I’ve got a track record of falling for unsuitable males. This is in real life and in fiction. Luckily in real life I’ve had my happily ever after with the bad boy I’ve been married to for more than a decade, but that hasn’t stopped me from flirting with bad men in my fiction.
So far Jamie has been my most notorious bad boy. He’s the star of my Khepera series (Lyrical Press), and has stolen many hearts since I first unleashed him a few years ago. But what makes him so likeable? And how the hell does one write a thoroughly irredeemable character in one’s story without alienating readers?
When I set out to create Jamie, I consciously combined all the aspects of his personality that were the absolute worst traits I could imagine. I asked myself, what sort of person would be the sleepy suburb of Fish Hoek’s worst fear? Hence Jamie.
He’s rooted in truth, since my husband and his friends terrorised the suburb when they were teens—a pack of coffin kids who were partially responsible for propagating the Satanic Panic in the mid- to late-1990s. Though they were, mercifully, not a bunch of cat-killers, this certainly didn’t stop the “good” folks of the sleepy seaside town from believing the worst.
Jamie represents all the fears of your average suburban housewife. He dabbles in the occult, he looks like something that’s escaped from one of Tim Burton’s film sets, he’s bisexual, has a penchant for substance abuse and thinks the world revolves around him. He has a flair for dramatics, and behaves like an idiot at the worst of times. If I had to meet him in real life, I’d probably bitch slap him.
But secretly I’d admire him. Here’s some guy who cuts loose without giving a second thought what others think.
Jamie’s the kind of guy who is loved and hated by equal measure, and this is largely due to the fact that he engages our sense of the forbidden. He allows readers to act on their taboo impulses without getting into trouble.
I mean, haven’t you ever wondered what your life would be like if you didn’t have to abide by society’s rules?
But the trick is that all these negative qualities need balance. I’ve seen authors try and fail to create “edgy” characters. There need to be positive qualities, and in Jamie, these are still very much apparent despite his physical appearance and less sociable qualities. A character, I believe, must never be too whiny, or too much of a passive victim. Yes, bad things must happen to a character, but they must be transformed by their tragedy. They must eventually build the spine to kick back.
Fetters such as drug abuse or alcoholism, I believe, are challenges a character can overcome. Every action can and does have an opposite reaction, and the friction produced from inaction often gives impetus for dynamism within the framework of a story. We watch a character flounder, crippled by his own weaknesses, and we sometimes want to shake sense into him. Then, when he gets his act together, we can sigh in relief and celebrate his triumphs with him. This being said, I also don’t believe in preaching. Yes, doing stuff like drugs or sleeping around can and often does have unintended negative consequences, but people need to decide for themselves what the cost of such behaviour is. And it’s not a “one size fits all” kind of situation. Doing some bad stuff doesn’t automatically make you a bad person. All people are a mixture of light and dark.
One of the aspects of Jamie’s personality that I love dearly is that he cares deeply about his family and friends. And he loves his pets. So much so that if anything bad happens to them, he goes to great lengths to right wrongs. And he has a definite sense of honour, even if his world view is skewed. One scene from Khepera Rising that I particularly enjoyed writing was when Jamie went to visit a very flaky Wiccan lady in her shop to warn her about danger. She’s all angels, light and bubbles, while Jamie... Well, Jamie’s just plain old Jamie. Putting the two together and observing their interactions was an absolute treat.
I’ll give a hint: I’ve always loved the bad boys in film. As much as we love to hate him, the Kurgan of Highlander infamy is one of my favourite villains, and Jamie leans a little on his attitude. He might be a little callous at times, but for all his bad-assery, I show him do something good to make up for his transgressions.
While I’ve moved onto writing other characters over the years, I can’t quite leave Jamie alone. He has a habit of occasionally showing up in my other novels. He has a brief cameo appearance in Hell’s Music (Lyrical Press, writing as Therése von Willegen), and I wouldn’t be surprised if, sometime in the future, he bumps into Ashton from my Inkarna universe (Dark Continents Publishing).
He’s not wholly bad or good, and when you hang out with him you can enjoy a slice of moral ambiguity without worrying about breaking any laws.
Bio: Nerine Dorman is a rather grumpy editor and author who lives in Cape Town, South Africa. By day she works as a sub-editor and writer for a newspaper publisher. By night she concentrates on fiction. She hasn’t quite given up on her musical aspirations either. Follow her on Twitter @nerinedorman or her blog at http://nerinedorman.blogspot.com
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