Friday, February 08, 2019

About the Villain

I intended writing about something else today, but what Donis wrote about villains yesterday got me thinking.

I'm dealing with that issue of the villain right now as I work on my historical thriller. In my five Lizzie Stuart mysteries, only two of the villains die. On the other hand, in my two Hannah McCabe police procedurals, the villains both die. I didn't plan it that way, but that is what happened.

In the standalone I'm working on now, the villain is -- I hope -- a three-dimensional character with what he perceives as good reasons for his dastardly acts. That part works because I always try to understand my villain and give him/her a chance to make the case for what he or she does. But it is disconcerting in this thriller to have the reader know early on who the villain is and something about "why." This requires me to spend so much more time than I usually do inside my villain's head. He is not a serial killer. He is not insane. So I am dealing with someone who can rationalize what he does.  I don't agree with his logic, but I don't want to stack the deck against him by inserting my author's perspective.

I have to admit that I sometimes have empathy for villains. That could have something to do with the fact that I began to really think about villains when I was reading Shakespeare -- three quarters of Shakespeare in college. I found Iago fascinating. I thought Macbeth and his wife deserved what they got -- but they also had some great lines. Richard III had me from his first monologue.

I think the thing about villains is that they have so much energy. In one of my Lizzie Stuart books, the people who were behaving badly threatened to steal the show. Luckily, Lizzie is a first-person narrator. Even so, I had so much fun writing one of the characters that I'm already planning a return appearance.

One of the questions -- one that also comes up in other genres -- is whether the villain can redeem him/herself. If the villain feels justified and then later changes his or her mind and does the right thing, was he or she only a misguided protagonist? I'm playing with this idea. Maybe I will find it easier to stay in the head of the bad guy in my historical thriller if I think of him as both protagonist (from his POV) and antagonist (from my hero's POV).

Although it would certainly be time consuming since I have at least four viewpoint characters in this big book -- I'm thinking of writing the book with each of the main characters as the narrator. That would be four or five novellas. Then I could go back in and put them all together, with alternating narrators. I'm thinking of this because it would make it much easier to keep track of what my characters -- including my "villain" -- are each doing over the course of eight months. I would also be able to settle in and write from one POV from beginning to end.

It seems like a lot of work to take this approach, but I think it will save me time (less revising) and allow me to create characters who are more fully developed than they are when I'm simply shifting viewpoints as I write. For example, I will know what each character has been up to and how character arcs overlap and intertwine. My villain has a life. He doesn't spend 24 hours a day hatching ways to make my hero's life miserable. If I tell the entire story from his point of view, I hope I'll be able to really understand him.

Has anyone else taken this long way around when dealing with multiple viewpoints, including both hero and villain.

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