Years ago, when I first started to have the beginning glimmers of what is now my novel; I knew that I wanted to have a bad guy like Col. Tavington from “The Patriot.” You know, he’s the one that orders that the church be burned with all of the inhabitants of the town inside. He is nasty, ruthless and shows no remorse. He’s a bad guy that you love to hate. In fact when he dies at the end, you can’t help but cheer on Mel Gibson for exacting his revenge against this loathsome man.
Fast forward to present day, and I have just recently re-watched “The Patriot.” Only this time, I wasn’t nearly as impressed by Col. Tavington. Yes, I found him just as nasty. Yes I still think that he is well deserving of “bad guy” status. But I didn’t find him nearly as interesting as I had years ago, because he is very one-sided. He does these horrible things out of ambition. The only remorse or regret we see is when Cornwallis tells him that he probably won’t get rewarded because he methods are so inhumane. As an audience we never get to see any other side of him. Which means that after subsequent viewings the intrigue of this character wears off. He is a quintessential bad guy who does bad things and we accept that he does them because he is obviously evil through and through.
Yawn! Now I realize that this is a movie, so they don’t have time to delve into the complexities of his character. However, I have come to expect more from my bad guys. My character Captain Henry was originally based off of Tavington, but I am happy to say that even I have trouble seeing the resemblance now. Captain Henry does some horrible things, but we get to see other facets of his character as well. He shows remorse for some of the things that he does, and he shows absolutely no remorse for some of the other things that he does. He’s complicated, and I love that about his character.
When I first started writing, if anybody had asked me to name the protagonist and antagonist I would have very easily said Kady and Captain Henry. Now I’m not so sure. Kady is definitely my protagonist, that one is easy. But I don’t know about Captain Henry any more. He does bad things, but does that make him a bad guy? Does that make him the antagonist of the story when there are other characters vying for the position? I don’t know. I feel like as the author I should know, but then part of me thinks that it doesn’t really matter. It’s my job to tell the story. Let someone else figure out the labels.
I do know one thing though. Captain Henry is not black and white. Hopefully none of my characters are, but him in particular – lots of grey!