Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by Clay Sanger.
Information about Clay Sanger:
Clay Sanger is a professional technogeek by day and a writer fiction the rest of the time. A life-long lover of all things wild, Clay spent much of his early adulthood wandering the four corners of the country in search of the weird and wonderful, the dark and the light. As chance would have it he found them. After meandering far and wide he returned to his native Ozarks where he lives with his dazzling wife, their sons, and a menagerie of mythical creatures both real and imagined.
He is the author Endsville, which is the first novel in the Outlaw Arcana series.
Click here to visit his official website.
Welcome to Los Angeles - where the secret worlds of the criminal and supernatural collide. Crime and black magic pay. In the City of Angels, no one does it better than Gabriel St. John and the House of the Crow...
ENDSVILLE introduces readers to the House of the Crow. Led by their enigmatic street captain Gabriel, the Crows are a secret coven of high-rolling occult gangsters operating out of Los Angeles. A gangland king by the name of Dante Washington enlists their aid to recover 34 million dollars in cash - stolen from him by what appears to be a hostile sorcerer.
The Crows battle through a vicious cycle of betrayal, violence, and black magic while on the hunt for Mr. Washington’s missing money. In the end, allies prove to be enemies, and there are much greater things at stake than covering up a multi-million dollar gangland heist.
GUEST POST: "They shot my idiot" - Revealing Humanity in Dark Characters by Clay Sanger
“So what was that about?" Makin asked, striding up behind.
"They shot my idiot," I said.
― Mark Lawrence, King of Thorns
You wouldn't think so simple a declaration would reveal so much about a character, but when I was reading King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, it certainly had a lot to tell me.
For context, the character in question is the bloody, ruthless Jorg Ancrath, caught in a moment out-of-control rage along his road to claim the throne of Lawrence's Broken Empire. A carelessly flung arrow has led to the sudden death of one of Jorg's traveling companions – a simple-minded lad who served much in the capacity of the company fool in Jorg's entourage.
For a conquering warlord like Jorg, who has proven himself to be self-centered, single-minded and willing to spend his brothers like bloody coins to pay his way to the throne time and time again, you wouldn't expect such a thing to set off the chain of events it does. But it does indeed, and what follows is an orgy of red rage, played out single-handedly by Jorg against the men who "shot his idiot."
Sir Makin's question ("So what was that about?") following Jorg's outburst of bloody retribution is expected. As is Jorg's cryptic refusal to offer much of an explanation. But the context of the event reveals an awful lot about Jorg. It shows the reader there are still things inside him that can be wounded, vulnerable things that still hurt him, even to his own surprise. And the only manner in which he is equipped to deal with that is to lash out. It's a sneak peek behind the armor and scar tissue at what's left of Jorg's humanity.
I can't help but imagine it's akin to the way a thousand grisly human deaths in a movie may not make the viewer flinch at all, but a single animal getting offed hits them in the tender parts of their gut. It's because it plays on those earliest memories of hurt and loss – most of us experienced the loss of a pet for the first time as a child, after all. It's also because the animal has this innocence, this blameless quality about it, and that resonates with us. Even a very bad dog is just being a doggo. It's his nature.
I suspect the death of Jorg's simple-minded companion had much the same effect on Jorg. It unexpectedly slipped between the chinks in his armor and poked him in his humanity. The mortally wounded boy was as close to innocent and blameless as any of Jorg's bloody Road Brothers would ever be. That made having him along for the ride infinitely special to Jorg (whether he realized it or not until it was too late) and made losing him hurt in places Jorg would rather have pretended he didn't have at all.
In short, one ill-placed arrow revealed a lot about the humanity of an otherwise blood-thirsty, broken, ruthless character.
It's those moments that make those dark characters so compelling, isn't it? Not just a reciting of their dastardly deeds, but the unexpected moments when the spotlight is thrown on their humanity, and it lands like a punch to the face. As often as not, the characters themselves don't even understand that their humanity is suddenly naked and on display. But the reader does. It's what brings them to life. It is the difference between a one-dimensional villain and a beloved character we'll remember forever.
Darth Vader's moment in Palpatine's throne room where we see him make the decision to side with his son while the Emperor tortures and brutalizes him with Force lightning. Sure, the father-son moment shortly after that in the hangar bay of a crumbling Death Star is touching and all, but nothing illustrates the last shred of Anakin Skywalker's humanity (even hidden behind a faceless mask) like when Vader turns on his emperor.
Anybody remember the zompoc surviving hellbilly Tallahassee (portrayed by Woody Harrelson) from Zombieland? And that little puppy of his he talks about having lost along the way, the one he sure misses and remembers so fondly? Do you remember what it felt like when you began to realize he wasn't grieving for a lost puppy at all... but his young son?
There is perhaps no better showcase of revealed humanity in dark characters than Game of Thrones. Time and time again, we are shown the vulnerable human bits hiding inside even the most despicable characters. Assuming they survive long enough for us to get that chance, anyway. They love their children and fear to lose them. They long for the acceptance of their families. They cherish small things and are shattered by their loss. They are struck by moments of mercy and kindness that they struggle to accept and explain, at least to themselves. But to the reader or viewer who is looking at the character from the outside in, we get it. Even if they don't.
Even the darkest villain has something they love. Something that makes them vulnerable. Something that makes them human. It's a real delight when it comes to life on the screen or the page. It's at its best when the audience is in on the secret… but maybe the character is not.