This past month I have been on the road attending a writing conference, getting new material for new books, and enjoying seeing new parts of the US and Canada. In coming weeks I will be posting information about what I learned during my travels. Let me begin with a writing session I attended at the Emerald Cities Writers' Conference. This is one of my favorite conferences because there are writers of all genres and everyone is so friendly and ready to talk at any time about their writing.
One of the sessions I attended was with best selling author Karen Rose who discussed writing romantic suspense. Her comments on villains really hit home with me, because I am currently working on a non-fiction book on creating bad guys. It was great to hear her say some of what I am putting into my book for would-be authors to help them craft good villains. For instance:
1. Make your villains more than single-dimensional. Bring them to life as much as you bring in
your hero and heroine. Don't let them be card board cut outs that could be just any ordinary character. Even if you don't use all the material, write up a character profile, just as you would with the hero and heroine. You should be able to understand them and their motives or you can't impart the information to your readers.
2. Avoid having a vague villain. This was one valuable lesson I took away from listening to Karen Rose. When I teach character classes I always say that the character's goal or motivation needs to be personal. It should be that way for the villain too. But it can be personal in more ways than just trying to harm the hero or heroine. It could be that the villain's aim was to prove something to him or herself so that it might seem random to the person trying to solve the crime, but it certainly won't be to the villain.
3. Make your villain smart. Unless you're dealing with writing a comedy, the villain needs to be smart enough to be a worthy adversary. Who wants to defeat someone who was just lucky for once? It might be fun to get the better of a comedic villain, but make that bad guy worthy of your story and your hero or heroine's time and energy. Make the villain as conniving or evil as you can get away with in the story.
4. Keep the Villain Involved. The bad guy can't just show up once, do one little thing and then simply go back to a normal life until exposed at the end of the book. Bring him or her back in little ways that keep the hero and heroine working toward that goal of uncovering who the bad guy is. They need a reason to keep him or her from acting again.
5. Bring them back. One question I was asked about plotting in a recent class was how I could approve a story plot where the bad guys got away. This beginning writer had been told that the bad guys always had to be punished. But I say, not so quick. There are times it makes more sense to let that villain come back. As long as the reader gets an ending to the current book, whether it is showing who the real killer is and letting the hero off the hook or promising a new battle between the two, it is possible to let the bad guy live or escape to fight another day. Did we as readers or viewers lament the escape of Hannibal Lecter or Darth Vader? As long as we knew we would see them again, we were content with the endings of the stories involving them. We wanted to know this story was done and all was well -- if only for now. So my advice is, bring them back, especially if they are special.
Actually, you should be creating your villains to be so special that readers want to see them again. As you write your villains, look for ways to make them as unique and popular as those villains we all get to know (and love or hate) but who we want to see matching wits with our heroes and heroines. We want worthy opponents for our winners so make those losers as strong and worthy as possible. It only makes for stronger characters over all.
For the next month I will begin my special NaNoWriMo blogs -- posting every week with those little tips that keep us working through NaNoWriMo.
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