In some books, the dividing line is often clear between good and bad. The bad characters commit evil crimes, make the good characters miserable through their deeds and speech, and generally get punished by whatever fate they deserve at the end of the novel. The good characters start out at one place in life and progress toward a better future, combating the evil villain or villains among the way. I’ve found that it makes for an even better story if one of the characters is timid at the start and manages to summon the emotional resources necessary to stand up to the villain. (It makes me want to jump in and cheer them on.)
Sometimes there’s a hint in one book that one of the bad characters may have a nicer side. In Rosamund Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers, character Noel Keeling is a youngish, spoiled yuppie, in contrast to his independent, warmhearted and generous mother Penelope Keeling. But within this Pilcher novel, there are hints of Noel’s basic decency, which is further developed in the novel September.
Author Susan Mallery took this concept a step father. In one set of her books I’ve read recently, the Lone Star Sisters series, she took a bad character and completely redeemed him. Mallery created a set of books about three sisters (Izzy, Skye and Lexi Titan) and their illegitimate brother Garth. In the first three novels, Garth seeks revenge upon their father Jed Titan, who is — let’s face it — never going to get the “Father of the Year” award. Jed is a jerk who has no scruples about forcing people to do whatever he wants for his financial gain, even to the point of blackmail.
Garth looks to strike back at his father by any means possible (he’s got some good reasons), and one of the ways that he does that is by going after his sisters, thinking that what hurts them, hurts Jed. Garth tries to financially ruin the spa owned by one sister, is responsible for food poisoning at an event hosted by another sister and may be responsible for an oil rig accident causing the third sister to temporarily lose her eyesight. (Spoiler alert: Garth didn’t have anything to do with the accident.)
So you’d swear that this character is a nasty guy and way beyond redemption, but Mallery managed Garth’s transformation with amazing deftness, which I have to admire. Garth becomes a better man for three reasons: 1) by his actions, he loses a good friend whose trust he then needs to regain; 2) he discovers that the Titan sisters don’t particularly like their father either and they decide to join him when their father crosses over the line into criminal acts and 3) he falls for local tough girl Dana, a sheriff’s deputy. (And I heard that snicker! Don’t make me come over there.)
It’s not often that you have authors who deviate from the usual bad character/good character patterns, which made this set of novels great fun to read. If I ever turn my hand to fiction, I hope I produce work of the same quality.
Blog readers: Ever read books where the author converted a bad character into a good one? Which book was your favorite?