New website is under construction.

Mar 18, 2009

Seducers, Charmers and Con Men

Candice Kennington has a post wondering if it is possible to make one's villains too charming -- stealing the hero's thunder and the reader's heart.

This made me cogitate. (It's my blog. I can use pointless $3 words if I want!) In Book 2, the heroine has three potential love interests.

Hero - Her first love, who (she thinks) abandoned her, but who was actually removed by the villain. I don’t want her first love to seem like a wanker or a wimp even though he’s out of the picture.

Anti-hero - The villain who falls for the heroine himself though his feelings for her endanger his nefarious schemes. I want the the villain to be the dark, brooding type you fall in love with, even though you know it’s not a good idea.

Foil - The charmer who accepts a Dangerous Liaisons type challenge from a villainess to seduce the heroine. I want the charmer to be another kind of bad boy to make the villain/anti-hero seem ironically gallant by comparison. (I.e. the villain may be serving the wrong side, but he is doing so for noble reasons; whereas the charmer is really just self-serving.) However, the charmer also has to be redeemable.

* * *

The research I mentioned before refers to the Charmer.

The Charmer is a con-man whose game is seduction. One interesting thing about the Casanova type is that he doesn't just come out and say what he means or what he wants. He's sly. 

This is what I had wrong in my first draft. I had the Charmer winking and leering and oozing compliments over the girls he wanted to seduce. However, it didn't read real. A little digging showed me why. The true Charmer knows better than to wolf whistle -- this would alert his prey of his true intentions. The real wolf wears sheep's clothing. Not that this means he plays nice. On the contrary, he's actually likely to hide digs in his flattery.

Sara put her finger on it when she said, "You can have him insult her, but in a way that makes her actually think he's right."

That's exactly the technique advocated in the "How to Get Laid Handbook" I'm reading. Okay, it's actually called the Mystery Method, and is supposedly written by the guy Neil Strauss studied with in The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. (Thank you, Amy B, for the recommendation; I wasn't able to read Strauss' book, because it's not available for the Kindle, but I plan to read it eventually.)

Here's a sample of his technique:

The punish-reward dynamic must be used...This phase is also your opportunity to demonstrate your ability to make uncomfortable situations comfortable again. Here it's great to use sniper negs, like saying, "You have something on your nose," and then handing her a tissue. She feels uncomfortable, but it's not your fault. It's God's. Right after this, she will feel so small. After she notices that you are freezing her out a bit--not as if you're being cruel but rather as if you aren't interested in her--give her a compliance test, and then reward her compliance...In this way you can continue rewarding her but only for compliance, not misbehavior.

I have to say, reading this book made me feel like I had dipped my hand in sewage. It was really creepy. I also experienced deja vu. I realized that when I was single, I encountered guys using these techniques! I recognized some of the very lines used. Ick.

Just in case any admirers of this system landed on this page by mistake, please know, this does not work with every woman. Furthermore, why you would want to crush the self-esteem of a woman you are supposedly interested in is beyond me. This book did remind me how lucky I am I found my love-of-my-life geek.

* * *

Sorry for digressing. Back to my point. The thing about the creepy dialogue is that the sleaze is only apparent when you realize how every line is calculated. As in the excerpt quoted above, the Charmer appears solicitous of the woman. Rather than put the move on her, he tells her they could never be together (because of something which subtly insults her, challenging her to prove him wrong, such as she is "too nice" or "too young.") His hands are all over her, but only briefly, ostensibly for some legitimate reason. His insults are disguised as playful teasing, his tests of her obedience are disguised as good-hearted give-and-take, his demands are disguised as favors.

In fact -- and this is probably my biggest problem with the Romance genre -- he does a lot of the things an Alpha Male in a typical bodice ripper does.

This makes it all the more important to me to include the Charmer. Although my heroine's other romantic interests may share some of the characteristics of a bad boy, their motivations, and ultimately, their actions, are different.

* * *

Another useful book has been Gavin De Becker's The Gift of Fear about human predators of all types.

Jack the Ripper shares many of Casanova's techniques. Here's De Becker's list of danger signals:
Forced Teaming: Pretending to share a common problem or goal. "Forced teaming is an effective way to establish premature trust because a we're-in-the-same-boat attitude is hard to rebuff without feeling rude."

Charm and Niceness:"To charm is to compel, to control by allure or attraction. Think of charm as a verb, not a trait." Big smile, constant chatter.

Too Many Details: "He used catchy details to come to be perceived as someone familiar to her, someone she could trust. But she knew him artificially; she knew the con, not the con man."

Typecasting: "A man labels a woman in some slightly critical way, hoping she'll feel compelled to prove that his opinion of her is not accurate." This is what sleazy-guy Mystery Man calls "negs", disguised digs which provoke the other person to prove the speaker wrong.

Loan Sharking: "He wanted to be allowed to help you because that would place you in his debt, and the fact that you owe a person something makes it hard to ask him to leave you alone."

