Tag: villains

villains

Good Bad Guys

 I binge-watched “American Greed” on Hulu tonight. The show, in its eleventh season, airs on CNBC. Stacey Keach narrates each episode which details a fraud investigation. The show doesn’t focus as much on the law enforcement officers and prosecutors who pursue the fraudsters as it does on the con artists who commit the crimes. That’s what fascinates me about the show—the look inside the mind of a criminal, what motivates a person to lie, cheat, and steal. I remember someone in one of my writing classes asked about creating an antagonist. I don’t recall the exact wording of the question but the gist was, how do you create a believable, relatable villain? The answer was, make sure the villain is the hero of his or her own story. Every villain has a reason for their actions. Their motivation for doing what they do makes sense to them even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. When I’m plotting a mystery the first things I figure out are whodunit, howdunit, and whydunit. Literature has given us spectacular villains, some as remarkable as the heroes they oppose. Professor Moriarty,  Mr. Ripley, County Dracula, The Joker, Cruella DeVil. In 2013, The Washington Post published a list of “best” literary villains.https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-greatest-villains-in-literature/2013/09/12/fa7dd6c6-0e74-11e3-85b6-d27422650fd5_story.html?utm_term=.f6f39f348116 Who are some of your favorite bad guys? 

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Getting In Touch With My Villains

 The other day, I lost it on my daughter. She had taken out a school library book for the third time and, for the third time, she’d completely and utterly forgotten where she could have possibly put it. The first time my six-year-old lost a library book, I was a good mom. I explained to her the importance of taking responsibility for her things, particularly things on loan. I reminded her of the designated spot in her room where the library books lived when she wasn’t reading them (this spot is not on her bookcase mixed in with the hundred books or so that she and her sister own). I found the book, buried in a toy box, and told her that I would pay the fine but that she had to help me Swiffer the kitchen floor to earn back some of the $5 fee. The second time, I was calm—albeit a little less so. Again, I pointed out the spot where she should keep the book when she was done reading it. This time, rather than dole out a chore, I took away a toy that was the amount of the fee and, since I couldn’t find the book, bought back the book that she’d lost at a store and had her bring it in. The third time, I yelled and nagged. I slammed my hand down on the desk in her room where she was supposed to keep her library books and asked her why in the heck she couldn’t remember to put them there. I told her that money didn’t grow on trees (horrible both because it’s a cliché and because it means I’m turning into my own parents) and that we had paid thirty dollars in fines in the past three months, also known as the cost of takeout dinner for our family of four. I threatened to have her write a note to her teacher explaining that she was not allowed anymore library books because nothing her mommy did could help her remember to be responsible. On and on I went, until she cried. It was not a good day for either of us. Afterward, I felt very guilty. She’s six. She forgets things. It’s developmental. It’s also an accident. She’s not trying to get me to buy the book by hiding it. To be completely honest, if she left the book in the kitchen while I was cleaning, I might have tucked it away somewhere and forgotten about it. I also had learned something I can apply to my villains. Sometimes a villain doesn’t start out bad. They try to do the right thing and it doesn’t work. Then, they try again and it doesn’t work. Ultimately because of a lack of patience, inability to deal with frustration or some other moral flaw, they lose it and opt to do something negative in order to achieve a desired result.  Yelling at my kid is bad. By the end of my tirade, I’m sure that she no more remembered where to put the book than she had the first time I’d shown her the special spot on her desk. All she was thinking about was that mommy had made her feel horrible. But, I was frustrated and annoyed that doing the patient parent thing wasn’t helping and I got angry. I became the villain. Clearly, I still feel guilty about my behavior because I’m blogging about it. But at least I can bring the insight to bear on my writing.

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Killer Nashville and Plot Twists

The writer’s conference Killer Nashville exceeded expectations in many ways, but as I digest the days of panels and speakers and most importantly dive into writing again I’m thinking about Plot Twists. At Killer Nashville three great panels touched on this: How to Write Effective Plot Twists, No Soggy Middles, and Creating Tension in Your Story. What I liked best about the panels is that there is no “perfect solution”. After all, every story is different, every author’s voice is different, however, there are many points that an author can reflect upon. I take notes at these events as if there is an exam (leftover from graduate school days?) and looking over them a few points stand out to me today. Mainly the idea of spending time on the villain. Sounds simple, right? Killer Nashville is mainly thriller and mystery writers and the advice and discussions crossover between the two…however I think that when writing a thriller the audience may know exactly who the villain is that villain should be evil (Hannibal Lector and his evil out of prison alter ego were both known to the reader/viewer and both were evil personified). I write mysteries and it’s not always as clear; after all, I want my audience to know the villain but not point to them on page 5 and say there they are, mystery solved. My villain needs to be concealed until the reveal and at the same time not so much of a surprise that the reader says, not possible. As I return to work on my manuscript I’ll be giving particular focus to this development. Are they enough of a villain to be satisfying? And are the means and reasons they went undetected well-constructed? Any thoughts about the well-constructed villain. Any favorites, any weak ones? Agatha Christie’s villain in the Murder of Roger Ackroyd certainly wasn’t obvious by any stretch of the imagination but, to me, he was completely believable once revealed. There have been many others since…..

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