FAQ’s Answered #16: The Alchemy Of Character – Turning Bad Guys Into Good Guys

Today in a series of replies to FAQ (frequently asked questions) sent to me by fans (and sometimes not so much), I answer the question:  “Why Do I Write About Bad Guys Who Turn Out To Be Good Guys?

I’ve written quite a few villains in my time, and there’ve been a few who nobody would ever question the fact that they were villains; Villainessa Tittel, or Edos Sylvestri, for example, and Sona Kilroy as another case in point. I suppose the main reason for this was, their stories needed a villain – a bad guy who was utterly and thoroughly bad through and through, without any hope of redemption – or ever so much as a hint of a desire of seeking it.

There have also been occasions where I took an ostensibly bad guy character, and altered their path and trajectory – and turned them either into “good guys”, or anti-heroes. To name but a few examples of this, Marsh’k Kluss’ta, and Blachart the Bloody.

Nobody is perfect, and my intention in turning Blachart – a fearsome space pirate with a reputation so terrible that legends have sprung up around him – from being just another intimidating and nasty two-dimensional Corsair figure and placing him into a leading role, was to demonstrate that! I opted to explore his character in the sense of the anti-hero… Yes, he’s been a naughty boy – a VERY naughty boy, but he has major regrets about how his life turned out – and in future, Blachart the ex-Corsair will be doing much better things.

In Galaxii 3, (“Dead Beckoning“) I brought Mykl d’Angelo and Blachart the Corsair back together again as a team, and they pick up where they left off in the first book “Blachart“; what is the nature of their relationship? Hmm… you may well wonder.

Mykl and Blachart started out in “Blachart” as adversaries – the former being a dedicated Space Fleet officer – but by the end of that first story they were already forming a friendship. Their initial adventure concluded, the man called Blachart gave up space piracy, accepted his pardon and went on his way to try and make a fresh start in life, traveling, trying to leave his Corsair past behind him. By the start of “Dead Beckoning“, he’s traveling under assumed names, primarily as ‘Adam’.

Adam is found quite by chance by Mykl d’Angelo and the starship Antares on a small fringe colony called Caries, where he’s  trying very hard to make the most of his imperial pardon, and experimenting with alternate identity… The thing with Adam is, he’s been living under assumed names for so many years that this interstellar man of mystery can barely remember his original name, if at all! The new freedom given him by his pardon – earned by guiding Mykl’s scouting team behind Corsair lines, is balanced out by the Corsair price on his head, offered by his former masters who had fled Meradinis.

In “Dead Beckoning“, Blachart is re-introduced into the adventure as a ‘special consultant’ – whom Mykl engages to assist the Space Fleet in hunting down Sona Kilroy – a man who represents the return of the recently extinguished Corsair reign of terror in these parts. Adam and Mykl pick up the the threads of their friendship and build on it, learning to trust each other further. For Ripley, Mykl’s girlfriend and first officer aboard the Antares, it’s not that simple – she doesn’t trust Blachart, nor like him – she struggles to get past the blood stains on the mans hands, whether it’s in the past or not.

As the story progresses, I explore the character of the man called Blachart, and also the old saying “what’s in a name?” Aye, Bard – what indeed?

“Blachart” is in itself a surname. What it’s true etymology and meaning are, isn’t immediately clear, but it does imply “Black Heart”, doesn’t it? (In fact, that was the original draft title back in the 1990’s!) That aside, the question is posed, does it fit the Corsair captain who wears it? Also, was he born with it, or did he adopt it as easily as he did “Adam”? The file the Terrans had on him was marked “Walter Turlington”, but it’s also implied that it’s not known if this is his actual name or not. Apparently, the only person alive who knows Adam’s real, original name, is Adam himself – and he’s not telling. At least, not yet.

Turning Over A New Leaf

The process of getting a character to turn over a new leaf isn’t that hard – nor is it as simple as one might think!

First, we have a bad guy – a Corsair, a space pirate… but also not just any space pirate, the commander of a pirate ship and crew who has a little more say and influence over the actions of his crew than an ordinary Corsair. He’s a man who’s risen to the rank of Captain – which given the callous, brutal nature of Corsair life, is no easy feat – and who probably did so by gaining enough support among the crew before either assassinating or challenging his predecessor, and defeating him in single combat.

