Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Loveable Jerks

I think I may have figured out part of my lethargy when it comes to work: I'm somewhat lacking in motivation because I'm not entirely sure what could become of anything I might be working on. I have two projects on submission or about to go on submission, and any of the things I might work on now would fall under the option clause if I sold those projects, so I wouldn't be able to turn around and sell any of the things I'm working on anytime soon. Plus, the projects on submission are first books in potential series, so if those books sell, the next thing I'd work on would be the sequels. So, almost anything else I work on now would be a worst-case scenario project, something to have handy in case what's going out now doesn't sell. It's good to have that kind of thing so there's not a huge gap if the worst-case scenario does come about, but it's hard to get enthusiastic about working on something with that in mind. I've also been distracted by a new idea taking shape -- well, not an entirely new idea, but one I got last fall is really taking form in my head now. I suppose that since nothing I'm working on is on any kind of deadline, there's no harm in taking some time to play with the idea that's at the top of my mind at the moment. There's a reference I need to look at to develop that idea a little further, so I think I'll walk over to the library this afternoon to get it.

Meanwhile, one thing the bad case of The Groggies has been good for is thinking. I may not be able to put words together in a coherent way without a great deal of effort, but I have been able to do a lot of thinking/analyzing. One thing I like to think about is the things that really draw me in as a reader/audience member and why I like those things. One thing I've realized lately about myself is that while I still have zero interest in the Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy as a character, I do seem to have a soft spot for the Jerk With Layers.

I think this character type falls somewhere between the Nice Guy/Best Friend/Boy Next Door and the Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy. Like the Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy, he uses somewhat anti-social behavior as a defense mechanism to protect himself. And like the Nice Guy/Best Friend/Boy Next Door, he's got a soft, mushy inside and is someone you can absolutely rely on when times get tough. In fact, he may be even softer and mushier inside than the Nice Guy because he needs that harder outer shell to protect himself.

The Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy may also have a soft, mushy inside that he protects with his hard outer shell, but the difference between the Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy and the Jerk With Layers is that the Jerk With Layers isn't actually bad or dangerous. He's just a bit obnoxious and seems to be insensitive. He'll make the wisecracks, pick on people, find ways to get under their skin, may even be a bit of a verbal bully. He may act like a womanizer or a player. He may act like he doesn't really care about his job and may seem to be lazy. But there's a line he won't cross. He doesn't actually do anything all that bad or wrong. He may talk a big show about his conquests, but you'd be totally safe with him (and might even have to tackle him if you want to get something started). He stays on the good side of the law. And while he pretends to be irresponsible, he's actually pretty reliable and will be there for you. When the situation calls for seriousness, the goofing off stops, and in those moments of rare sincerity, he's almost like another person. That's when you realize that the jerky behavior is a carefully cultivated defensive maneuver. If he acts like a jerk and you think he's a jerk, then he's won. If he acts like a jerk and you still manage to like him, that's a bonus. But on the other hand, if he tries to be a nice guy and you don't like him, he comes out as a loser. So, obviously, it's safer to act like a jerk. I think another distinction between the Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy and the Jerk With Layers is the potential for change. The Jerk With Layers is a nice guy underneath all along, so all it takes for him to really step up and reach his potential is gaining the confidence or the trust in someone to drop the act and be himself. The Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy really would have to do some kind of turnaround and really change in order to be redeemed.

I've realized that a number of characters I'd been mentally classifying as the Nice Guy/Best Friend are actually Jerks With Layers. I guess I just saw past all the defenses and saw the nice guy beneath, then disregarded the jerk aspects. For instance, as I've been re-reading the Harry Potter books, I've realized that Ron is probably more Jerk With Layers than Nice Guy. Yes, he's mostly reliable and basically decent, but he can be rather obnoxious. We realize through the course of the books that he's actually very insecure, but he masks that by being a jerk. Another example might be Chase (remember him?) on the early seasons of House, where he wasn't so much an outright jerk as he was an apparent slacker who let others assume he was a spoiled rich kid playboy. On the other hand, I think House himself comes closer to Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy because I don't think his jerky exterior is actually a facade. He really doesn't like people, he really doesn't want to follow the rules, and he really is rather self-destructive. Chase was able to change merely by dropping his jerk facade and really being the person we got occasional glimpses of. House would have to do a major personality turnaround to change. I suppose Rod in my books is another Jerk With Layers. Now I wonder if I could pull off writing someone like that as the primary hero rather than as a secondary character.

I guess I've been thinking in these terms because the major characters in the Nagging Idea would both probably fit into this type (male and female). With this idea there are also two vastly different ways I could go with it, and I'm not sure which is best, so I may have to start out writing it both ways and see which way clicks.

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