Monday, July 16, 2012
Children Make Great Villians
Tonight, I awoke from bed to yelling (possibly, I was still asleep there) and then the definite sounds of loud crying. I got out of bed and made my way to the children's side of the house. When I hit the hallway, I paused to determine which direction the crying was coming from. Both directions?? (We currently have two kids in the house, as their older brother, 'Scooby', is out of state for the balance of the summer.) After a moment of listening, I decide the louder crying seems to be coming from the left, so I start in that direction. There I find 'Bliss,' our 11 yr old rock-climbing daughter, lying on the bed, holding one side of her head and in terrible tears.
"My face is broken," she sobs out. I'm slightly in shock, and resisting the instant urge to go destroy the vile miscreant who has chosen to bring my daughter to such painful tears and heart-wrenching beliefs. "He pressed my face down with all his weight, and I heard it crack!" She fully believes that her twin brother has literally broken her face, cracked her skull. After a few more minutes of gentle holding and reassurances that her face appears to be just as pretty as always, other than tear-tracks and puffy eyes, I get a grip on my temper and head for the other end of the hallway.
On that end of the world, I discover Digi, our 11-yr old baseball fanatic and potential genius, curled into the fetal position on the giant beanbag under his Texas Rangers comforter. He, too, is sobbing his heart into the night. I ask, calmly, what happened. "She turned off the light, and pushed me off the ladder, and made me feel like I wasn't even a person!"
I tennis-matched back and forth for an hour, comforting, interrogating, chastising, and reassuring the pair of them, and in the end, after much begging to see each other on both their parts, I let Digi in to see Bliss, and he tearfully said he was sorry and begged her forgiveness, as she apologized to him and told him it was alright. There were hugs and 'I love you's as I watched from the door. There will certainly be more talking in the morning, but as it was after midnight, I put them both to bed with kisses and instructions to get some sleep. Oh, what was the fight over? The top bunk. When there are four kid beds to choose from in that end of the house.
So, I'm reasonably certain that her face isn't broken, and I'm pretty sure he is a person, but I was completely floored at the actions they were willing to take against someone they each profess to care deeply about, and for so little an incentive. Truly, childhood is the stuff of villainy. Earlier this week, one of them slipped around the table while I was chatting with their cousin, and then whispered behind my back (I can still hear pretty well in my doting old age) to that cousin, who promptly stepped back to my attention and asked about playing on the Wii with the child that was so conveniently positioned behind me. I asked why my child wasn't the one asking, and promptly came the defense that the cousin had just been asking to play. Yeah, right. Manipulative little... villain.
Their older brother Scooby isn't innocent on this, either, by no means. Every time he travels between houses, he smuggles a shipment of toys back east. There was even an entire post on my wife's old blog a couple of years ago about a certain candy thief that was caught chocolate-handed.
I am probably far too tired to try to assess what this observation might mean from a psychological point of view, but I am quick to spot the writing advantage! What is a villain willing to do to get what he wants? Look to the children. Lie ("I didn't put that there!"), Cheat ("Oops, I moved my piece too far. And that was a practice roll."), Manipulate, Steal, and, apparently, break a little girl's face, or turn their own brother into a "non-person." Frankly, I'd call that a pretty impressive list for a villain.
I was about to say that the crazy thing is, if we base villains on children, they don't even need all that convincing a reason for their evil deeds. I mean really: he wanted the top bunk. Then again, was all that really about who got the top bunk? Or maybe about how one made the other one feel? Don't get me wrong, I don't care how someone makes you feel, reciprocal violence is not an acceptable response. Yet we must take something like that into account when writing villains: they have reasons for what they do. They also must have a certain viewpoint about it. Either they feel it is justified, or they have to be in some way conflicted about it. Or perhaps numbed to it, as they have lived that way so long.
My problem with villains, or writing any character that isn't just stock criminal, is that I have trouble making them be truly evil. They don't lie, they kind of sort of tell half-truths... When just watching my children should make me realize that, angels they may be, but they'll lie to you. Straight up, stare you in the face, I-didn't-do-it-and-you-can't-prove-it lie. Not to mention the other things they are willing to do, especially in the heat of the moment, even if they feel bad about it later. Maybe my next villain will cry himself to sleep at night, trying to justify his actions, or push blame onto the victims of her crimes. Or maybe we'll see their dad, lying in bed, trying to figure out where he went wrong to raise someone so... human.
Labels: The Craft of Writing