Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Creating Your Villain, tips from Donald Maass

It's Debby this morning, just returned from Bouchercon, where Sisters in Crime sponsored a terrific seminar, titled SinC into Great Writing. The headline speaker was literary agent Donald Maas, who gave so many great tips on improving our WIP's that I couldn’t write fast enough. Here are some of his suggestions about how to create a stronger antagonist.

Think through your novel and ask yourself who it is who most impedes your protagonist. Is it your villain? Maybe, but maybe not. Get to know your villain and/or antagonist. What does he do? What kind of job does she have? What kind of haircut? How does he dress? Fastidiously, or like an aging hippie? Is she married, does she cheat on her husband? How many kids? Any quirks? Beware of cliches, though.

Now put this person in a situation where he or she demonstrates the exact opposite of the portrait you’ve painted. If he cheats on his wife, have him shower her with love and respect in a certain situation. Have a fussy person show up unkempt and disheveled. Show insecurities, have her be hard working, let him examine his own limits.

Examine her world view. Is it correct in some ways? How? What people in your novel agree with him? Who in history has seen things the way your antagonist sees them? Has it been good or bad? Show some good qualities in the antagonist: respect for authority, working for what she believes in. What writing or philosophy justifies his thinking? What are her religious values and how does she demonstrate them? You can even use a bible passage, and Maass named a reference book called the Thompson Chain Reference Bible to help find appropriate ones. (I’d never heard of this. I guess it’s like Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations for the Bible.)

Have your protagonist recognize a way in which the antagonist is right. What is the antagonist’s perception of the protagonist? What does the antagonist think the protagonist could do better? Did the antagonist give advice, get in her face?

How did the protagonist decide the antagonist might be right about a situation? Did the protagonist seek him out? The antagonist may have a grander truth the protagonist begins to recognize. Have the protagonist stop for a moment and admire the antagonist. Change both the antagonist’s and the protagonist’s view of each other.

Maass said that giving the antagonist more to do is a technique that can really juice the “sagging middle” of a novel. He gave us all an assignment: Write a 2-3 page outline for your antagonist, starting and ending the story at the same points you did for the protagonist, but this story belongs to the antagonist. What is his conflict? What are the steps she takes to get to her goal? How is he conflicted? What is the worst thing that happens to the antagonist? Try to make it the inverse of the protagonist’s story, with the tale told from the antagonist’s point of view.


John Corrigan said...

Great stuff. Thanks for sharing.

Rick Blechta said...

I agree.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

He was really good. SinC did a great job in lining him up.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

He was really good. SinC did a great job in lining him up.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great info! I'm tweeting this...

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