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The Art of Creating a Vigilante

March 2, 2009

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Hmm…I’m having a sort of dilemma in my writing. First, a little back story to get you up to speed on what this post is about. I’m in the process of writing a book from scratch. I’m also in the process of rewriting a book I started back in the eighth grade. What these books are about…well, that’s a story for another time. Anyway, in the story I’m writing from scratch, the main character eventually becomes somewhat of a vigilante after a traumatic experience early in the novel (very much unlike the traumatic experience that happened to Bruce Wayne, so it’s not a rip off of that and that’s not where I found my inspiration). What I’m worried about is…in today’s fiction, vigilantes and anti-heroes in general seem to be done to death. I honestly don’t know if I can portray the character properly or at least different enough from the rest of the vigilantes out there to make an impact.

In my personal reading and internet research (basically glossing over Wikipedia pages and forums) it seems that the two characters that truly epitomize what it means to be a vigilante are Batman and Watchmen’s Rorschach. The two characters have very similar but at the same time incredibly different approaches to cleaning the streets. Both Batman and Rorschach aim to put an end to crime, but Batman has two rules that he will not break under any circumstances, the first being using a firearm and the second, killing the criminals he comes into conflict with. Rorschach, on the other hand, has no rules. This creates a distinct contrast between the two characters right off the bat. Batman can be seen as a sort of noble vigilante in the way he refuses to sort of lower himself to the level of the criminal underworld whereas Rorschach is totally uncaring and unflinching in his duty of punishing all forms of crime and corruption, severely, resulting in a character that seems to be likable, but at the same time you wonder if he’s hypocritical and insane (or insanely hypocritical). After all, he’s in effect crossing the line he punishes others for crossing each time he “punishes” someone for their crimes.

So, the question remains, how can one create a character that approaches the fundamental principles of vigilantism without making the character seem like he was modeled on one of these readily available archetypes? Can that even be done? It’s tough. This character of mine, he doesn’t have a sort of duality in his personality, like Bruce Wayne and Batman. He’s pessimistic, cynical and, well, angry. Now, I haven’t read Watchmen yet (I do plan on picking up the graphic novel before I see the film) but I’m worried that he might seem too much like Rorschach. I haven’t done too much research on the character of Rorschach (I ended up spoiling something for myself so I promptly stopped) but he seems a bit like that kind of guy I’m modeling my character around. My character doesn’t share Rorschach or Batman’s passion for eliminating crime from the streets and doesn’t know if he’s doing this because he believes it’s right or if he’s doing it for purely selfish reasons. I can’t delve too far into what those reasons are without spoiling a bit of the story but, let’s just say he has a sort of hunger for the job.

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To put it simply, I’m a bit befuddled by the whole issue. Character creation is paramount to a good story and I want to avoid the pitfalls writers sometimes fall into when creating this type of character. I don’t want my character to seem too similar to any current vigilantes or anti-heroes that are so popular in mainstream fiction, be it television, books or movies, I want him to resonate strongly with my future readers, leaving a lasting impression. This is where you come in. I know the people of the internet read, play videogames, watch television and/or watch movies and I could definitely use the help. What do you like to read? Do you like anti-hero types of characters? Do you think they’re overdone? Am I crazy for doubting my artistic ability? Do you hate me for subjecting you to this? Why or why not?

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