Good Guy Vs. Bad Guy Vs. Guy Dressed in Grey

I write Contemporary YA (woot, woot, contemp YA), so you’d think I enjoy the quiet, subtle, literary story stripped of super flashy bells and whistles. And you’d be right. BUT, I must say…I also love a green witch defying gravity and ascending from a smoke filled stage and into the heavens with a dozen flying monkeys while she belts out the MOST AWESOME song ever in a dazzling spectacle of billowing…

…Oh, uh, did I mention I saw WICKED while I was in New York for SCBWI? And can I just say wow? WOW.

I know some of you are going to kill me, but the truth is, I’ve never been like a die hard fan of The Wizard of OZ. Yeah, I like it. I mean, seriously, who can resist the Lollipop Guild? But I can easily flip the channel after a few minutes because, well, I don’t know why, I just can. But after watching WICKED, I can’t wait until I come across The Wizard of Oz again. It’ll be like I know a little secret that makes the story more interesting. Because even though the wicked witch melting at the end is a happy and terrific ending …a wicked witch who is actually AWESOME and lovable, well…that makes things interesting doesn’t it?

Which brings me to the concept of good guy vs. bad guy. I know most of us like a clear defined protagonist and antagonist. We want villains to be terrible, evil, ugly, gross, despicable, little imps. So that then we can just LET THEM HAVE IT throughout our story. So they can shrivel up at our feet. So we can gleefully stomp and splash in the puddle of who they used to be. Ha! Yes! Take that! And that! And that! And we want our good guys to be heroic and humble and noble and just so…good. But while the good guy/bad guy may have its merits, it’s also a little boring. We know what to expect from each and knowing what to expect doesn’t really keep us at the edge of our seats.

Writers are meant to be a mean bunch. We’re supposed to put our readers through agony as they frantically turn the pages to see what happens next. If they know the good guy will always do what is right and the bad guy will always have a black shriveled up prune for a heart, then it makes things less interesting. Not that you can’t build an amazing amount of tension and conflict within a kickass plot, but if you build that tension and conflict with your characters also, then it makes for a great multidimensional story. I mean, aren’t things more interesting when an audience is more likely to cry instead of dance when the witch is dead, or when we love and are annoyed by Glinda?

Anyway, just a thought as the flying monkeys flew overhead. So next time your heroes and villains are decidedly black and white, think about it—why not make them wear grey?

Follow me on Twitter @jetchez

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6 Responses to Good Guy Vs. Bad Guy Vs. Guy Dressed in Grey

  1. Ghenet says:

    Great post! (Woot woot contemp YA!)

    I loved WICKED. It’s one of my favorite Broadway shows. I loved the fact that our entire perspective of The Wizard of Oz changed. I’m a fan of the original story, but I fell in love with Elphaba and this other side of the story. Brillant! It’s a good lesson in how having a sympathetic villian really works.

  2. Woot Woot to contemp YA AND MG! And a big Woot to Wicked! LOVE WICKED! (Lots of caps and exclamation points going on…sorry! Oops, there’s another one.)

    Shades of gray are definitely less cliche. They also create dimension, intrigue, mystery…much like many of the more interesting real life characters I come across.

  3. erikamarks says:

    Oh, yes, I love the gray, too. While it is so easy to slip into cliche for some villian-y bad guys, it’s always more fun to give them twists.

    The conference sounded like a blast, Jenny–so glad you took in a show. I miss NY and NY stage!

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