A couple of months ago I read a book by David Baldacci, Hour Game, that I have been thinking about ever since. Not because it was an outstanding book, nor because the story was exceptional (which it wasn’t). No. Something in the way he described his characters, especially the main character, the villain in this case, and the way he made him behave throughout the book and particularly towards the end struck me as incomprehensible.
Now I have heard and read and learned early on in my career as a writer that the first and foremost rule for success is to make my stories as real as possible. To create real characters, i.e. characters that are believable. The protagonist, whether a villain or hero, has to be bigger than life. He/She has to possess qualities that our readers can fall in love with. He/she has to be an extraordinary human being with supernatural qualities. Qualities that distinguish him/her from ordinary people. However, these qualities should be created within believable conditions. In the words of Leonard Bishop:
“Characters who perform incredible deeds should be created through conditions that are credible. They should not suddenly, unexpectedly, become infused with superhuman powers.”
Fable, fantasy, horror, and science fiction are the only exceptions, where characters are not expected to behave according to the norm.
Even when my characters are faced with extreme or unusual conditions of peril, fear, or love, their extraordinary acts of heroism, physical power, and self-sacrifice should be in accordance with the characteristics I as a writer have imposed upon them during the course of my story.
In the book Hour Game (to give just an example) Baldacci describes the villain as follows:
“Eddie Battle had massive forearms with thick, pronounced veins. One of the veins was bigger and thicker than the others, a fact probably noted by the police who searched him, but not raising any suspicion. However, to someone as skilled as Eddie Battle, a vein was not always a vein. The vein, in fact, was made of plastic, resin and rubber and was completely hollow. He sat back down in the shadows for a bit, working on the artificial vein with his fingers. It finally “ruptured,” and he slid out the very slender items that had been hidden there.”
For someone like Eddie, who is in jail on death row and watched by two cops, to first get those “slender somethings” from his vein unnoticed by the prison guards, and then open his cell door and kill both cops with the ammunition he was hiding in a plastic vein in his arm? And later outside prison when he manages to escape he does so in a police car while police are everywhere.
Plausible? Perhaps! To tell the truth I as a reader felt cheated. Maybe I belong to the old school. Or maybe my level of understanding is not what the author had in mind at the time of writing. Does giving Eddie more unrealistic and supernatural powers than even Rambo himself make him a larger than life character?
I wonder if ever a first time writer (instead of a bestseller author) had the same story with exact same scenes, would his book have been published? Honestly!