Saturday, August 22, 2015

Character Change in Crime Fiction

I have read a number of crime fiction novels. I love them so and many great writers have contributed to the genre. Some of my favorites are Donald Westlake, Stephen Hunter and David Baldacci. For me, there is nothing better than a good crime yarn spun from the criminal's viewpoint. Let's face it. The police have the laws on their side and the criminals do not. It does not mean the criminals are right in what they do but it does mean they have more of a struggle as far as not getting caught. So for suspense, it is hard to beat.

One thing I have noticed however is that most crime novels in a series feature a protagonist who does not change. Book after book, he is the same. James Bond is a good example. I have read all the Ian Fleming 007 books and they are excellent. However, the one element missing is any sort of change in Bond. There is nothing wrong with this for most fans, including me. It just is not that type of story. But I will say that I have found a prefer a change in a character over the course of a story where I can get it.

An example that sticks out in my mind is in Dirty White Boys by Stephen Hunter. While most of the characters do not change, one does. Richard Peed, who has the wimpiest name of just about any criminal I have read about, does change. He goes from a cowardly, drawers-soiling pansy into a hardened criminal with a cold quiet demeanor who gets respect from his peers behind bars. This was quite fascinating to read and my favorite part of the book. I would love to shake Mr. Hunter's hand for that alone.

You take The Dark Knight. That movie is my favorite comic book-based film for many reasons. The story rolls right along and is really just addictive once it starts. Heath Ledger's Joker is amazing to watch and just as creepy a version of the clown prince of crime as can be hoped for. The special effects are kept to a minimum to give it a gritty, real feel. Christian Bale's Batman pulls off he darker side of Bruce Wayne while still holding the lighter in place and he explodes on the screen whenever in the cowl. All these things are great and make for one hell of a movie.

However, for me, an added element that helped it resonate was the story of Harvey Dent. Dent is the center of the film since we have Batman on one side- incorruptible hero and the Joker on the other side- corrupting, anarchist villain with Harvey Dent clearly in the middle. In the beginning, he is the hero that Gotham needs without a mask and all and appears to be just as ruthless as Batman about getting it. Yet, as the movie goes on, we see that while he does stand for good, he has a slightly darker side to him that may be a bit too ruthless.

After the explosion takes his girl away and half his face, we see Dent transform into a bitter man who leaves everything to chance since fate did not save him from anything. His entire ideology has changed for the worse. The Joker did corrupt him. But the change is fascinating to watch. I believe the Harvey Dent character added resonance to the film that otherwise would not have been there and will keep this movie relevant for many more years.

For me, change is fascinating and probably the number one reason I love to tell stories. Obviously Dickens agreed to a point, given his characters Ebeneezer Scrooge and Pip. Obviously the positive change is best I think, but even the negative changes can be intriguing. I think in change we see true vulnerability and the defeat of internal fear. I look forward to my own characters changing in my work as well.


We can't all be James Bond.

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