Friday, August 19, 2011

The Devil Made Me Do It

Frankie here. I’ve been thinking about villains. I’m revising the draft of a new book based on comments from my editor. She wants me to expand the last chapter. That means dealing a bit more with my villain’s motivation. My villain in this book has a number of plausible reasons for committing the crimes. But the more I think about expanding the chapter, the more I realize that both my villain and I would benefit if I dig deeper.

Writing teachers and best-selling authors on panels tell us that the villain should be created with the same care as the hero. The villain should be three-dimensional rather than a caricature. The villain should believe that what he or she is doing is right and/or justified and be the hero of his or her own story. And the villain should love something – not necessarily another person, but there should be something that the villain cares about deeply. This thing that the villain loves makes him or her vulnerable, or at least more human.

As I thought about this last piece of advice, I realized my villain feels anger, envy, and hatred. But what does my villain love? I thought I knew the answer to that question, but that was before I knew that my villain was the villain. Now, the character bio that I did in the beginning needs revising. My villain spent much of the first draft deceiving both me and the other characters.

Obviously, my villain and I need to sit down for a good heart-to-heart. I think my first step is to eliminate the word “villain” in my mind. Then maybe my “antagonist” will be more forthcoming about what he/she loves best of all. Meanwhile, I’ve been amusing myself by thinking about a few of my favorite antagonists -- slightly twisted or delightfully wicked characters with star power:

1. Richard III (Shakespeare’s version)
2. Rhoda Penmark (pig-tailed little sociopath in The Bad Seed)
3. Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men
4. Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca
5. Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity
6. Robert Mitchum as Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter
7. Cole Turner (the half-demon, half-human on Charmed)

Well, time to sit down with my antagonist and see what else I can learn. Wish me luck.


LD Masterson said...

Interesting. Maybe I should do the same.

Good luck.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...


I figure it can't hurt. I've been spending a lot of time with my protagonist.

Donis Casey said...

Nothing is better than a great villain. Often my villains aren't that villainous, but I do like the idea that even not-so-bad people can do bad things. That said, one of my favorite movie villains is Archie Cunningham, played by Tim Roth, in ROB ROY. He did hideous things, unredeemable things, but kept sneaking glances at a miniature portrait of his mother that he kept in his pocket. A hint at an explanation, but not an excuse for his behavior. A brilliant touch.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I know of that movie, but I've never seen it. I'll have to look for it. He sounds like a villain I could enjoy.

Mothers are always a nice touch for villains. Gangsters in those classic movies from the 1930s always loved their mothers. Like Cagney in White Heat.

Speaking of unredeemable characters -- it's amazing how soap operas manage to pull that off. No sin is unforgivable if everyone in town -- including the villain -- develops selective memory.

Donis Casey said...

I loved the movie, Frankie. It has the best ever ending. A great surprise - what a man is willing to do to escape what looks like certain death.

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