Monday, December 26, 2016

Creating a great villain

The Beauty of the Beast
One of paranormal fiction’s special challenges is building supernatural characters that are relatable. Readers are hooked by the fantastic, but the creatures they remember most are rooted in the human.

We all know the rules for our heroes and heroines. As multi-dimensional beings, they must have strengths and weaknesses, even as they cast spells, shapeshift and crave human blood. They need a back story and believable motivations and goals. Some quirkiness adds texture and interest. Would Mercy Thompson be as interesting if Patricia Briggs hadn’t made her a mechanic? We think not.
A deeper challenge is applying those rules to our villains. We’re tempted to cloak them in absolute evil. Randomly bloodthirsty beasts and apocalyptic monsters are fun to create. Giving them reasons for their despicable actions is more difficult.
Let’s say upfront that we consider Patricia Briggs a master of characterization. While she has developed her share of bad-to-bone nasties, we remain most haunted by those that are more complex.
In Blood Bound, Mercy Thompson and the Columbia Basin wolf pack grapple with a vampire who is also a sorcerer and is attached to a demon. This is one seriously wretched villain. He kills with abandon, most notably in a horrific motel murder that an innocent human is blamed for. Make no mistake, readers hate this guy.
But this vampire’s name is Corey. Yes, Corey–like the two young actors from that 1980’s classic, The Lost Boys. Corey conjures visions of the boy next door. When you learn more about him, you find he didn’t ask to become a vicious killer. He did seek the thrill of being a sorcerer, however, which makes him a truly bad vampire. You can’t help but have a little sympathy for Corey even as you root for Mercy to kick his ass.
The river monster in Briggs’ River Marked is equally complicated. The creature’s insatiable appetite is fed by taking over minds and guiding humans willingly to their deaths. Yeah, it’s sick. But you can relate on some level when you find out the legend Native American legend about She Who Watches, the beast who’s always hungry for humans. She’s so powerful and so persuasive, especially when she’s trying to make deals with Mercy.
Some tips for building the perfect beast include:
The unexpected. Vampires have most often been beautiful people, and they’re usually very sexually adept, but again, Briggs comes through with a member of the local vampire seethe who is an older woman with the mind of a child. She’s a virtuoso on the piano but has to be watched constantly because she acts without thought.
The tragic. The villain in Awakening Magic, which features the Connelly witches of New Mourne, is the Woman in White. She’s the ghost of a young woman who had everything she loved taken from her by someone who should have been trusted. As a result, she’s still haunting the small North Georgia town inhabited by the Connelly coven and a variety of other supernatural beings. Because she was grief stricken, she demanded a tribute when the Connellys first came to New Mourne in the 1700s—the life of one of the young witches. This has continued for centuries, but as the story progresses, you begin to understand the Woman in White’s grief, especially when the demon shows up.
The one rule to keep in mind when creating your characters is remembering everyone’s goal is to move the story forward. You have to create three-dimensional, believable characters but only you may know much of their backstory. Sometimes it’s especially easy to get caught up in the story of these peripheral characters—just let them impact the story as necessary. In searching for Corey, Mercy found her own supernatural powers increased. In our book, the young witch, Brenna must fully embrace her magic before she can help her family.
Nora Roberts is superb at dealing with secondary characters. There may be a romance going on with them or a completely different story line, but it will be subtle and all of it will support what’s happening with the two main characters.
Whatever type of fiction you’re writing, world building is at the core. All characters matter and what motivates the villain to do evil matters too. It’s all part of the story.
Neely Powell

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