Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by Anne O’Connell.
Loving your characters… Even when they’re evil
While planning for the launch of my latest novel, Deep Deceit, I contemplated the process of writing the book and what I had learned. What I have come to realize over the past few years since I started novel writing, is that an author’s journey is one of constant self-discovery. You spend hours alone in a room with only the company of your active imagination… communicating with characters that are not of ‘this world’; having conversations and exploring their deepest, darkest thoughts.
It’s the ‘dark’ thoughts that became a problem for me. I’m sure some authors get great satisfaction from creating the meanest, narliest, loathsome, evil characters one could ever hope not to meet. Think Max Cady from Cape Fear (so convincingly played by Robert DeNiro in the movie). I almost walked out of the theatre because his evilness made me feel so uncomfortable.
This feeling of discomfort came rushing back as I wrote Deep Deceit. I stalled about halfway through because I was starting to deeply dislike my protagonist, Ryan Parker. I guess I had written him so believable that writing his angry thoughts and typing out his journey to visit a prostitute left me cold. My fingers froze on the keyboard as I felt pangs of sympathy for my main character, his wife, Celeste. I had become very attached to her, as most authors do with the ‘people’ they’re spending several hours a day with. Or, the familiarity starts to breed contempt, as it had begun to between Ryan and me!
I took a break, walked away, worked on something else and began to dream about the plot. I read more on character emotional development and finally had an epiphany! I didn’t have to ‘like’ him I only had to understand what motivated him. There had to be a reason for his behaviour. I had to flesh out his backstory a bit more… not only for the reader but for me as well. Part of a character’s back-story includes: What caused the wound that has given our creepy villain his or her greatest flaw, leaving true happiness just out of reach? What are his or her weaknesses, demons and skeletons?
Once I delved more deeply into Ryan’s psyche, the flow came back and I was able to write about the evilness that was Ryan but weave in events of his past that at the same time humanized him. There are no ‘spoiler alerts’ here so I’m not going to share his deep, dark secret. Suffice it to say that once I knew what it was, I was able to continue writing and even sympathize with how he became such a socio-path.
All characters need to have goals as well as fears and dreams or aspirations. The key is to make them compelling, with personalities that entice the reader to continue to get to know them better and become invested in the outcome. In the case of a villain like Ryan, the explanation as to why he behaves as he does is fine but readers want to know if he will change eventually or if he will get his ‘come-uppance’. I think the same goes for me as an author. When writing a novel, I honestly don’t know exactly how it’s going to end until I get there. It keeps me ‘turning the pages’. The suspense and process of deciding an evil character’s fate is what keeps me loving even the vilest of characters.
I’d love to hear how other authors feel about their not-so-nice characters.
Thank you, Anne. I tend to write from the villain’s point of view and it’s so much fun. Regardless of whether a character is good or bad, we have to care about them and your Ryan sounds great.
- and from this blog, my guests who have written on the topic of characters are Armand Rosamilia, Carol Crigger, Chris Redding, Christopher Starr, Ditrie Sanchez, Graham Smith 1, Graham Smith 2, Jane Davis, Jerry Last, Jo Barney, John Harper, Morgen Bailey, Nina Munteanu, Paul Lell, Rebecca Chastain, Sandra Humphrey, TJ Perkins 1, and TJ Perkins 2.
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