Because of a book club selection, I received the best lesson possible on how to create a compelling nasty character.
Some time ago, having attended a friend’s reading group because of giving a talk about my own book, I decided to join a book reading group. Inasmuch as I love mysteries, that’s the kind I chose to join. (Incidentally, that group is what led to my book being in the local library and to a book signing and my giving a talk at the library on May 24th of this year.)
The mystery group also led to my jo8ining three other groups, though of a different type, more literary in nature. Now, I have to confess I’ve always been somewhat of a reverse snob, claiming I like the more popular books like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, every single one of Linda Howard’s books, and a whole host of other authors’ books too numerous to list here. My argument against the modern literary works are: (2) they’re too dark, (20) their protagonists don’t always change, which is something drummed into my brain for years, and (3) the only requirement, as I understand it, is that the writing be innovative; it does not have to go anywhere. In other words, the beginning, middle and end aren’t required.
In the months since joining, I’ve read a few I really loved, but most have been the type I had to struggle to finish—until the last one I read.
The title of the book is Serena, written by Ron Rash, and Serena is the main character. And I’m not exaggerating when I say she is the single most evil fictional character I’ve ever read about. Usually, when creating the bad guy, or the villain, we’re concerned with the man or woman who is trying to bring down the protagonist. But not this time. The main character is the villain, or, in this case, the villainess.
The author created a character so compelling I could not put down the book. She is beautiful, forceful, brilliant and manipulative, putting almost everyone in her spell. The way she takes over a lumber camp, unusual, I’m sure, for a female in the 1930s, is unbelievable. The reader completely accepts what she is and portrays. She is a fully fleshed out character, mesmerizing everyone, including her husband, who begins at the end to realize just what she is. Yet, he cannot give her up.
Fortunately, this beautifully written though dark book was a pleasure to read. The descriptions of theNorth Carolinamountains in the 1930s is wonderful, and the local characters are fascinating, their dialogue rich with the colloquialisms of the area.
I was also glad there were a number of good characters in the book and I have to consider them and the area to be the foil against the evil woman and her cohorts. Actually, the author has the good and bad guy represented, but in reverse from the usual good guy protagonist and bad guy villain.
The only factor missing in the villain’s character is that she does not have a single good quality, which is also something I’ve learned is important. However, it worked for me anyway. Reading this book has given me the best lesson in creating the bad guy I’ve ever had. I sincerely hope, however, that in real life there doesn’t exist a single human as evil as Serena. If there is, I don’t want to know about it. I’ll take the ostrich method, stick my head in the sand and pretend he or she doesn’t exist.
As a last comment, isn’t it interesting the author chose the name Serena. Although, as I think about it, she was serene, exhibiting little outward bursts of temper or signs of her inner character.
Joan K. Maze