The Creepy Appeal of the Bad Guy Narrator
You needn't be a narcissist to hear such a voice in your writerly imagination.
Posted Sep 19, 2017
If you have known a narcissist, it's doubtful you came away unscathed. You may wonder why a novelist would write from that skewed point of view. Here is guest poster Kaira Rouda explaining how her cunning main character took over her novel, Best Day Ever.
Paul Strom arrived fully formed in my head one-day last summer, ready to star as the protagonist and narrator of what would become my debut psychological suspense novel, Best Day Ever. Yes, I know, that sentence could probably be analyzed forever by psychologists. But it’s a fiction writer’s fact: we carry a lot of characters around in our heads.
Paul, though, was unique right from the start—not least because he barged into my brain when I was supposed to be plotting a lighthearted women’s fiction novel, and took my career in a direction where I’d never intended it to go.
BEST DAY EVER?
Within moments of first “hearing” Paul’s voice, I knew that he was so much more than the devoted husband and father, dedicated ad agency exec, and prosperous suburban homeowner he first seemed to be. No, Paul had a dark side, and a hidden agenda as he promised his wife, Mia, that the first day of their romantic getaway weekend at the lake would be their “best day ever.” And peeling back the complex layers of his persona over the 24-hour timeframe Best Day Ever takes place, was part of the morbid appeal of writing—and, hopefully, reading—the book.
“It’s funny the things you can learn, the little details that betray so much about a person, if you know where to look,” Paul tells the reader at one point in Best Day Ever. Indeed, it’s the little details about Paul, the conundrums that simply don’t add up, that I find so fascinating.
He’s patient on the surface and cunning beneath. He adores his wife but is fixated on her imperfections. He’s obsessed with appearances but has a distorted view of how others perceive him. He hides his need for control beneath a veneer of laid-back affability. He’s improbably charming, but his humor often comes at others’ expense. He’s Paul Strom, and in his own words, he’s “unforgettable.”
FAST AND CREEPY
By now you’re probably getting a sense of just how unsettling it was to have Paul in my mind. His singular voice made the process of writing Best Day Ever both surprisingly fast and exceedingly creepy.
More disconcerting still was that as I was trying to make sense of his personality by researching the havoc men like him wreak in other people’s lives, I ran into dozens of real-life Pauls online.
At one point I found myself on a website for women recovering from relationships with narcissists. I read poignant stories written by these survivors detailing all types of emotional and physical abuse. This was a safe forum for these women to visit, share, and feel supported. A place where they would know they aren’t alone.
And yet, there they were, men like Paul, defending other narcissists’ behaviors. In this no-longer safe space, these men were attempting to assert themselves once again, defending their rather stereotypical control tendencies as if they were the ones wronged when their victims escaped their grasp. It was chilling.
WHAT IS THIS KIND OF GUY?
After I sold Best Day Ever to Graydon House Books, my editor made a point of not wanting to label Paul and I think she’s right. Is he a psychopath? A sociopath? A complicated mix? I don’t know for sure. But for my research purposes, it was eye-opening to think of him as a malignant narcissist.
What I took away from the websites, forums, and chat rooms I visited was the power of the women who got away, and how they’re providing resources to those in need of all the resources possible to protect themselves. The lessons they learned included how to spot Paul-like people in daily life.
Because the fact is, they’re out there. They’re right next to us. And we should all know how to spot them.
So where did Paul come from? I’m still not sure. I imagine many of his traits were the result of a string of bad bosses I had the dubious honor of working for over the years. Arrogant, self-righteous, sexist, selfish. These men were unapologetically toxic to work for and with. Ultimately, some of their traits became Paul’s.
And while Paul wasn’t a comfortable character to write, in the end, I’m grateful that he swooped into my head. The reviews from readers and emails from booksellers about how Paul reminded them of narrow escapes in their own lives have humbled me, and I’m in awe of how selflessly they share that core strength to help others.
Whether people look at Best Day Ever as escapist reading or as a cautionary tale, I have a feeling Paul will find a way to linger in their memories after the last page is read.
Guest Author Bio: Kaira Rouda is a USA TODAY bestselling, award-winning author of contemporary fiction, including Here, Home, Hope, and The Goodbye Year. Kaira is also the author of Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs and the creator of Real Living, one of the nation’s most successful real estate brands and the first national women-focused brand in real estate. She now lives in Southern California with her family.
Kaira’s latest novel, Best Day Ever, is one of the major launch titles for Harlequin’s new imprint Graydon House. To connect with Kaira, visit her at KairaRouda.com, Facebook.com/KairaRoudaBooks; and on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter - @KairaRouda.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Kaira Rouda