Enjoyed quite a bit of Tomorrowland, the new Disney marketing vehic…film. The message is a little preachy, but, at the 80% mark I realized that there were no bad guys. How cool is that? An interesting, provocative film without an antagonist. Oops, put down that optimism, sonny, here he comes now. Bwah-ha-ha!
Bad guys in art must be a gimmick. While there are certainly bad guys in the world – if you are one, please raise your hand. Look around, kids. See? None of your friends are bad guys – overall, we’re a pretty good lot.
You know this is true, not because it rhymes, but because, if there were as many bad guys on the street as there are in the movies –on a bad-guys-per-picture ratio – you’d be lucky to get home at night. We’d be up to our armpits in evil.
My story is about a good guy who has to face out some bad guys in the meanest part of town… please. The bad guys are a contrivance, a means of creating conflict because all stories must have a central conflict.
Superheroes. How can you have a superhero if there is no evil to overcome? As an author, you must create super-villains to challenge your superhero. Boy. That sounds like comic book stuff… oh yeah, superheroes come from comic books.
In the real world, take a walk in a certain part of town and you will find disadvantaged people willing to prey on you. And, you’ll find unkind, even bad people preying on them. A real superhero would be down in that part of town, not battling super-evil geniuses, but correcting the societal imbalances that create a bad part of town in the first place.
Because life isn’t about bad guys. The conflicts in life don’t usually come from a ne’er-do-well trying to do you in. Go ahead. Shoot me. I was getting kind of bored anyway.
No, the conflict in life is much more sophisticated. It’s that ticking noise in the car. The hesitation when she says “I love you, too.” It’s the never-ending debt that hides behind you, altering your judgments.
It’s the frustration you feel when things don’t go your way. When you could do more, but don’t. When you could say the right thing, but stay silent. When the parade marches down the street, and you’re standing on the sidelines.
There are no bad guys there.
This diatribe is brought to you by my newest novel, DROPPINGTON PLACE. It’s a charming little story about an earnest boy from a broken family struggling through his parents’ recent breakup while trapped in a magical world fashioned from paper by an Elizabethan playwright. No contrivances here! I tried to make bad guys, but couldn’t . Even the scariest guy, the master sorcerer, turns out to be pretty fun.
So, when you sit down to write the great American story, maybe the story isn’t really about good guys triumphing over bad guys. Maybe it’s more basic than that. Maybe it’s about regular folks doing their best against challenging circumstances.
If you must have a bad guy, maybe you could, like, make him move away in the first chapter. Or, better, make him be a chronic cough that pops up at the worst possible moment. Yeah, triumph over that little beauty!