Struggle. Adventure. Love.

These are the three elements in any good story. Everything else is background.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Villain

Glen Mayo, author of Circle of Dishonor and celebrated author in the murder mystery genre, posted a short discussion of the Villain in my story A Distant Call in the Victory Tales Mystery anthology. You can read it on her blog at

This made me think more deep thoughts about the Villain. To me, how a writer fleshes out the character of the Villain makes or breaks the story--in particular, when it comes to the Villain's motivations. The Hero is motivated by love, compassion, duty, justice, and perhaps revenge (if so, the Hero will learn that Revenge Is A Mistake, usually). The Villain is motivated by hate, greed, lust, or fear. "Hiss! Boo! Go getem Hero!" We hate the Villain, right? Well, sometimes.

Many very good stories have villains motivated by greed and hatred, because real life is full of such people. Heck, our prisons are full of people like that. But, sometimes your story needs something different. Sometimes life pits our Hero against someone who might also be motivated by their own version of love, duty, passion, or revenge. This Villain is a likable fellow, but fatally flawed. We can identify. If not identify, we can feel compassion for this one and understand why he or she is doing what they do. We might cry when this Villain gets it in the end.

In Gwen's novel, Circle of Dishonor, the Villain is as much the restrictive social rules of post civil war America as it is the killer motivated by greed and hatred. These attitudes about gender and race are directly responsible for deaths and suffering and an ever present threat that our Hero Detective, Nessa, must battle. Yet how do you punch an attitude? How do you defeat an assumption? Her world is full of Villains, but they are good people infected with bad beliefs. We can identify. We are all Villains at one time or another, basically good people capable of doing stupid things.