Last night, after I had spent a long day with a stubborn geriatric convalescent, I opened my work in progress and began to get back into the story. I hadn’t written anything new all day and I was in some major withdrawal. My fingers itched to tap out more riveting plot. As I sat down and opened my Mac, it smacked me right between the eyes. I still hadn’t decided who my villain was and the obvious choice had literally been right at my fingertips all along. I should have sighed with relief, but I had a big problem. I had written this character too nice. Yeah, that’s right. The villain had too many redeeming character traits. So what’s a writer to do? Of course, I had to go back and scan my manuscript looking for places where I needed to nasty him up. After that, the plot began to shine with the sparkle of suspense that had been lacking.
Don’t get me wrong. I often let my characters get by with murder. Literally. A lot of them have killed at least one person, maybe more. But I like to add a little depth to my villains. I love to give them just one redeeming quality so they aren’t so one dimensional. To make them a little more, you know, human. But this guy? He was just way too nice and understanding and helpful. Something had to give. So you know what I did? I gave him a gun. Yep. That changed him into a detestable SOB pretty fast. Once he had the weapon in his hand, he didn’t hesitate to draw it on my heroine. Ah, did the universe just realign into proper balance? I think it did.
I’m a pantser. I decide where my story begins and where it ends when I start a manuscript. But after that? I fly by the seat of my pants. Or rather sit at my makeshift desk, which is really just my coffee table pushed up close to my sofa. My “office”. Since I quit that horrid day job the living room has become my favorite place to play…um…I mean work. Anyway, I digress.
Here’s my long-winded point… In between the beginning and the end, I allow my characters to develop their own personalities and character as the story progresses. I allow the action of the plot to proceed according to what my characters would do next based on their personalities. The story feeds my characterization. My characterization feeds my story. They feed each other. A symbiotic relationship. So I let my characters get by with a lot, even murder.
Can you can imagine how a story could get all janked up if one of the characters isn’t fulfilling his or her proper role? Heroes should be heroes, albeit sometimes a wee tad flawed. Heroines should be heroines, even if they have one or two character flaws they need to work on. I love letting my characters decide how they want to act and who they want to be, but sometimes I have to smack one around and make him (or her) play nasty.
So if you want to read what kind of nasty my villains can get into, check out Crisis of Identity, a story with numerous villains written in varying shades of nasty.