Monday, August 23, 2010

The Problem with Villains

I know there are lots of my family and close friends who may disagree with this statement, but I’m too nice. ~Okay, at least in my writing~

When writing, I tend to have problems with the bad guy. A pretty big problem since I write suspenseful stories. I prefer to keep them off the page since it’s easier to deal with finding them, instead of making them look villainous. I haven’t written from the villain’s point of view. In fact, most of my bad guys are just that...BAD guys and it’s hard for me to call them villains. Their activities aren’t revealed in the written story, their activities are mainly off the page and keep my heroine & heroine guessing at the intent.

I just finished writing my second Harlequin Intrigue and thought I knew who the bad guy was throughout the entire story. Hey, I’d written a synopsis. I’d plotted a majority of the book, or a good portion had been outlined and discussed with my critique partners. Then on page 199 (of a projected page count of 220) the real villain revealed his or herself (not giving this away). Everything was crystal clear and yet totally surprised me. I’d already laid the groundwork throughout the story with the exception of one clue. But then again, I shouldn’t be surprised at all. I’m a pantzer and love when a story develops through my fingertips instead of me over-thinking the conclusion. THAT’s what I love about writing.

BJ, Mallory, and Carol--three of my fellow Intrigue authors--told me about their writing experiences regarding villains:

My villains never reveal themselves until the end -- even to me! I never know who the bad guy is and love it when I'm surprised. I suspect everyone as I'm writing the book. It's my suspicious nature, I guess. :) All the characters have at least a motive and at least one secret. Makes it fun. I had a really good time in my October book, Whitehorse: Winchester Ranch Reloaded: Boots and Bullets, because my hero sees the murder while in a coma in the hospital. I know, huh? It made for great fun for me to write it. The setting was the old abandoned hospital just a few blocks from where I live. Scary! At the same time, the book moves toward a resolution of another murder involving another Winchester. I like keeping a lot of balls in the air! The Winchester series ends in December. B.J. Daniels.

Many times, especially in my spy thrillers, I make my villain known to the reader early on. The suspense and intrigue come in the form of what that villain is going to do next to get to the heroine or hero. In other books, like Circumstantial Memories, the villain isn't revealed until late in the book when it's rescue time. Occasionally, the villain changes over the course of the book (and I'm not telling which books!). The McClintock Proposal, 9-10 Carol Ericson

I love to reveal my villains in the beginning of the book. Since I do often name the villain at the beginning (and include his POV) I guess I'm more of a writer of suspense than mystery. I have had the villain change before I finish the book, but not very often. The villain in my October 2010 book, Double-Edged Detective, is a serial killer who is revealed early in the book, but not caught until the end. The heroine of my November 2010 book, The Pediatrician's Personal Protector, is the serial killer's daughter. In this book, the villain is a mystery until close to the end of the book. I had a great time writing these two books, because the heroes are identical twins who have very different ways of doing their jobs and relating to their heroines. Mallory Kane

So my question today ~ ~ As a reader, do you prefer your villain to have an active role in the book, or is it better to have their villainous activities and character “off the page”?

‘Til next time,



Hill Country Holdup,
Harlequin Intrigue 9/10
AngiMorgan.com

21 comments:

  1. I also find villians difficult. I tend to write them as seem through my heroine's eyes so I don't have to get too deeply into their psyche. But perhaps I should change that. A peek into a villian's clockwork might be interesting.

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  2. It might be time to break out the TRUE CRIME books for us, Regina. I know I need to go to another level in this next book.

    ~~Angi

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  3. Villains are fun for me. Sometimes I show their POV and others I don't. Either way, I've always known who they were from the beginning. Then again, I'm a plotter, especially in my suspense books.

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  4. In my suspense manuscripts, the reader usually knows who the villain is and, like Carol said, the suspense comes from what he's going to do next.

    Although, in an early suspense manuscript I got to page 150 and realized the villain I had was actually the hero. Very interesting turn of events in that one!

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  5. I'd love to be a Plotter. I try and try...but I just love the surprise of being a Pantzer.

    ~~Angi

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  6. Intrigue Author DANA MARTON --
    I try to have my villain appear as early as possible in the story. That way, I give the reader a fair chance to guess who the perpetrator is. Ideally, I'd LOVE for the villain to change in some way before the end of the story. At current word count, I can't manage that. The hero and heroine have their growth arcs, but I usually have very few scenes from the villain's point of view.

    Dana Marton
    www.DanaMarton.com
    THE SPY WHO SAVED CHRISTMAS, Oct. 2010

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  7. Lexi, I can't imagine the rewrite on that book: turning the villain into the hero... I'm curious, who became the villain at that point? Was it someone already in the story?

    ~~Angi

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  8. Well, I love delving into the villain's head...so I usually know my big bad villain at the beginning, and I do like writing in the villain's POV, but there's almost always a minion that pops up here or there that's unexpected. Sometimes I planned on someone being a friend, and he ends up being a bad guy (but not usually the Big Bad Guy (BBG)) :-). I just really like figuring out why someone becomes a villain...why they've chosen that path. That's part of the fun of writing for me.

