Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Villain Next Door

I’ve had a reprieve!

My manuscript should have been sitting on my editor’s desk by now but instead, I was told that Ms Editor wouldn’t “get to read it” until early July and would I “like to take another pass.” Yes! Yes of course I would. So … I promptly dropped the reins, went off shopping, didn’t even look at my manuscript for ten days and then fell into a deep depression.

You see I really needed that deadline. I was on a roll! I was focused! Confident! However, this gift of time allowed me to step back and take a look at the big picture.

Truthfully, I wasn’t sold on the villain of the piece and it wouldn’t be that difficult to change either. I know I’m not the first writer who insists that characters “speak” to them – and in this case, my villain swore blind he didn't do it. Now I can give him a reprieve, too.

Villains come in all shapes and sizes – the tyrant, the dispossessed son, the devil, the traitor, the outcast, the sadist, the Black Widow, the lunatic, the schemer or the matriarch — to name a few. In order for a villain to be antagonistic he (or she) could feel one or all of the following: misguided, mistaken, evil, crazy, confused, unhappy, under the influence of drugs, manipulated by someone else, grief-crazed or self serving.

In the traditional mystery genre our stories generally focus on people who all know each other. We don’t usually have serial killers let loose or insane axe murderers running amok. It’s usually very personal. Perhaps the characters all grew up together in a small town; maybe schoolyard rivalries continued into adulthood. In these environments, murder often starts off with a simple misunderstanding. Add pride, emotion or jealousy to the mix and you’re well on your way to creating a volatile situation.

A Las Vegas homicide detective once told me that everyone is capable of murder – not cold-blooded murder but a crime of passion. 99.9% of us can restrain ourselves but it’s the 0.1% that I find intriguing. I think that’s why I enjoy writing small-town mysteries.It’s why I like my villains to appear relatively normal and it’s why I’ve decided to give my current villain a second chance.

Just this once, I’ll believe he is innocent and maybe he’s right and the butler did it.

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