Monday, July 25, 2011

Walk on the Dark Side

by C.L. Phillips

Is fact stranger than fiction?  When you develop your villains and take a walk on the dark side of life, how do you create those nefarious creatures?

Let's say for example, that you are a pleasant mild mannered person, always careful to treat others with respect and consideration.  How do you craft the nasty, ill-tempered thug who beats your heroine within an inch of her life?  How do you walk a mile in those shoes?

Where do you find your inspiration?   

I'm asking the question because I'd like to get a better understanding of how a writer travels to the dark places with authenticity and credibility.  For example, when I look at Steven King, I'd never imagine that mild mannered man would write what he writes.  Not in a million years.

Most of my bad guys are extrapolations of people I've known.  I recently read Acts of the Apostles by John Sundman (who I met at SXSW this year), and I swear I worked for his antagonist.  I even called John on the phone and asked him, "Is your antagonist based on He-Who-I-Refuse-to-Name?"  John laughed and said people ask him that question over and over.  Everyone thinks they know this bad guy.

Now that sounds like a ringing endorsement of an excellent character study.

So who is your favorite villain and why?  Better yet, introduce us to your current villain and tell us how you developed the character.

In my novel FIRST MISTAKE, Quattro Anderson, father of the murdered U.S. Senator wants vengeance.  Not because his son is dead, but because his plans for family legacy are in jeopardy.  Quattro thinks money and muscle can fix all of his problems because he's family has "owned" that Senate seat for as long as anyone can remember.

How did Quattro come to life?  I took an overbearing image of a public figure, added a dash of "the rules don't apply to me", mixed in a little Sixth Generation Texan, and baked it with a sprinkle of long forgotten humility.  Then I added a problem he couldn't resolve without help from the one person he couldn't buy.

Please share - one of your villains, and how you brought them to life.


Joyce said...

Sounds like you've got a good villain, Cindy.

I'd love to share mine, but since I write mysteries, I don't want to give anything away. I will say that all my villains believe they're doing the right thing. Unfortunately, it's only the right thing in their eyes. To everyone else, they're screwed up.

C.L. Phillips said...


I guess it's all a matter of perspective? Everybody is right from their point of view?

That makes sense to me.

Take care,


Jenna said...

To be honest, I don't even try. I don't want to live with that darkness. And I write first person POV, so my heroines are as much ostriches as I am. We don't really understand why someone would do the things they do, and all the explanations they come up with don't really justify anything. That said, I once wrote 150 pages - half a book - from the POV of a thief. She's the heroine, or anti-heroine, but she's also a criminal. And it was fun, and no problem at all. But that's different. I've always had a bit of larceny in my soul... I just can't understand the need to physically hurt other people. I never did finish that book; maybe one day I will...

Patg said...

Since my book is a traditional mystery, the twisting and turning puzzle kind, I can't really speak about motives either. However, anger and how it seems to justify a need for revenge plays a part in a lot of cases of murder.

Gina said...

Doesn't anybody else create real villains?

Josh in my unpublished manuscript Four Weekends is not too different from me, or most of us. He just lacks social controls and acts on impulse, leading his companions, including my POV character Sue, into crimes of escalating violence. Josh steps onto a slippery slope and, once begun, lacks the moral will to stop himself. He's a lot like the petty criminals I met while working for the parole board and bureau of corrections, not evil through and through, but capable of doing extremely evil things when he is caught up in the moment.

Old Mrs. Rivers in another of my unpublished manuscripts, Running Rivers, is a true psychopath, willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her twisted ends. She is based on a conglomerate of people I've met over the years who lack all empathy and compassion and who are absolutely selfish.

C.L. Phillipsw said...


Now we're talking! Your description of Old Mrs. Rivers has me chewing my fingernails.

Does anyone watch Breaking Bad? Walter White is another example of a cutting edge villain. In the beginning, I really bought into Walter's self-delusions as to why he cooked meth. Now, not so much.

I love thinking about this topic!


Jenna said...

Genre plays into this, to be honest. My readers don't want to be in the head of the psychopath. That's not what my books are about. That said, the murderer in Fatal Fixer-Upper, the first DIY book, was a pretty classic evil-to-the-core bad guy, someone who'd do anything and feel justified. He pushed an old lady down the stairs and conked a guy on the head and left him in a locked room to starve to death... But those aspects aren't what you dwell on in cozies.