Sunday, September 21, 2008

How to handle a villain....

I'm not sure why, but as I struggle to find something useful and profound to say tonight (and I'd really appreciate some help, because my publisher has offered me a showcase blog to help launch Knight's Fork) I can hear the late Richard Harris singing "How to Handle a Woman" from the musical "Camelot".

In the musical, "the wise old man" --whom I assume was Merlin-- advised King Arthur to handle Guinevere by simply loving her.

Didn't work, did it? Maybe King Arthur didn't take the advice? Of course, according to some versions of the legend, Merlin was a questionable authority on the ladies, and ended up losing his skin.

How to handle a villain?



How about loving him (or her?)

Let's think about that. I'm the writer. He's my brain child. It's my duty to love him, even if in the end, the greatest love I can show for my flawed and twisted child is to hand him over to the proper authorities, and hope that he is happier in a new incarnation.

Perhaps, if I wrote plot-driven romances I wouldn't agonize so much over my villains, but I write character-driven romances. I'm not the only one.

Janet Walker has a series of creative interviews with her own and other authors' villains on her Eclectic Writer blog.
Eclectic Writer

Just as I like my heroes to be slightly morally questionable, so I like my villains to be likeable --or at least entertaining-- when they want to be. As I wrote of Tarrant-Arragon (who is either hero or antagonist) his civilized veneer curls up at the edges.

There's a quote I see occasionally in someone's sig file. "If you've nothing nice to say, come sit by me."

If "reality television" reflects popular taste, we like to hear the dirt being dished, if it is done with wit and charm. Or even if it isn't.

For that reason alone, it's probably well worth cultivating our villains and giving them a plausible rationale for their actions... or not if we have enough scenes to show our antagonist's slide down the slippery slope! Sometimes, one mistake or piece of opportunism can snowball.

Django-Ra was my most heinous villain. Compared with him, the others are mere rivals, political opponents, adversaries, irritants. He hasn't received one note from any admirer ever. I shall be most interested to see--as time goes by--which of the enemies who surround 'Rhett in Knight's Fork attracts the cyber boos and hisses.

Good night.



  1. Hear hear! I second the call for multi-layered villains. If a villain's not given enough believable motivation, it's harder to root for the hero & heroine, because they're battling little more than a cardboard cut-out.

  2. As many authors have pointed out, nobody is a villain in his own eyes. They all have what seems to them excellent reasons for their actions.

  3. Margaret, so true. I like it when authors tease out that aspect of a villain.And I think it probably unsettles some readers when an author does such a good job with the villain that they start to engage with him/her.

  4. Heather,
    You may have hit the nail on the head! That is exactly my experience with Bronty, minor villainess from Forced Mate.

    I was uncomfortable with her in my head, and I received not a few enquiries, including from my editor, about whether she would reappear in a subsequent book.

    (Probably not! She had an unhinged crush on 'Rhett, which wouldn't do at all!)

    Best wishes,

  5. By the way, I'm going to be interrogated at:

    all day (but especially around noon) on Mon 29th Sept.

    There will be a prize of Godiva chocolate for one winner (although I'm not sure whether it will be for a great question or a great answer!)