Blachart isn’t a run-of-the-mill thug either; he’s educated, savvy, and shrewd. He’s fond of history – particularly when it comes to military history, and even has a collection of ancient weapons in his study aboard his ship, the Undertaker. He’s also not limited to heterosexual fare, since in the first book he’s already noted for hitting on the male nurses while in care aboard the Antares.

Blachart was also a name known to most Corsairs – for the ordinary residents of Meradinis, their homeworld deep in the Omegan Quadrant, the Captains of their Black Fleet were like rock stars, celebrities! Blachart the Bloody, he’d been called – and he wouldn’t have got that moniker lightly! Even the colonists on the fringe worlds would threaten their kids to eat their broccoli else Blachart would come that night and get them!

Is the bad guy really bad – or is that just the way he’s perceived, either by his enemies, his victims, or is it an expectation created by who he’s supposed to be on account of being a Corsair?

Next, we introduce our good guys (the Space Fleet ship “Antares”) to our bad guys (the Corsairs aboard the raider “Undertaker”), who are led by Blachart the Bloody. In a skirmish aboard the Undertaker, Blachart outwits Captain Falcone and wipes out almost the whole boarding party. Mykl wakes up a captive of the terrible Corsair, staring at the bells on the wall of ships captured and destroyed by Blachart the Bloody! Blachart is impressed by the skills of his captive and offers him a choice – turn Corsair, or die. Mykl declines, and Blachart chooses to keep him alive as a hostage considering he still has a Terran warship breathing down his neck. Mykl d’Angelo escapes, sabotages the “Undertaker” and almost singlehandedly brings the Corsair crew to its knees, almost killing Blachart in the process!

Then comes the turningpoint: Blachart the Bloody, defeated, sits in a starship brig cell, a captive looking at the death penalty for piracy. His life begins to swim into focus. Then along comes Captain Mykl d’Angelo, newly promoted, and holding Blachart’s future in his hands – and he makes the man an offer of his own.

Although it isn’t always the case with anti-heroes as characters, Blachart the Bloody’s motivation is guilt, conscience, and the desperate desire to start over fresh. He may not be able to expunge the blood already on his hands, but he can certainly stop adding to it – or at the very least, stop adding innocent blood to it! This is the choice he makes – and while killing is one of his main skills, Adam finds himself increasingly in the mindset which dictates – were he not still avoiding would-be assassins after the reward for his death – that he’d prefer to never touch a sword or a blaster ever again! Reality keeps dragging him back to the Blachart side of his psyche however, and the former Corsair plies his skills very well – on Corsairs!

Perhaps it’s not so much that Adam is really a good person as such – perhaps it’s more that he’s a bad person trying to be a better person, and the bad guys, well – they’re just much worse. After all, you don’t need to be a choirboy to be a good person, do you? Most people started out as blank slates, innocent children, pure souls. What happened to them to change them into villains, bad guys and evil people? Were they always that way, was it something inside their being that made them so – or were they just victims of their fate and circumstance?

The premise of character alchemy explores the paradigm of whether what’s inside a person makes them good, or if goodness is defined by their actions and choices. A good person can do bad things, as much as a bad person might do some good – for whatever rhyme or reason, even by accident – but at what point does a man who’s been bad and done bad things most of his life, who tries to make amends by doing good actually stop being a bad person? Or does a bad person remain a bad person, no matter what they’ve done in life? Is the desire to stop harming others and to do good the deciding factor – and is it enough?

I suppose if you want to adopt a Freudian outlook, what does that say about me as the writer? What is it that I feel I should be punished for – and what is it I feel guilty about and want desperately to make good for? Sorry to disappoint, folks – but I can’t think of a single thing – at least, nothing like what Mr. Blachart appears to have on his shoulders!

That’s an awfully dismal outlook to maintain however, and perhaps Blachart’s mindset can be explained further by examining his relationship with Marsha. His friendship with Mykl d’Angelo is also important to Adam – in fact, it’s a lifeline to him.

Galaxii is only three titles long at this point, but there are likely more stories in that series to follow – and I’m sure there’ll be more of Adam in there somewhere!

Further, reading:

Until next time,

Cheers!

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I hope this answers this question to your satisfaction!

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