One of my favourite aspects of Aiden Finnegan is just how apathetic towards his fellow human beings he really is. The fact that he’ll off stable boys or chatty women without blinking an eye is terrifying, but when he has the audacity to complain that they’ve bloodied his favourite boots, I can’t help but crack a smile.
This is what makes fiction so great. Things that aren’t acceptable in real life are enjoyed when presented in a fictitious scenario. Some people love them. Some anticipate these horrors.
But when is it too much? Let’s take the movie franchise Saw for example. I’m not a fan of horror movies, but I did see that one and it was fabulous. It was unique, exciting, disturbing, and so very very delicious. But then they kept going. And they kept going. And they kept going. People still watch them, to get their horror film fix, I imagine, but you no longer hear about how great they are. Now they’re just sort of… all the same.
As a writer, it’s scary to think that someone might think that of my protagonist. I don’t think anyone does–I haven’t had any sort of feedback saying so, but like I’ve said in previous posts, I really like to take Aiden’s nasty and run with it. So I’ve got to step back and sprinkle in some human. But that too can get boring. I mean, let’s be honest. There are only so many times I can have the guy musing at dawn.
So what’s a good way to balance a character? My trick has always been the other characters. I’m good with characters. As a writer, they are my strength. (Can someone please teach me how to write action scenes?!)
Inner monologues and surprising fun facts learned during our anti-hero’s alone time are all well and good, but if we as real people grow and develop with the help of the people we surround ourselves with, isn’t the same true for our characters? They are, in their own worlds, people too. They function just as we do and in the universes I create, I don’t mess with that multi-dimension science/psychology/physiology/biology/personologyI’mjustmakingitupnow because I don’t understand any of it and I’m too lazy and too poor to go to university to study it in order to change it somewhere else.
So I throw in other people to balance out the extremists. If you’re a good writer (and I do consider myself as such, the pompous jerk that I am) everyone will work off each other and you’ll have a really good cast set up. Even if, as is the case of The Noble Project, they aren’t actually good people.
The first to tame Aiden’s fury a bit is Wentworth. This is the most obvious in his character because he is, as stated before, the complete opposite. He’s bright, funny, charming, optimistic, and values human life above all. He has also known Aiden since the steel hearted bastard was in the schoolroom, so he’s got a lot of valuable information to share with us throughout the story.
Secondly, and another obvious one, we have our heroine, Luke Avery. I wouldn’t say that she’s opposite Aiden, so much as different. Wentworth balances him, Luke unlocks him. She isn’t afraid of him, but she isn’t so brave either. She knows nothing about him, and sees things in him that no one else does. This isn’t because she’s amazing, radiating with empathy and understanding or even that she’s such a kind hearted girl that she sees the good in everyone. (She’s actually quite selfish) She is able to see good in this man because everyone else’s image of him is already set in stone. He does have quite a reputation, after all.
But we can’t just have the main characters working the three rings of this circus because that’s boring, predictable, and cheap. So I threw in one Mr. Espott.
The door opened and an elderly man came out, a measuring tape draped over his pointy shoulders. He blinked rapidly as he hollered, and brandished his arm (sporting a particularly dangerous looking pair of scissors), though the man was so thin and frail he appeared to nearly snap at each move that he made.
Much to Luke’s surprise, Aiden did little to defend himself.
“You,” Wilfred Espott snarled, pointing his scissors up into Aiden’s face, “you ruined me!”
“I’ve ruined many men,” Aiden admitted, crossing his arms, “what makes you so special?”
Luke poked her head out from her hiding place behind his back to observe the old man’s reaction. At Aiden’s cold words, this man did not flare up like Glendale had. Instead, hurt flashed though his eyes. Sorrow and disappointment etched themselves across his features.
But he did not let these emotions linger.
“You brought to me the finest inspiration,” he said, his arms raised up, at his lament, “the very best of models. At your bidding I created masterpieces! Absolute masterpieces! And now–ha!”
“The world is in a terrible state, Mr. Espott,” Wentworth chimed in.
“Trades!” cried the dressmaker, throwing an arm over his icy blue eyes in despair, “they come offering trades! As if I am nothing more than a common tailor!”
Aiden sighed in irritation, “Espott–”
“Ten years!” he exclaimed, shaking his scissors at Aiden again, “I’ve been waiting for you to return for ten years and what have you brought me? A womanizing gambler!”
Wentworth let out a cheery chuckle, “Knows me well, doesn’t he?”
Luke stepped into his view, knowing that there was no threat to be had here, but Mr. Espott did not acknowledge her, still howling on about Aiden’s lack of patronage.
“You were the only man I ever designed for,” Mr. Espott reminded him, circling him and shaking his head in disapproval, “yet I see you have moved on to craftsmen who are less than worthy of dressing you.”
“Losing one’s status in the world does have its repercussions,” Aiden replied dully.
Wilfred Espott is not afraid to stand his ground, and he’s not afraid of any Aiden Finnegan. Why’s this? Mostly because he is old and pretentious. I didn’t do this on purpose. I didn’t create him to flesh out my hero, or to add a speckle of humor in order to give Wentworth a break. Mr. Espott’s real purpose was to introduce this:
The woman in question was. to put it simply, the most beautiful woman Luke had ever seen. Her porcelain skin was the color of fresh milk, and free of the sort of freckles that liked to surface on a sunny summer day. Her hair was dark, the blackest black and as the tight curls toppled out from the coiffure on top of her head and down her back, they shone like a river of ink across the creamy skin of her exposed back.
Her eyes were particularly mesmerizing: grey like Aiden’s, but lighter and far more delicate. There was a smirk on her face, just the slightest upturn of her lips, rouged for the portrait. Though she was silent, there was no mistaking what she wanted to say. It was the same words whispered into the ears of young gentlemen by the women who worked the street corners, the same sort of desire of two lovers entangled in a dangerous affaire.
“That there is Marietta Grace,” said Mr. Espott, turning to admire the portrait. “I never knew the meaning of my profession until he brought her to my door.”
Curiosity wormed its way through Luke’s mind and though she was too polite to inquire further, he went on, his sighs becoming heavier and his words wistful and lost in a time passed.
“I had never seen a more beautiful woman,” he whispered, “and she knew this. She wanted the best. She wanted to be noticed. She wanted what other women would spend their days swooning over while their own dressmakers did their best to imitate.” He paused to laugh, cracking a genuine smile at the memory, “He of course, thought nothing of it, practically tossing his gold at my feet.”
Something hard and heavy settled in Luke’s stomach then.
“He loved her, didn’t he?”
“Loved her?” he asked, shaking his head, “Yes. And then… she destroyed him.”
The meat of his rage, and the center of his despair. One of the very key reasons that he behaves the way he does. I mentioned it briefly in chapter one, and in this chapter, danced with so allusions to it, but allusions and passing thoughts aren’t enough. The seed has been planted.
There will be lots of people like Mr. Espott popping up, some giving Aiden more dimension, some Wentworth, and many, Luke. Really, the girl will talk to anyone.
Having a terrible man as a protagonist is fun, and people enjoy reading it. Giving him some balance is necessary, and having valid (if complex and unforgivable) reasons for making the choices he does, is what makes a story worth reading.