Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Tidbits

Truth, Justice, and Villainy

So a writer has three characters.

One is the heroine.

Another is the man the heroine thinks is a good man. But he's secretly bad.

And one, of course, is the hero.

The writer wonders, as she begins to write her story, if she should give Mr. Seems-Good-But-Secretly-Is-Bad a point of view in the story. After all, she'd like to get a little more perspective on the developing plot, something beyond what Hero and Heroine might know.

Problem is . . . if she gets into the villain's head, won't that spoil the surprise that he is Secretly Bad?

Short answer: No.

Not-so short answer: Well, not necessarily anyway.

The thing about villains that many young novelists (and many experienced novelists, for that matter) seem to forget is that, from their perspective, they aren't bad.

Your typical Mr. Villain is the villain because his desires and goals are at odds with the Hero and/or Heroine's desires and goals. But as far as the Villain is concerned, his desires and goals aren't evil. He is justified in his mind. He believes himself to be on the side of Truth and Justice. It's Mr. Hero and Ms. Heroine who are bad because their sunshine and happiness will inevitably destroy everything he has ever worked for!

All right, there are occassions where an eeeeeevil villain is necessary, I will grant you. There are times when getting into Mr. Villain's head will immediately destroy all question of his possible goodness. There are even times when a Villain is aware of his own villainy . . . it does happen.

But the fact remains we are all the Heroes of our own stories. I'm the hero of my story, you are the hero of your story. And the truth is, there are probably people out there who look on you and me as their own personal villains because our dreams and goals run contrary to theirs.

To get a strong villain going, try writing a scene or two as though he is your hero. Get yourself into his head and try to find that place of sympathy. You might be surprised how attached you'll get . . . you might even find yourself (temporarily) rooting against Mr. Hero and Ms. Heroine.

In the process, you'll also create a villain as memorable and dynamic as any of your protagonists.

So what about your villains? Have you ever tried getting into their heads? What might a scene from your book look like if your villain was your hero?

14 comments:

Clara Darling said...

What if you were writing in first person? I am writing a story that is in first person, and I haven't found a way to get into the villian's head. I was going to let the heroine find out gradually what the "evil plan" was, but I'm wondering if I should even be writing the story in first person.

Did that make sense?

Molly said...

I had never though of this this way. I'd always thought, 'Oh, the villian is a villian, he has to be purely evil and everyone knows it.'
But then, in games that I play with my brother, one of us is 'The Badguy' of whom we agree is a good guy to himself.
And I've never tried writing it like that. Thank you SO much!

--Clara--are you talking about the story on your blog? Cause it's fantastic! :)

Clara Darling said...

@Molly- nope! the other one.

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

I think the important thing when writing a villain from the first-person perspective of your heroine is that SHE won't be aware of his villainy. Unless she is a paranoid person, she won't immediately perceive every act and speech of his as evil. She will give him the benefit of the doubt. So I would still write the villain as though he's basically good . . . and let his villainy emerge only when his goals begin to run counter to the heroine's.

Of course, if he starts out with all of his goals and motivations counter to the heroine's, that makes things a little tougher! But if he is hiding it, he should be hiding it from the reader as much as he's hiding it from her. Make sense?

First person is a tough, but also a rewarding narrative voice! I'd say stick with it. :)

Galadriel said...

Maybe this is what was wrong with one of my stories. The villain was very stubborn and aware that he had chose against good...I should work with him a little more, see if I can get a more nuanced view from him.

Kessie said...

It's fun at the beginning of the story to have everybody start out on a level playing field. The heroes are trying to make beneficial choices in their POV. The villain is trying to make beneficial choices in his POV. The reader gets to sit back and watch where their choices take them. That's the fun of a character-driven story, right? The reader doesn't have to know who's bad right off.

A friend gave me Robin Hobb's Liveship trilogy. I rooted for the "villain" character as much as for the heroes because he wasn't necessarily doing bad things. Half the time, he was more noble than the heroes! But in book 3, he rapes the heroine, thereby establishing himself as the villain. But his journey up to that point had been a series of tiny steps leading him that way. He couldn't have done it at the beginning of book 1.

Clara Darling said...

Thanks Anne Elisabeth! That was a huge help:)

Victoria said...

While I have many times seen this trio of characters in a story, I chose to make mine a little different. I've got Ms. Heroine, Mr. Hero, Mr. Co-Star-Hero, and Mr. Villain. But I have considered getting into Bad Guy's head. Thanks for the tip, Anne Elisabeth! Out of curiosity, what do you think of the kind of story where the person everyone thought was the good guy was bad, and vice versa? Do you like the "role switch", or do you find it too confusing for the reader?

Barka said...

I'd personally like to see a story where everyone though the good guy was bad, right until the last sentence of the story. That last sentence would put a really powerful twist to the story. Some of my favourite stories are those where it takes a long while to figure out what is going one, like the Matrix, the Bourne Identity, and even Heartless (in a little different sense).

Rae said...

What a great tip!

I have a side question. When writing in the omniscient narrative, what are some tips for making sure I am writing in the omniscient and not actually head-hopping?

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

@Rae: That's such a great question, I'm going to have to save it for a future Friday Tidbit! :) Check back in over the next few weeks to find your answer . . .

Meredith Burton said...

Villains are mesmerizing characters: you despise yet are drawn to them. Maybe it's because, like you so eloquently said, we are all villains. I like stories that get into the villain's head, particularly the ones where the villain's are unrepentant, yet you see certain scenes from their perspective. Shakespeare's Iago from The Tragedy of Othello comes to mind as well as Archie Costello from Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War. I love Donna Jo Napoli's fairy tale retellings because she relates certain books or chapters from a villain's perspective. For instance, Zel, (her retelling of Rapunzel), contains very powerful chapters from the witch's point of view. My favorite aspects of stories are when heroes/heroines and secondary characters must make decisions to follow the main villain or choose to stand up for what is right. Scenes from those stories are so tense and wonderful. When writing, I always try to include a scene that relates the villain's thoughts. I'm working on a children's fantasy story now where a brother and sister are captured by a deaf villain fascinated with music. Very sketchy idea so far, but interesting to contemplate. Thanks for these tidbits. They're so helpful.

Anonymous said...

Anne Elisabeth, is that what you did with Leo?
'Cause of course you think of him as a villian in Heartless; but not so much when you learn about him in Veiled Rose and MoonBlood.

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

Yes, Leo is an extreme example of getting into the villain's head. The more I got into Lionheart's side of the story, the more intrigued I was by it and the more I felt he deserved his own spotlight. Not every villain will end up being an actual hero . . . the important thing to remember is that (almost) every villain BELIEVES he is a hero.