Writing on the Edge

Recently, I heard a choir I’m familiar with, a lovely and accomplished group of sixty or so voices.  The director was new to me, and though the performance was nearly perfect, I was disappointed.  The former conductor—whose performances were never nearly perfect—brought something different to the music, a passion and energy that pushed the choir right to the edge every time.  When I listened to them under that director, I never knew what might happen, musically speaking.  What always happened, without fail, was that I was engaged and moved.  I felt a deep connection to the music and its message, perfection notwithstanding.

I’ve been pondering that, and thinking about how it might relate to writing.  Tastes are vastly different, of course, but for myself, perfection is not the element I seek.  I love beautiful language, but still, I’d rather read something that feels as if it’s pushing the envelope.  I like stories that teeter on the cliff, plots that might go either way.  I like unique characters, the ones who take chances, who surprise me as a reader.

This may be why I love writing villains, real bad boys (and girls), who are capable of all sorts of disturbing actions.  Heroines and heroes are hard, because they tend to be generic.  You expect them to make wise and virtuous choices, to be the sort of person we can all admire.

Villains can be much more fun.  They operate from a different context.  More than one reader has said they hated being in the mind (which is to say, the point of view) of Preston Benedict, the antagonist of my Benedict Hall series.  I loved it!  For me, his scenes were the most fun of all to write.  Antagonists are, in many ways, easy.  They’re already on the edge.

Creating protagonists who are capable of surprising readers is much more difficult.  A likable protagonist with an edge is much to be desired, and not at all simple to achieve.  I’m going to try to remember how affecting the choir was when it was less perfect and more adventurous, and apply that same effect to my fiction.