Writing Tips and Tricks
By Stephanie McCall, author of Fiery Secrets
One of the toughest things for me as a writer is coming up with a perfect villain. That is, someone who readers love to hate, but could still be sympathetic toward, given the right circumstances (for example, if he or she could use their brains and talent for good rather than evil). To me, the perfect villain is also someone in whom readers can see examples of what can happen when a life created in God’s image derails.
When crafting your own villain (or villainess) how can you make them memorable, even if that memory makes the reader flinch? Here are a few things I try to keep in mind:
1. Be careful with a villain who has your own baggage. I’ve always heard, “If it hurts, it’ll probably make a good story.” Giving your hurts a place in fiction can be cathartic, but tread carefully. For example, you’ve probably never killed anyone, but maybe you have struggled with a nasty temper. Great—but we don’t need to see your villain explode in every chapter. Why? Because not everyone with anger issues becomes a murderer. Represent the baggage as fairly as you can while still telling the truth.
2. Love on your villains. Remember, the wicked stepmother in Ever After had a pretty wicked mom herself. The villain in Brandilyn Collins’ Over the Edge grieved his wife, dead from Lyme disease because physicians didn’t listen. Give the villain a motivation or non-typical twist.
3. No redemption? No sale! No, the villain doesn’t have to embrace Christ at the end, but readers need to see potential for redemption, or else the character falls flat. For example, within Fiery Secrets, readers see that Kyle has had mentors, a chance at a good marriage, and even a promising beginning to fatherhood. He chose to throw it all away, but remains redeemable.
4. Leave some things to the imagination. In Christian circles, this is often not a big issue, but sometimes, it is. For example, one lovely inspirational author disappointed me when a novel of hers contained a graphic near-rape scene. What’s too graphic will vary from reader to reader and also depends on the rules of your publisher, editor, or the CBA. However, show as much restraint as you can, particularly if villain-centered scenes also take place in naturally horrific settings (i.e., a torture chamber, a concentration camp).
How about you? What baggage have you liked or not liked in a villain? What motivational twists have you enjoyed in a villain? Can you think of a villain whom you would be interested in working with to mentor them towards redemption? What is your personal comfort level with graphic scenes?
“Fiery Secrets” by Stephanie McCall.
Release date: July 2, 2013.
Trade Paperback Retail $14.99
Amazon Kindle $3.99
Barnes & Noble Nook $3.99
Stephanie McCall is an English teacher with two Master of Arts degrees from Western Carolina University, one of which has a professional writing concentration. She also has a B.A. in Religious Studies. She lives in North Carolina with her parents and younger brother, where she enjoys reading, writing (and discussing her writing), and participating in Bible studies, prison ministry, and her church’s drama team. She also plans to adopt a cat in the near future. Her favorite Scripture is Jeremiah 29:11