character development, fiction

Fatal Females and Deadly Dudes

Danger. Darkness. The unknown. Whether it’s the beautiful woman with a suggestive smile at the end of the bar, or the handsome man in black standing alone in the shadows, there’s something seductive about mystery … and risk. In the same way we’re drawn to ominous black clouds gathering for a storm, we’re attracted to the element of danger – and nowhere is this more apparent than in the movies we like to watch and the books we love to read.

As a writer, I have an especially ambitious interest in femme fatales and dastardly dudes. First, they’re simply a lot of fun to write, but also, when pitted against protagonists, these beautiful villains are often the most vicious of all – probably because they come with a built-in advantage: charm.

The concept of beautiful bad guys is nothing new; it’s even evident in biblical stories, but where this seemingly eternal attraction to the beauty in darkness comes from, we’ll never know for sure. But I think it’s natural, inborn – we see it everywhere in nature, after all.

 Mother Nature is a harsh mistress. Take the black widow. When a male decides he wants to mate, he approaches the female slowly, tapping on the web as a way of courting her. If she remains in place, it means she’s interested, and the male is welcome to approach … but he does so with great caution, because he’s aware of the risk. While black widows do not always kill their men after mating, it’s a possibility, and yet, he proceeds. This flirtation with danger is perhaps one of the most poignant demonstrations of our natural draw to the dark side.

This is a subject I find endlessly fascinating because it blurs the lines of good and evil. If the male spider was too afraid to take the risk and worried that the female was “evil,” the entire species would die out. No, this kind of fear isn’t indicative of evil – it’s indicative of creation, and of the perpetuation of life… and Ma Nature’s black sense of humor.

And for this reason, we must look more closely at what bad boys and lethal ladies really represent. Is it peril … or is it simply change – a new beginning? Nature can be violent but that violence sometimes leads to great beauty … or horror. Or something that we, as humans, perceive as horror…

When writing the vampire Gretchen VanTreese, the antagonist in my novel, The Crimson Corset, I drew strongly from the femme fatale archetype. Gretchen is petite and beautiful … and she’s deadly. I even gave her a pet black widow named Lilith, a symbol of Gretchen’s true nature. And I didn’t stop there. The men, too, are beautiful and poisonous, because beneath it all, The Crimson Corset is a story of good and evil, and my objective was to demonstrate the eternal battle as it takes place within these creatures. I wanted to show the darkness that dwells beneath their beauty … and the struggle for dominion between them.

Questions like these are why I love the paranormal, fantasy, and horror genres: they provide an arena in which I can explore such questions. It isn’t that you can’t address these issues outside of those genres, but within them, such topics come to the fore naturally – they are almost a given. Whether you’re writing about vampires, werewolves, haunted houses, or possessed children, the fantasy and paranormal genres allow you to address the deeper issues of life … and death.