Saturday 19 May 2012

The detail that makes a great villain

I might as well confess it now: I have been trying to write crime fiction recently (an activity I started in November 2011). I managed to write one short story, one complete first draft anyway. (A side note: my problem with short stories is that I have difficulties to keep them short.) I did creative writing back in cégep and then at university, but this is different as I work in a special genre, which I know well as a reader but not as a wannabe writer (I say wannabe writer but right now I am just doing it for kicks).

One of the challenging bit is creating villains. I blogged about them before. In crime fiction, we have real life models to use, especially when your badguys are mobsters and thugs. Where I come from and where I take my working material from, i.e. the beautiful yet deeply crooked city of Montreal, real criminals come a dime a dozen. In a genre that often aims to realism, one would think he should stay away from the archetypes that quickly turn clichés: those villains with goatees in elegant evening suits or those brutish goons so frequent in pulp fiction. But I discovered as a reader of crime history that criminals often have this look, at least when it comes to thugs. I also discovered writing that the little element, the detail makes a badguy stand out: a nervous tick, a way to stand or to smoke a cigarette, or have a drink, or a way to smile. Fernando Rey playing Charnier in The French Connection was not the Southern French thug William Friedkin wanted (more about the casting here), but his way of carrying himself, always cool under pressure, whether trying to avoid being tailed by the police or dealing with New York mobsters, certainly made the character memorable and gave him an aura of menace. There was also the little details: the umbrella, the dark clothes and yes, the goatee. He looks like a scavenging crow, which is in essence what is a drug dealer. I am far from creating a character that memorable. But at least I know where to take inspiration from.

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