A rare moment when I get to listen to music of my own choosing during the daylight hours. The moment comes with sacrifice: no writing.
Normally, when I take the boys to school, I walk to a bookshop a few blocks away and settle in for a morning of school work and writing. Today, however, was Parent Visitation Day at my daughter’s school one town over. “You can come this time, right Mommy?” Her toothless smile looked tenuous. She was so used to hearing “I can’t come because I’d have to bring the boys.” “I can’t leave the boys behind.” “I can’t when I have work, honey.” I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. I’ve written before how hard it is to get time without her brothers. This time I gave her a hug and said, “I can’t come for the whole thing.”
“But, I can be there in the morning for a little while.”
Blondie’s smile broke loose and spread to her toes, throwing her into a hopping frenzy. “You can dance with me at brain break! And see my desk! And hear my story!”
So here I am, driving between schools, with, of all things, the Rolling Stones blasting because it’s the only CD that’s not “Weird Al” Yankovic or Veggie Tales. “Sympathy for the Devil” comes on, and my mind starts to wander…
Why, of all beings in the big ol’ Cosmos, would we give sympathy to the Devil? Yet, well, as writers, that is what we want to do. I’ve read stories where the villain has less development than Snidely Whiplash of the Dudley Do-Right cartoons, all cackles and mustache twirling, and have been utterly, utterly bored.
Now 2-D characters do have their place, like, say, Michael Myers of Halloween, but slasher films are where cookie-cutter characters thrive best: The Virgin. The Jock. The Slut. The Jealous Boyfriend/Girlfriend. The Nerd. Etc.
When it comes to novels, we need more than one-note characters: we need songs, harmonies, percussion, the whole sonata. And not just from the hero.
We want to be just as intrigued with the one whom the hero is up against.
Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul to waste
There’s something to the tribal feel of the percussion here counter-balancing the piano. A unique style of class. It makes me picture a man with tailored suit and cane, someone at ease in the bar who for all his drink loses not one iota of wit, something like Alex from Clockwork Orange. Just listen to that opening stanza: He’s polite. Rich. Cultured. Seasoned. Sounds rather like a philanthropist, doesn’t he? One who smiles sincerely as he offers you a drink and a stool in return for your ear…
And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
He starts with one of his oldest and dearest triumphs. You’d think this would turn you away, that you’d never want to listen to someone who sealed the fate of Christ. Yet you’re still sitting there, because here’s a man who reveals Christ had doubt. He takes the Big Good Guy and shows He’s no better than the rest of us. Everything feels a bit more level now, doesn’t it? Those Hoidy-Toidies ain’t got nuthin’ better than us.
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game
How curious this man wants us to guess his name. But he, like most villains, wants to be known. Understood. And what drives him? All villains need something to keep them on the path they’ve chosen.
And for this particular fellow, it is one of the most basic and most frightening of motivations.
All that he shares with you is part of his “game,” and as he shares, the music builds and you find yourself awestruck and horrified and fascinated all at once…
I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain
I rode a tank
Held a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank
I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made
I shouted out,
Who killed the Kennedys?
When after all
It was you and me
How can we possibly sit at this man’s side and listen to him share all this like it doesn’t matter?
Hey, a game is not supposed to be serious. A game is fun, harmless.
But his actions are everything but. Why, why listen?
Because we like him. Because he’s not simply “evil”–he is a complete creature with a nature that gets bored and wants to have fun.
Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint
This must reside in the core of our villain’s creation: they must have some essence of us, of the everyday person. Even the most alien of villains can have a nature with passions and repulsions. When we forget to give our villain a nature, we deny our heroes a true conflict. Without conflict, we deny our readers a true story.
And you know the cost of such a sin.
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, mm yeah