Friday, 29 July 2011

Bad Guys and Gals - Savita Kalhan

Bad guys and bad gals litter fiction, all fiction, all genres, for all ages, and all time, from the Bible to Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, from Hansel and Gretel to Oliver Twist and Harry Potter, from the Devil and the Ice Queen, to all the wicked witches, Bill Sikes and Lord Voldermort. Usually the age-old theme of good versus evil forms a backdrop or background from which the rest of the story takes its inspiration.
In contemporary realism, the bad guy or gal in teen and young adult fiction takes the form of the bully, the racist, the perpetrator and the oppressor. But the basic essence of this kind of fiction is still good versus evil, right versus wrong.
In all of these kinds of stories I’ve read, the bad guys or bad gals never win at the end of the story.  Yes, there are loveable rogues, who dabble in some bad stuff, but they’re not intrinsically evil or even that nasty. But was there a truly evil character who does win at the end? I put the question to twitter, to all the book bloggers who spend endless hours reading and reviewing teen and YA fiction. Not one of them could come up with an answer for me.
It’s not that surprising though, is it?
I remember when I wrote The Long Weekend the ending was originally without the ‘Six Years Later’. I wrote that last chapter a few months later because my agent suggested a much more hopeful ending than the one I had. I pointed out that I didn’t let the bad guy win, but I understood her point. The Long Weekend is a very dark read – and it’s meant for teens. Hope cannot be ambivalent; it’s got to be a bit more in your face. Hence the ‘Six Years Later’ where, I hope, I got it right.
You can never let the bad guy win in fiction. Agents don’t want it, publishers don’t want it. The truth of it is that most kids, teens  and young adults don’t want it either. Neither do I. No one does. It’s a bad ending.
If anyone thinks of an evil character in a teen book who wins please let me know...although I’m not sure that I’d really want to read it!


  1. I have to say Savita, I was very glad to see the final chapter in The Long Weekend too. Is it because we all need hope, teens, children or adults? I like to think so. Finishing a book you have loved can feel almost like a bereavement. The hope is the lift we need to bob us back up again.
    Great post, thanks!

  2. Interesting post, Savita. I can't think of any teen books where an evil character wins, but there are a couple which don't have entirely happy endings - such as The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas - which I think are all the more powerful as such. Hope is definitely important, but while children's books often have clearly depicted "good" characters and "evil" characters I think teens can handle issues that are not as easily resolved or black-and-white. In some books there are no "bad" characters, just characters who disagree strongly about something and it's not always clear who's right and who's wrong - issues that make us think and debate long after we've finished reading, and I think this is just as valuable.