When writing a novel, our characters should not be stereotypes. That's the first lesson we learn. Characters must be rounded and most of all, plausible. Otherwise, you will fail to carry readers with you and the whole pack of cards falls down. Working my way through the rewrites of what I hope to be my second published novel I was again beginning to wonder whether one of my characters was OTT and unrealistic. Harmless on the surface, but toxic.How could such a woman exist?
When I first created her she was a sad middle-aged woman, slightly deranged by grief and trapped in an unhappy marriage to a controlling man. As I continued to develop her character and the plot took shape and changed and she finally ended up a manipulative, calculating woman, happy to destroy anyone who stands in her way as she weaves her lies. But she has done this so well over many years, even she believes them. (This is only slowly revealed throughout the novel.)
It was then that two major news stories broke almost simultaneously You will all immediately recognise the manipulative child-abuser who used his persona as a harmless eccentric and major fund-raiser to hide the truth. At the same time another ghastly truth was discovered.. Difference crimes, different victims, a totally different scenario - not so widespread or revolting - but the similarities in the two basic personalities involved are striking.
If like me you have followed road cycling for many years you will know that Lance Armstrong's story is remarkable. He was a legend. Not only did he win the gruelling and prestigious Tour de France seven times - a feat of courage, strength,skill and determination if ever there was one - but he did so after having recovered from testicular cancer. He earned millions but he also gave millions away to charity - especially cancer charities.
Of course, there were always niggling questions about performance-enhancing drugs. After all, during the period of his wins, the sport was badly tainted and many well-known cyclists were caught and prosecuted. It was a very dark period in the sport and one that thankfully, has gone, although its taint still lingers. But he always denied the rumours, his test results were always clean and he coldly dismissed any such suggestions. He was given the benefit of the doubt He was Lance Armstrong. A good man. A generous man. A cycling legend.
To be honest I never liked him much as a person. I thought him arrogant and his denials too glibly dismissed. And yet, there was no proof. Like a certain Leeds DJ, he was such a towering figure, well-known for the immense good he did for charity, nobody dared point the finger for fear of sounding like nasty people themselves. He was untouchable.
Until now that is. Finally a 1,000 page report was issued by the United States Anti Doping Agency listing in detail; the massive conspiracy created and controlled by Armstrong and his circle which, by threats, both in the courts and personally and huge bribes, kept the truth hidden. The more time goes on, the more the web of lies unravels.
Of course, Mr Armstrong still denies it. But he has yet to answer the detailed accusations except to say they're wrong and the result of spite and jealousy. But considering how at one time he and his cronies made life hell for anyone who dared speak out (such as fellow American Tour de France winner, Greg Lemond, his wife and others) his silence is, as they say, deafening.
So what has all this to do with my fictional character? I am no psychologist but it seems I have unwittingly created a woman who shares many of the personality traits exhibited by Savile and Armstrong. I feel now that I have got her right. But I didn't set out to follow a 'type'. I created her long before all the recent news came out.I imagined how a woman might do protect one son and let another die.
Like most fiction writers, I listen and learn. I am a people-watcher. I study people in all their rich variety. But the more I do, the more I see that people do fall into recognised categories And when it comes to the toxic people in our midst, there are often warning signs, against we must always be on our guard.
And sometimes truth is far stranger than fiction.