Friday, August 1, 2014

Entry # 223 - "Bad-Ass Dudes" in Fiction

Bad-Ass Dude - Iguana - BUT YOU KNOW - He can't read.
Writing fiction requires writers to explore parts of what Charles Baxter in The Art of Subtext, has called, "the problem of the unknowable," especially as we think about characters. Baxter ponders whether "it makes any sense to reason from what we do know to what we don't know?" 

I thought about this recently in the context of story revisions that involve a not very Bad-Ass Dude (BAD) character in one of my stories after a writer friend read one of my almost done (I thought) stories and said something to the effect, "Jan, you need more Bad-Ass Dudes (BADs) in your fiction. Even the bad people are too sympathetically drawn. It's almost like you want to understand what makes them behave badly and forgive them." All of which has led me to think a bit about what I know and don't know about Bad-Ass Dudes (BADs) and the truth is, I really don't know much. So, what is a BAD and what does one look like?

Maybe BAD - Maybe NOT
In fact, I am not sure what characteristics a BAD would have. I would imagine a range of possibility. I have been lucky that I haven't lived a star-crossed life littered with BADs. Even my flawed first (training-wheels) husband at his worst, was more of a SAD than a BAD. I see and recognize people who are flawed and who carry a burden of unresolved emotional and physical pain. I see people who seem driven by ignorance, greed, shame, hatred and fear, yes - especially fear.

Most of the truly terrible, and what appears to be evil in the world, I see from a distance in the media coverage of events. But we survive by developing a filtering system to limit the toxic levels of continuous exposure to the unthinkable and unknowable that bombard our senses and sensitivity 24-7. And if we are going to survive in our world, we have to tune some of it out. The media seems too skewed for me to see the complex layers of what causes people to be unkind, mean, cruel, and careless. But I am left to consider the question of cause and effect, on a more personal level, because the BADs seem to be demonstrating the visible, writhing consequences of pain and ignorance more than anything else.

My early years of academic work in cognitive psychology, and my years teaching, provide the prism through which I view the world, and while I recognize that there are psychopaths and sociopaths roaming the earth, I don't feel skilled at capturing them on the page. I am not sure that I even would want to capture them on the page. It doesn't seem true to the kind of fiction I write, and for me this seems to be the stuff of bad, reoccurring dreams. So I am left with the problem of exploring the unknowable in my fictional BADs.

And yet, while I admire work by skilled and successful writers such as:  Patricia Highsmith, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Lorrie Moore, John Cheever and many others, who demonstrate the subtle ways to present carefully drawn Bad-Ass Dudes, I realize that I do need to know more as I attempt to fully develop my fictional characters.

NOTE:   MONDAY LAUNCH - August 4, 2014 of my newly redesigned website. Thanks to Angela Render for her brilliant assistance. Training Lessons are planned over the next couple of weeks as I learn how to "drive" this new site.
Also - all next week - I'll be California Dreaming - with family time scheduled.
Not So BAD - Jan - in Scotland - Once Again
About Jan Bowman
Winner of the 2011 Roanoke Review Fiction Award, Jan's stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Best American Short Stories, and a Pen/O’Henry award.  Glimmer Train named a recent story as Honorable Mention in the November 2012 Short Story Awards for New Writers.

A recent story was a finalist for the 2013 Broad River Review RASH Award for Fiction, another story was a 2013 finalist in the Phoebe Fiction Contest; another was a 2012 finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest.  Jan’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications including, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes and others.   She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection, Mermaids & Other Stories.  She has nonfiction publications in Atticus Review, Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:  


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