Ferociously talented women dedicated to the
ne art of crime
Volume 14, Number 2 Fall 2009
Bring On the Bad Guys
by Dana Cameron
I love a good villain. As much as a protagonist defines a story or series, he or she is shaped by the obstacles in the story.Most of the time, those obstacles comefrom the antagonist. I think a certaindeftness of writing is required for amemorable bad guy, and, maybe evenmore than other characters, a good dollopof respect—even affection.One of my villains was inspired by acomplete stranger. The guy was probably perfectly decent, but something about hishair freaked me out. It spoke to me, powerfully, creepily, and the resultingfictional bad guy still gives me the grue.Sure, it was an outside inspiration, but Iwas the one who spun bad hair into asadistic killer. Often readers (myself included) equate the hero with the writer, but it’s important to remember our villainscome from the same wellspring. Whatscares or angers us, sometimes it’s justtapping into that irrational response.Some of my favorite bad guys includeThe Jackal, Hannibal Lector, Moriarty,Amelia Peabody’s Master Criminal,and Richard III. So, Femmes, my questionto you: do you like antagonists to havemotives that are all too familiar or do youlike them off-the-charts scary: the psychotic whose behavior is so alien youget vertigo whenever she’s onstage?Maybe you prefer him tough and professional or a misunderstood geniuswhose heart is melted by the heroine?Who are your favorite villains, and wheredo they come from? ƒƒ
The best advice Dana ever got on writing villains was “Remember the bad guybelieves he’s the hero of his own story.”She’s been lucky to mostly avoid baddiesin her life other than in fiction; there she prefers the brainy kind. “Someone whocan outthink you is scary enough, but if you then do a conscience-ectomy onhim…yikes!”
Hank Phillippi Ryan
Thank goodness for villains. Without them, Emmy-winning investigativereporter Hank Phillippi Ryan wouldn’t have a job. She goes after bad guys everyday—wiring herself with hidden cameras,confronting corrupt politicians, and chasing down criminals. In
,her fictional villain was elusive. In theall–new
(featuring a designer purse counterfeiting enterprise the fedsadmitted would actually work), Hank had the bad guys pegged from moment one.
Sometimes I don’t even know who myvillains are! Talk about a surprise ending.In
I even surprised myself.I knew there would be a scheme involvingsecret messages in computer spam. (Nospoiler there, for anyone who’s still notread it.) But who was behind it and why?That, I didn’t know.It made me think a lot about motivation:how angry or disturbed or passionate or enraged someone would have to be to killanother person. What, I wondered, couldcause that level of emotion? Aside fromdrugs, say, or mental illness—I decidedit came down to greed. Greed for control and power over money, or another person, or over events, or, mostlikely a combination. And that seemedto make sense.About halfway through the book, Ithought I knew who the bad guy was.(Back then, no synopsis for this girl!)And I figured I’d work out themotivations later.Then one night, I sat bolt upright in bed.Breaking news. I had made a mistake. Ihad chosen the wrong bad guy. And Irealized who really did it. I mentallyraced backwards through the fortythousand words I’d already written,scouring for clues and examiningmotives. And sure enough, I had gottenmy own story wrong.And when I scurried back to my desk early the next morning to check the realmanuscript—I realized the bad guy had been there, all along, lurking and beingguilty. I just hadn’t realized it. I barelyhad to change a word. Now that’s a scary person.
When Charlaine was longing for quiet and peace, she didn’t know how quiet and peaceful it would get around her housewhen all her kids left. She’s trying todevote more time to her writing and generally set her house in order. The threedogs and the duck are trying to fill the gap, but somehow it’s just not the same.
My villains definitely come from insidemyself, as all my characters do. I’m nofluffy bunny, despite my mild demeanor!I think the best villain I’ve created wasDebbie Pelt, in the Sookie Stackhouse books. Debbie tries to keep an agreeableveneer, and she’s a strong and sexualwoman, but she’s also simply bad. Sure,she’s a minority member (a werefox), andsure, she was an adopted kid with someissues, but Debbie is unrepentantlyvicious.The most indelible evil character waswritten by Neil Gaiman in
,which is one of my all-time favoritenovels. This “man” is half of an evil teamwhich is trying to catch and kill Door,