Friday, June 11, 2010

Save Me From the Grays

I like characters who are layered and realistic...okay, maybe not like totally realistic, dude. I do write mostly paranormal, after all. But I definitely like my characters (those I write as well as those I only read about) to have depth and complexity. Some authors are great at this. Their good guys aren't always good, their bad guys aren't completely bad. Black is black and white is white and pianos, fancy dress balls and Oreos aren't the only places where they work well together. And, yeah, for the purposes of this small quasi-rant I think we can agree to ignore all the great black and white animals in the world. 

As Kelly pointed out earlier this week, there are a lot of different shades of gray and, when it comes to most things, I'm a big fan of the subtle, indeterminate, not-so-obvious hues. But there's a type of hero I just can't work up a fondness for. I think of them as The Gray Men.

Gray men always have this view of themselves as being One of The Good Guys. The ones who Fight the Good Fight. In fact, your average gray man is so convinced he's a good guy that he'll do things that are morally questionable--without ever bothering to question his own motives. Hey, why would he have to? He's a white hat, after all. And white makes right. Er...right?

Myself, I'm not so sure. I think most good guys, or what I consider good guys, know when they're doing something wrong--it's a hero thing. And they don't try and sugar coat it either. 

Yes, they have their reasons and they know what those reasons are. Sometimes, it's a one-time thing. They've decided that doing the wrong thing is the lesser of two evils, so they do it. It's still wrong, but they're okay with that.  

Sometimes it's built into their nature. They have a more than passing familiarity with their Shadow Side--for better or for worse. Btw, this defense works a whole lot better if we're talking  paranormal characters! 

Either way, they've got the courage of their convictions. They each tend to have their own codes of conduct, the rules they live by. And they'll generally own up to their sins and failings, if only to themselves. 

But...critical point here...they realize their choices, no matter how limited, are still choices and they have this funny idea that, having chosen (for whatever reason) to do the wrong thing, they can no longer be considered lily white. I agree. I think they're something better. They're like tasty bites of marble cake. They're interesting, complex, and I'm usually going to like them a whole lot better than straight vanilla heroes.

Same goes for the bad guys. Give me a villain who's not unrelievedly evil. One with odd quixotic tendencies perhaps, or a surprising soft spot in his soul for...oh, hell, anything  will do. His mother. Ginger kittens. Penniless, blind violin students. Or the heroine--that's always a winner. He's like a luscious, devil's food cupcake with a fluffy white center.  Yes, we know he's bad for us but, mmm. Yummy goodness.

And, just so ya know, at this point, I'm kinda thinking I shoulda titled this post: Let Me Eat Cake. But I digress...

To continue with the metaphor, the Grays, on the other hand, are nowhere near as delectable. They're convinced they hold the moral high ground while, in truth, they're so morally compromised there's no separating out the flavors anymore. Their layers have all gotten mushed together and that icky self-righteous icing they've got slathered on top...well, it's kinda sickening. 

They also tend to be tastelessly hypocritical, despising the bad guys while acting just like them.  In point of fact, they're not White Hats. They're more like Black Hats Lite. But, as happens all too often  in life, just because you've taken out the sugar and most of the calories, it doesn't mean what's left is going to either taste good or be good for you.

Damn. I think I want dessert now...


Meg Benjamin said...

Great post, PG! The only thing I'd add is that I'm also intrigued by guys who start out as "pure" black hats, who somehow end up doing something white hat because it turns out when push comes to shove, they're not exactly as morally bankrupt as we (and they) thought. They're the ones who get to have their own book later in the series .

PG Forte said...

lol! And I bet I know just who you're thinking of.

But that's very true. And I do love reading about those guys!

Debra St. John said...

Great would be boring without those shades of gray thrown in there with the black and white.

Erin Nicholas said...

Love this post, PG! And totally agree-- I love cupcakes of all kinds! Oh, that's not what we're talking about? :) Seriously though, I agree that the bad guy who's not totally bad and the good guy who doesn't do everything right are the best!

Kinsey Holley said...

To continue what Meg said - I like the guys who start out pure bad boy, then (usually thanks to the heroine) discover some good in themselves...but they don't become White Hat guys. They'll always been marble cake - never one of the Really Good Guys. Call them the Semi-Good Guys. I like them a lot.