Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Villain at the Car Wash

A few years ago my husband and I were fortunate enough to go on a ride-along with a detective from the Las Vegas Police Department. The detective had worked in homicide for three decades and was pretty cynical about the human race. He maintained that we are all capable of killing.

On that particular day, we were—without meaning to be callous—lucky enough to be present during the investigation of a fatal accident at a local car wash and garage. Apparently, a fifty-four year old man had taken his eighty-year old mother to fill up their car with fuel at five in the morning. Tragically, the son had reversed over her whilst she was refueling (in her pajamas) at the pump. It turned out that his mother was not his mother at all. She was his wife. There was a hefty life insurance policy involved and you know the rest.

Villains come in all shapes and sizes yet it’s the “normal” kind that interests me the most. I’m far more intrigued by the friendly neighbor or someone who “would never hurt a fly.”

To create a “normal villain” it’s essential for the reader to relate to the antagonist on some level and that he (or she) is appealing and engaging. It’s important to remember that all villains are heroes’ in their own story. They don’t see themselves as the bad guys at all.

So, how do we create this accessible bad guy?

First of all, let’s define “evil”? What separates a good person who does “bad things” from a bad person who does bad things? Aren’t we all shades of gray? Let’s give this bad guy a history and a motivation for doing bad things. Let’s also remember that he too, is the culmination of his environment, his past and his choices. If your villain made bad choices, what were his reasons? Were they connected from an incident in his past? Does his behavior stem from a fear born of ignorance? Perhaps it began with an illness, a broken love affair or a perceived (or real) crime committed against him? What prompted him to cross to the dark side?

I often think back to the horrifying scene at the car wash in Las Vegas. I wondered what pushed a loving son over the edge?

5 comments: said...
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Rick Blechta said...

The comment above was deleted because it was sent by a spammer. All such comments will be deleted immediately, so please, if you’re one of those sorts of people, go elsewhere!

All other comments are most welcome! said...
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Hannah Dennison said...

Thanks for stopping by. Glad it was helpful.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Hannah--follow the money. Or in the case of Kansas, follow the land. Always follow the land.