Creating despicable characters: ABC’s V breaks cardinal rule of fiction and gets away with it


All experienced writers know the major villains of our stories must have at least a few likable characteristics in order to for them to seem believable. This is based on the theory that every person, even a serial killer, has some good in him/her. I’ve known a few people (thankfully not serial killers) who I feel challenge that theory, but nonetheless, it is an acceptable rule of fact where fiction writing is concerned. If your villain is one dimensional, with only evil thoughts and deeds to judge, readers are apt to get bored and put your story down.

The first major exception to this rule for me was Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. (I suppose, if you want to stretch things, you could point to his intelligence as being a “good” quality, but given he used that intelligence to kill people kind of wipes that theory away.)  Naturally, the character became even more memorable once he hit the big screen thanks to an incredible performance by Anthony Hopkins.

Many years have passed since Silence of the Lambs hit theaters, but I have finally discovered another exception to the villain rule: the character Anna from ABC’s V. If you aren’t familiar with the show or plotline, the V stands for Visitors, a race of aliens who have descended upon Earth intent on wiping out the human race and taking Earth as their new home. The humans don’t know this, of course. On the surface the Vs look just like humans. Beneath their fake skin, however, they are disgusting lizard creatures with vampire-like jaws and incredibly long tails that are used in various methods of murder.

The Visitors are led by their queen, Anna. She skins her own people to gather information. She imprisons her mother in a dungeon. She uses her daughter as a prostitute.  Her ultimate goal is to find a way to remove humans’ souls so she can convert their empty shells into a slave race. Aptly, the actress who plays this monster, Morena Baccarin, is incredibly creepy looking—pretty on the surface, but with eyes and facial expressions that mirror pure evil.

I sincerely hope V is renewed for a third season so I can keep watching this dreadful woman. Why? Because I desperately want to see her fail. I want her shell game exposed. I want The Fifth Column, a group of humans working against the Vs, to succeed. It’s an elementary conflict, this good versus evil, but there’s nothing elementary about Anna.

Just goes to show, rules truly are made to be broken.

Helping the Field of Literature

Being a writer has its frustrations. As Margaret Atwood noted some weeks ago, we live on cheese sandwiches, i.e., not  a whole lot of cash. Besides writing or wanting to find more time to write, we want to know how to help our field, literature. How can we promote other unknown  writers? How can we buy all the books we want to read with so little cash? How can we find time to go to the library if we have to spend so much time at work ( doing something other than our own writing because we haven’t made that big sale yet).

Some of us  are teachers, so we can talk about writers who should be read in our classes, at least a little. By the same token, there are days when we will go home from the classroom, bury our heads under our pillows, and sob.  We know from class discussions, summaries and quizzes that  not only do a large number of students not want to read, often when that same group do, it is too fast and without retention.

I tell myself it has always been this way, and that we are only seeing a growing ratio exponentially reflective of population growth. A textbook publisher asserts that one of its writers claims a literary revolution is going on, presently, due to the love of text messaging by the young.  Not sure if I really would call this a literary revolution.

On the other hand, a student once got involved with my son after taking my class. I could have  fallen down and chipped my teeth on the cement pavement we were walking on when she blithely commented that she had never read a whole book.

And she passed my class?

To be fair,  the class she took had assigned readings from one particular book of classic writings. No one had to read all of it.  She is a very sweet young lady.  As are the males in my classes past who have gone trans-gender.

The frustration of helping others in this field spills out into blogging and other written encouragement. The first duty of every writer, once a book is ready, is to get it out there, with or without a publisher, printed by a company like Diggypod or uploaded onto Kindle. (Sometimes a writer may not want a publisher because the percentage of royalties is so small. That is true of story collections, for instance.)

After that, we have to sit or stand wherever we can in public and promote our books. We have to read the works of our friends or unknowns who have talent, and talk about them.  We have to be mutually supportive, or nothing will ever be accomplished.

End of rant.

Derelict Donuts, Vintage Cars and Book Sales.

Every Saturday morning, my father, Ray Simpson, drives his ’36 armchair sedan Cord (the likes of which are scant in the USA) to Derelict Donuts in Huntington Beach, California. He parks his baby to show off, then strolls around to look at the other vintage hot rods, antiques, etc. The parking lot is always crammed,and  the donut shop, at which this all started, is so crowded that you would think students were trying to get into a class on the first day of a semester.A friend, me, Dad, and a friend.

One morning, when Dad actually bought a donut, there was a lady selling her self-printed book on growing up in the late 40s just inside or outside the donut shop. A picture of a car of that era was on the cover of her book. On an impulse, Dad bought the book for $20.00  The book was NOT about vintage cars. I do not even remember if a car was mentioned in the text, because Dad sent it to me after he leafed through it.

The book was not longer than 150 pages if memory serves, perhaps shorter. My father’s message was “Why don’t you do this?” He was not talking about writing a book like the author’s—he was asking why   I don’t sell at car shows.

My books have nothing to do with vintage cars although I, personally, love them.  But frankly, I see no problem with bringing a picture of my father and his Cord along to a car show, if I were to rent a table  put my books on it, and sit behind it. It would be pleasant to talk about cars all day long. I might learn something.  I might sell books.David, me, and Dad in front of the '37 Cord

Publishers have used non-traditional marketing techniques back-to- back with the more traditional methods for decades.  Now that the two largest bookstores in the country have been forced to change course, publishers are likewise veering away from the traditional with greater urgency.

As Stephanie Clifford and Julie Bosman wrote in the New York Times a few days ago, a great many stores that you and I think of for “apparel, food and fishing reels have been adding books.” And it is working. Consider that the fashion designer Marc Jacobs opened Bookmarc in Manhattan in last fall! Anthropologie has increased the number of books it is carrying and so has Coldwater Creek and Lowe’s. Kitson, an incredibly trendy clothes and gift boutique in Hollywood, sold 100,000 books in 2010. Publishers think about these things. So should self-marketing writers.