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  9. I write in multiple POVs, so the villain is included. I do love revealing info to the reader that the h/h don't know about because I think this raises the dramatic tension for the reader. OTOH, I've read lots of books where I had no idea who the real villain was until late in the game, and I enjoyed those books a lot. So I don't think there's a right or a wrong. Every story will tell you the way it needs to be written.

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  10. I write mystery, so I have fun keeping the villain's identity secret. So far, I have been successful, according to my beta readers. As a true plotter, I have to know who the bad guy is. The funny thing is, in the last three manuscripts, I went back and changed who the killer was. I think the plotting thing made me throw in too many hints when I was writing. In all three of those stories, the changes made the book so much stronger.

    Great insightful blog, Angie. How many more days until your debut?????

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  11. Hey Robin, Amy & Liz --
    Again I envy those of you who know who the bad guy is and admire the writers that can roll with the punches and change things.

    I've stated this before, but I have to stay and work out the emotion and conflict in a chapter, so I can move forward. Okay, I know I could probably work that out if I plotted...but the book never really goes where I intend.

    LOL and starting my line edits...
    ~~Angi

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  12. Hi Angie,
    Great post. I loved that you said you're "too nice." I am too -- I have a terrible time making my bad guys truly bad enough. I even have real trouble giving my H/h enough flaws to make them interesting. Fortunately, I don't write mystery or suspense so I don't have to come up with murderous villains. But I will say, in my last book, I knew who the "bad guy" was from the start and within four chapters my CP said, 'oh no, he's not the bad guy at all, the _____ is the bad guy." Blew me away, but she was absolutely right. What a crazy thing to do, write a book with heroes and villains!

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  13. "...my CP said, 'oh no, he's not the bad guy at all, the _____ is the bad guy."

    Lizee ~~ That's too funny. But oh so true. during .38 Caliber Cover-Up...something kept nagging at me, I couldn't finish the last chapters because something (but I didn't know what) just wasn't 'right.' Then one conversation with a critique partner and that's all she wrote. :-)

    I did manage to surprise my agent.

    ~~Angi

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  14. Angi,

    An interesting post. In my soon to be released book the reader knows the villain and in my first book it was pretty easy to figure out the villain (I thought so anyway), but my latest book no one figured out who was the villain.

    I like to get into deep pov for the villain. It makes the reader sympathize or really hate the villain or both. Fortunately, I had someone beat it (not literally) into me that the villain must be really bad even if the reader can feel some empathy for them.

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  15. I'm definitely trying to get more into the villain in my third book. It's one of my goals.

    I'm really glad that there some people out there like me who don't know until the last minute.

    I keep trying to grasp having to change the villain AFTER the book is written and I think I'm just too lazy to do that. LOL

    ~~Angi

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  16. Hi Angi!
    Great post. I've never really thought about it. I like to read books where the "Big Big bad guy" is mysterious but his minions become known throughout the story with him being revealed at some highly tense moment close to the end. :) In the story I'm writing now, the big big bad guy is not known- even to me... We will see how it shapes up! I haven't figured out if I'm a true pantser or plotter.. I'm thinking something in the middle but I too envy the story board queens in our crit group!!!

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  17. Great post, Angi. I swear, I think you pantsers work voodoo magic to not know until the end who the BBG (love that expression)is. I cannot wrap my literal mind around how that can possibley work. Except, of course, it does for you guys. I do write in the BBG deep POV and odly my CPs have said I write "pretty good" bad guys.:) If I don't go through the rigors of plotting, planning, all of those in depth character sketches, and conflict match ups, I'm lost. Been there done that and not a fun place. Not going to make that mistake again. I have to think all writing has a little pantsing and a little plotting to it. Even when I know where things should be going, occasionall inspiration raises its head, and my fingers fly across the keys like they have a mind of their own. Kind of exciting and scary all in one. But back to you main quesiton, both in reading and writing I like to see how things work in the brain of the BBG.

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  18. Kim...just want to tell you thanks again for helping identify the true BBG in .38 Caliber Cover-Up. It will be interesting to know if readers figure it out.

    And I hate to tell you this, but I think you're a true pantzer!

    ~~Angi

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  19. Hey Marsha !!
    You brought up character profiles...I try to use those and end up faking answers. Just reaching out to I don't know where and pulling an answer out from no where.

    But if YOU were to interview me about my characters, I'd definitely be able to elaborate on lots of back story and the reasons behind all their motivations.

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  20. I love my villains. In both Remembering Ashby and Prime Evil, the villain set the tone for my heroines. The twist in Prime Evil still managed to surprise a few people. In Seismic Evil, the villain's pretty wicked fun too. But my current contemporary doesn't have a "villain" per se -- so we shall have to see.

    Great blog and congrats again Angi!

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  21. Thanks Heather !

    So glad you had me here today.
    ~~Angi

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