I thought you were a NICE guy.” My new friend this week assumed I had read and studied a lot about creating evil characters, and those friends from the past just assumed I had done a really nice job of making them “think” I was nice, while underneath I was apparently something entirely different and it’s just now “being revealed”.
The assumption is that to understand villainy (yes, I looked that word up to make sure) requires some kind of out-of-the-ordinary experience or effort, or is something that comes from being somehow villainous ourselves, or we have to read a book or take a class to learn about it. And, there are a lot of those books and classes out there, and some of them may be pretty good, I don’t know, I’ve never looked at them. I have a different understanding of where my story villains come from, and it’s something that anyone can get in touch with if you want too. We don’t need to read about or take a class about villains and people with evil intent to get to know them. Just look around.
Yes, I spent the first 20+ of my adult career life as a pastor and pastoral counselor. I wore the robes and everything. But the role of clergy and counselor actually gives you more opportunities to come in contact with “villains” than keeps you away from them. Sure, I preached and talked about the “nice” things, but also spent hours sitting across from those people being abused by a “villainous” partner, or parent, or child. I spent time in jails and prisons visiting with people who had confessed and those who had denied their villainy. I sat in fancy living rooms with very successful people who had built that living room by purely villainous business dealings, taking advantage of others, and were proud of every piece of what it had given them. I sat with people who’s own bodies had turned against them and was now the villain that was destroying the dreams and plans they had once held for their lives. But, you’ve met them too, haven’t you? Or you’ve read about them and seen their pictures in the papers and on television. If we look at these folks and think about what is going on inside them that drives them to do and be what they are doing and being, we can begin to understand “villain”. It doesn’t take a book or a class.
And sometimes, sometimes, we meet them right out in the open, just like the one my wife and I met yesterday. We were driving to a book club meeting to talk about my writing when there he was. He pulled up to the stop sign as we drove past, and then threw gravel and black smoke as he spun into the highway and raced up behind us. The narrow road had curves so he couldn’t pass, so he just stayed behind us, zooming up and pulling back, a little closer each time. It went on for ten minutes or so, until finally, on a curve, the black smoke poured from the truck as he pulled into the other lane and raced past us disappearing into the distance.
I’m guessing part of the idea was to intimidate me a bit and get me to slow down and pull over to let him pass, or at least get me to feel some deep down awesome respect for his overwhelming masculinity displayed so profoundly with his dirty old dented-up truck making lots of black smoke.
But all I could think about was how that guy was probably going to show up one of these days in one of my stories, and what villainous role he (and maybe his truck) was going to play. I just wondered what was going through the guy’s brain? What was it that made him feel that he was so much more important than us? What made him believe that we should or even could be intimidated or why we should pull over to let him get by? I wondered if he had even thought of what would happen if I was someone who might panic in that situation and end up running off the road and ending up dead? Had he even thought of that? If he had, was that why he was doing it? In his mind, were we a game? Were we expendable for entertainment? Where did he get this idea of rank? And then I wondered if he had even thought about us at all, or just saw our car as yet another thing standing between him and the success he was driving towards? And, I wondered how that thinking impacted him when he wasn’t in his truck? Did he have a wife? Did he have kids? (I hope not). The inside of the truck was dark as he passed so I never saw his face. I don’t know his age or his hairstyle, or if he brushes his teeth or even still has them. But I know the guy. At least enough. If that sounds judgmental I can live with that. One of the things about real villains is that, no matter what else they may do or be or say, if you look closely you can always see those little flags waving around them that read, “VILLAIN!”
I met a villain yesterday.
What about you? Meet any villains lately?