Creating Your Villain, tips from Donald Maass

This post, from Debby Atkinson, originally appeared on the Type M For Murder blog on 10/21/09.

It’s Debby this morning, just returned from Bouchercon, where Sisters in Crime sponsored a terrific seminar, titled SinC into Great Writing. The headline speaker was literary agent Donald Maas, who gave so many great tips on improving our WIP’s that I couldn’t write fast enough. Here are some of his suggestions about how to create a stronger antagonist.

Think through your novel and ask yourself who it is who most impedes your protagonist. Is it your villain? Maybe, but maybe not. Get to know your villain and/or antagonist. What does he do? What kind of job does she have? What kind of haircut? How does he dress? Fastidiously, or like an aging hippie? Is she married, does she cheat on her husband? How many kids? Any quirks? Beware of cliches, though.

Now put this person in a situation where he or she demonstrates the exact opposite of the portrait you’ve painted. If he cheats on his wife, have him shower her with love and respect in a certain situation. Have a fussy person show up unkempt and disheveled. Show insecurities, have her be hard working, let him examine his own limits.

Examine her world view. Is it correct in some ways? How? What people in your novel agree with him? Who in history has seen things the way your antagonist sees them? Has it been good or bad? Show some good qualities in the antagonist: respect for authority, working for what she believes in. What writing or philosophy justifies his thinking? What are her religious values and how does she demonstrate them? You can even use a bible passage, and Maass named a reference book called the Thompson Chain Reference Bible to help find appropriate ones. (I’d never heard of this. I guess it’s like Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations for the Bible.)
 

Read the rest of the post on Type M For Murder, and see these related posts on the same site.

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