Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Making the Bad Guys Worse

Every author needs to be able to critique herself. My most consistent comment is that I resolve conflict too quickly. That's great in life, but not so good in mysteries.

After giving it more thought, I believe this is because I don't fully develop the villains of the story. In my head, I look at almost everything from one of my antagonist's point of view. I'll think carefully about how a murder takes place and the immediate reason, but not the ultimate why.

In preparing for a presentation on villains I considered several books and movies. Some portray the hero's life and motives so well we don't need  to fully understand the bad guy. Every year I watch It's a Wonderful Life (the Christmas story with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed). We see the clear angst George Bailey feels at having to remain in Bedford Falls and we understand why his wife Mary loves being there.

Slowly George comes to see himself as the town sees him, and he understands the full value of his life. But what about Mr. Potter? We know he's a skinflint, know that when he didn't return the Bailey Savings and Loan Bank Deposit it sets the stage for George's belief that the world would be better off without him in it.

But why is Potter a mean, miserly man? Is he angry that he ended up in a wheelchair? Did his parents abandon him? We don't know, and in that story, his actions matter more than his motives.

Consider the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. The story opens with Darth Vader chasing the rebels to secure the return of the plans for the Death Star. Leia is important, but it's when Luke's aunt and uncle are killed on his home planet that he gets the drive to combat the evil of the Empire.

So did the theft of the plans start the action? I'd say no. Darth Vader was compelled to seek to quash the rebellion because, in his words, he felt "a disturbance in the Force." Of course he wanted those plans, but he knew how strong his weapons were. Surely he would have felt it possible to combat any threat.

Except the threat that challenged his very existence. As the story progresses through three movies, we come to fully understand his desperation.

Where does that leave us? It tells me I need to know the enemy's backstory, his or her motives, to develop an enemy as strong as Darth Vader and the Empire. Strength comes in many forms. I think the strongest ones are secrets.

How will this realization change my writing? I've  decided it will be okay to jot down ideas for a plot or the main characters (the antagonists, for me), but I won't let myself start another mystery without developing the entire story from the villain's point of view. I probably won't use all the material in the novel, but knowing it will created a stronger enemy for my sleuth to overcome.

I'll keep notes as I go and let you know how it turns out.
                                           *                 *               *               *
To learn more about Elaine or her writing, go to www.elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter

No comments:

Post a Comment