Unsolicited Promise: "It's useful to ask yourself: why does this person need to convince me?" The Mystery Man uses a variation of this: he advices men to pretend to be about to leave, "I a have to go in a minute, but first..." This disarms the listeners, who aren't worried about him overstaying his welcome. But in fact, he has no where else to go, because "gaming" people is exactly what he's there to do.

Discounting "No": "Declining to hear 'no' is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it.... The worst response when someone fails to accept 'no' is to give ever-weakening refusals and then give in. 
* * *
This is all a lot of meat to chew, and I hope you don't mind my sharing it. My next challenge will be to digest what I've learned and regurgitate it in a way appropriate to my specific characters and setting. And, oh dear, I apologize for the metaphor, I've had way too many encounters with regurgitation lately. :D


Traci said...

Great info...I love the idea of intellectual seduction. I have a character who falls under that category. You hardly know he has you in his web before he bites and leaves you reeling. :-)

Janet said...

This is excellent, Tara. I'm bookmarking it so I can go back and read when I get home. I'll take some notes and see how I stand with my villian and hero.

I'm very interested in your Dangerous Liasons story - it sounds intriguing and something I would love to read. (And I love the figurine - Royal Doulton?)


Tara Maya said...

I hoped other people might find it useful. If it was, this makes me very happy!

The figurine -- I admit it -- I just grokked an image I loved. Here's the original link:

Ban said...

this is completely fascinating ... i never would have guessed this technique worked so well. my first thought is 'the girl who falls for this must be really insecure' but the more i think about it, the gradual wearing down of self ... wow ! and after all, who DOESN'T start out with at least a little insecurity. it boggles the mind how much work charmers put into their 'profession'. litgirl said it best "intellectual seduction". i'm awed and disgusted at the same time. thanks for sharing all your research it will help and not just in writing characters ...

Tara Maya said...

ban, my first reaction was the same as yours, "only an idiot would fall for this," which is why I shuddered to realize I recognized some of the techniques -- and that even I had once or twice fallen for them. (Though fortunately I recovered my senses.)

These guys hide their agenda, by (1) being very funny, so you're laughing at their jokes, (2) hiding who their real "target" is -- sometimes it's the girl they're ignoring, not the one they're paying attention to and (3) counting on the fact that people who are nice and honest want to be nice and honest toward others and expect the same in return.

lisa and laura said...

This is fascinating! I'm going to go back and read in more detail...I definitely think there's some stuff we can use in here. Particularly as we get into the next couple of books.

Ban said...

now i'm wondering how many guys out there use this type of manipulation without 'knowing' what they're doing. i imagine, after awhile, the smart ones must recognize that a certain technique works and thus use it again and again but could it be there are those out there ignorant to this ? i'm guessing not.(or at least not many) as you said, they play on the 'niceness' of others and what person would purposely break someone, they genuinely liked, down over and over again ... sorry, just 'thinking out loud' as it were. scarey to know that there are books out there TEACHING guys to master this - as if there weren't enough con-people out there already ! ! ! still, it makes for an excellent resource.

Sara Raasch said...

Wow, I think I know who that book was written, but don't we all? And that's the truly unfortunate side of it. But question: was that book written to TEACH men how to be "players" or was it a book on how players act? I really, really hope it was the latter.

Jessie Oliveros said...

You have been very helpful in my creating an irresistable bad guy.

Tara Maya said...

Sara, I'm sad to say, the purpose of the book is to teach guys to do this. Supposedly -- and I have no reason to doubt it -- he charges 2 grand for private coaching in these techniques. He advises his "trainees" to spend 4 hours a night, 4 nights a week practicing.

Davin Malasarn said...

Tara, This is a really interesting post with a lot of good information on characterization. When I read the list of your heroine's three potential loves, that third guy, though obviously bad, was the most fascinating to me. The idea that he will seem real rather than a generic type, makes it all the more interesting.

I had a similar situation to what you started out discussing in which a smaller character (not one of my three main characters) was stealing the show. He was introduced at about page 30 and whenever anyone encountered him, they said how much they liked him. My solution was to try and figure out what made him work and to put that same essence in my main characters. It forced me to build everyone up to the same level. So, if you know that your charmer is a compelling character, I bet it will be a fun challenge to figure out what qualities you can give to your hero (and maybe villain) to make him just as exciting.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

This is an amazing post. Thank you so much for all that information! You know, it would be interesting to see this the other way around... because in the book I'm editing at the moment, one of the male characters gets a bit manipulated one of the female characters. That's always fun. And it's from his POV.

Thanks again!

Samantha said...

They actually did a TV show based on "The Game", taking a bunch of guys and showing them use things like the "neg" to get girls.

It was pretty darn scary, the guys in the show that is.

Tana said...

I've dated the charmer. Now that I've read your post I'm confidante he had command of the craft lol. GREAT and valuable post. Nice job!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Oooh, this is such a great post - lots to think about. That "charmer" guide though is icky, icky stuff. Very clever though to use it to get into the head of your character!