Background: Read this.
If you haven’t read Brimstone Angels—because, perhaps, you are orbiting the earth in the International Space Station and forgot to pack a copy—Lorcan is the cambion (half-devil) that the book’s main character, Farideh, has forged a warlock pact with. Essentially, he gives her magic powers skimmed off the Nine Hells, in return for…well, he doesn’t like to get into specifics.
Lorcan is one of those characters. People seem to either love him or love to hate him. Even Farideh isn’t really sure how she feels about him. He’s charming but he’s also volatile. He’s incredibly self-serving, but he’s also got a noble streak that crops up from time to time. He’s controlling and dangerous, but you see his family life and kind of feel bad for the dude. He’s definitely bad news…except when he’s not.
He is, in a word, maddening to write.
And here’s why: In a lot of books—a lot of books—the guy I’ve just sketched is the romantic lead. The bad boy the heroine tames. His volatility is a signifier of his passion. His bad family life is the indicator that he’s vulnerable. His controlling nature just means that he cares. That noble streak? The true him. This guy is really less his own character and more an object for the heroine (or the reader).
I won’t debate the merits of this model. But I will say, that’s not what I want to do with Lorcan. He doesn’t get to just suddenly shrug off uncounted years of social programming and whatever evilness courses in his veins—if* he’s going to go good, he’s going to earn it.
He is not—as I pointed out to myself repeatedly in both Brimstone Angels and Lesser Evils—suddenly going to be good for good’s sake. And if it looks like he is…he had better be doing it for a nice, selfish reason. (Or at the very least, be able to convince himself he is doing it for a nice, selfish reason).
(This part gets a little spoilery for Brimstone Angels so maybe you should go check some instruments or watch Australia pass by)
In Brimstone Angels, the first time I realized this was going to be a problem was a scene where Lorcan finds Mehen, Farideh’s foster father, trapped in a succubus’s domination. Mehen has spent the entire book to this point trying to convince his daughter to reject the pact and treating Lorcan like a nuisance—not even like a credible threat! He can’t move. He can’t defend himself. And Lorcan is standing there with a sword.
And the way the story is structured, Lorcan can’t kill Mehen.
“That’s fine,” my brain says. “This is where he gets nice.”
“What?” I said, because I have conversations like this sometimes; don’t judge me. “He doesn’t get nice. He’s a devil.”
“He’s a half-devil, which you did specifically so he could be more human and conflicted. This is ¾ of the way through the book. This is where he redeems himself. It’s where they always redeem themselves.”
Which is where I realized, Lorcan was going to be tricky. If Mehen is going to walk away alive, Lorcan has to have a better reason for letting him live. And it can’t be, “I’ll feel bad.” Or even “Farideh will feel bad.”
But “Farideh will reject the pact if she finds out I killed her dad”? That’s better. “If I can break this domination, I can convince this guy to help me”? That works. You don’t throw away a tool you can use, right? Maybe even a little “This dude is enough about honor that this might make him back off when it comes to me and his daughter.” In the background.
Redraft, reshape, and I think—in the end—it works. It reinforces the character I want, the bad boy you want to change, who’s going to do it (or not do it) in his own sweet time. Wicked as much as he’s kind.
I think, more than anything, Lorcan has taught me to be very aware of tropes and the currents that they settle into your mind. Is your heroine unnecessarily helpless to prove her femininity? Is your villain not giving it his all so that your heroes can triumph? Is your sidekick a wisecracking dwarf because that’s how it’s done?
You are in the same boat, friend. Get an oar out and fight the current.
*Notice I say “if.” To be honest, I’m not sure which way he falls. I see several possible series endings, and I have a closer in my back pocket should it turn out that Wizards wants the series to end, like, now. But feeling out this character is part of the fun of writing long series like this.