When writing dark fiction, it’s important to create the perfect villain. Without a great bad guy, a hero can’t rise above and give the reader what they need. A hero’s strength can only be as good as the villain’s ability to give the hero their special powers.
Many writers focus on the villain’s crime and the hero’s ability to solve it, stop it, or find justice for victims. In most cases, the bad guy is revealed then punished so everyone can enjoy a nice happy ever after at the close of the book. One way or another, evil is quashed, justice reigns supreme and there’s a life lesson to be found. It’s the perfect reading and writing cliche.
What if the goodness and badness found in mankind could be installed into a single character? Could our hero still find justice for a villain deep inside themself, or does the battle reach some kind of bizarre status quo? We are so used to these opposing traits appearing in independent characters, that this alternative might be too strange for some writers to handle — and readers too hard to resolve. Forget about expressing each character’s motivations, what about reaching the perfect reading and writing cliche? How do you overcome evil with a greater good when they exist in only one person? Does the cliche even apply here?
I remember Hannibal Lecter enjoying two sides of one such moral dilemma in Silence of the Lambs. As a psychiatrist, he helped people. As a psychopath, he ate their livers. The writer managed to avoid most of the challenge by placing a parallel storyline into the narrative and giving the reader/viewers a convenient distraction via an external investigation. Clarice Starling uses Lecter’s evil and intellectual sides to help solve murders. The other crucial thing of note is Lecter’s position in society. He’s no longer a practising physician, he’s in jail. By the time we come to know the character, justice and judgement have already been served. Lecter’s persona/s (whichever you choose) exists behind two inches of plexiglass. No one needs to address Lecter’s internal war because justice has won that day. That’s how the author resolves the complex issue and keeps the reader on the page.
Back to the challenge.
There’s one other special character to consider: The victim.
Using random individuals as victims certainly quickens part of the process. If we don’t need to know about a victim’s life, learn their name, or visit their funeral, then we can spend more time developing the villains and heroes in the story. But using a nameless nobody can ruin a good dark fiction story. Why not include some intrigue by selecting the perfect victim for our villain? If the so-called randoms don’t turn out to be that random at all, we could give deeper purpose to each of the kills — discoverable later on in the story.
And what about the manner in which they die?
Murder is highly personal — at least, I believe it is. Nothing is more intimate than making a character’s life snuff out. It’d be easy to under-value a good murder by failing to honour murder’s intimacy. And we can change the level of intimacy by the way of the kill. For instance: Shooting. There’s a crack of a gun and a body hits the ground — all done from a distance. If the villain is a sniper from a mile away, it’s even less intimate.
My murder is not the kind that comes by way of a gun, or a knife, or poison. I’m talking about something much more intimate than that — like the electricity that crackles between lovers.
Theirs is all about erotic anticipation, hot kisses, fingers and hands seeking bare flesh. Only eyes, moans, and heavy breathing, is used to guide their way. A murder can be written into this space instead. It can be just as sensual, building towards a steamy homicide, creating a whole new level of creep inside the dark fiction narrative.
I’m a writer who yearns to bring that level of intimacy and murder together. I want a reader to want to witness the development of such a relationship and then rise as their union begins to climax. And then I want them shocked by what I do with the intimacy next.
Avoid clichés at all costs.
Clichés take us where we expect to go. There’s nothing left to do but to wrap a story up with a nice bow and let the reader off with a feel-good outcome. The only challenge for a writer, is to become creative in hiding the cliché, while writing one in. For instance: Bad guy goes to jail, dies, banished, turned into stone, becomes a horrible monster in hell for all enternity, etc. The result is always the same — the evil never stays. It goes away. Predictable. Not in my stories.
Should justice be as predictable?
You’d think it’d be black and white. Once the badness is identified, it’s removed by good, old fashioned justice. But justice is subjective. Depending on your age, race, upbringing, beliefs, sex, sexual preference, intellect, wisdom, experience, even weight and height, you’ll have a unique view on what’s just. There’s another human flaw to factor into the justice mix — psychological stability. There are moments when we’re not ourselves and make bad decisions on things like justice. All of these varying elements in the justice process make it somewhat fluidic. This fluidity is something I like to explore in my stories. All I need to do is get my reader to jump in and get wet with me, to find appropriate justice for the situation. It’s not conventional but it works for the thriller-styled novels I write.
We all have an inner-something that drives us and makes us do the things we do. Self awareness, identity and acceptance is important to everyone, including psychopaths. Even well-balanced people can get things horribly wrong on matters of love, lust, family, money, and much more. Any of these items can be motivators for us to think and act inappropriately, and then look to cover our tracks when we see things in the light of a new day.
My books include this strange shift in behaviour. They are dark fiction and not meant for children. They contain complex, adult issues, and challenge a reader’s moral standing throughout their narratives. They are written for a perfect villain who commits an intimate murder, and then ask readers to accept a different type of justice that makes perfect sense, only at the time of the crime.
–Michael Forman (Author)
“Forman’s writing style is artful, with the protagonist Mitchell’s warped thought processes masterfully exposed. The author has a powerful and vivid command of language and his word pictures are stark and disturbingly real.”– Linda J Bettenay, author of ‘Secrets Mothers Keep’ and ‘Wishes For Starlight’.