THE MISTAKEN by Nancy S. Thompson


I’m so happy to have my good friend and fellow psychological suspense writer Nancy S. Thompson at The Serial Killer Files today! Her debut novel, THE MISTAKEN, was released on October 18th from Sapphire Star Publishing, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for her.

Thanks for hosting me today, Jennifer.  As a fellow author of a psychological thriller, Jennifer asked me to write a little something on villains. I’m doing so in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado shooting in which twelve people were killed and fifty-eight others injured during the opening night screening of The Dark Knight Rises

In sight of this tragedy, it seems natural to grapple for some kind of meaning, a reason why the killer did what he did. This is always important when writing villains into fiction. Whereas in reality, we often don’t know or even care the rationale behind the crime, in fiction, the reader must have a basic understanding behind the antagonist’s actions.

It would be easy to conjure up a straight-out psycho Dr. Evil-type of villain, but much more difficult to create one with whom the reader can sympathize or even empathize, that is to understand the reasoning behind his or her actions, to realize they have some justification for what they’re doing. Oddly enough, it won’t work for a writer to base their villain on those taken from real-life headlines. It’s that whole life-is-stranger-than-fiction thing. 

Jennifer wrote this post on Canadian killer Luka Magnotta, explaining how she’d never get away with creating a villain so moronic and sloppy. Why can’t we create villains like this?  Because not only are they not clever—a trait we love in our bad guys—but they’re not sympathetic, that is to say, we can’t possibly understand the reasoning behind their plan.  And therefore, they prove unbelievable, the one trait readers cannot tolerate in their fiction.

Often, these real-life maniacal killers—like at Virginia Tech or Colombine—commit suicide rather than risk being caught. So then all we ever hear about is how troubled they were, loners, bullied and misunderstood.  Even so, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend any justification behind their crimes.

Authors of fiction must examine and explore the mind of their antagonist so that readers can have some inkling of where they might go next and why. Readers want to know why the bad guy feels justified in doing such awful things. In my own novel, THE MISTAKEN, readers discover a long-held secret of past transgressions, so in the end, they can say, “Aha! That’s why the Russian mob guys hated them so much, why they wanted their own brand of vengeance.” They weren’t just evil for evil’s sake. They had family they loved and lost, just like the protagonist. They have a history just as rich. 

A good way to express the villain’s malevolence toward the protagonist is to show the damage his actions have on the main character’s emotions. Balance each act of evil against the protagonist’s wellbeing and tendency toward action or inaction. How does it impact his life, and how will he react? Does he spiral out of control, or will he find some way to overcome? 

The evil of the villain must have some equilibrium with the inherent decency of the good guy. The push of the hero must be compatible to the pull of the villain. That is to say, just as the bad guy should not be pure, psychotic evil, neither should the hero be all goodness and sunshine. They must each straddle both the dark side and that of justice in order to be believable and, therefore, relatable.   

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Guys, please visit Nancy’s blog, follow, and leave a comment during her book tour for a chance to win an ARC of THE MISTAKEN. Plus, she’s giving away ebooks to five runner-ups!

You can also find her at Sapphire Star Publishing, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook

Purchase THE MISTAKEN here:  
Amazon Kindle
Barnes & Noble
B&N Nook
Sapphire Star Publishing

THE MISTAKEN will soon be available at Sony, Kobo, iBooks, Diesel Bookstore, and Baker & Taylor.

Early praise for THE MISTAKEN:

“Nancy S. Thompson’s debut novel, THE MISTAKEN, is a first-rate thriller full of hair-raising twists and turns.  Pursued by the police and the Russian mafia in San Francisco, brothers Tyler and Nick Karras are fascinating, fully-drawn, desperate characters.  The action is non-stop.  Thompson’s taut, intriguing tale of revenge, mistaken identity, kidnapping and murder will keep you enthralled and entertained.”
   ~ Kevin O’Brien, New York Times Bestselling Author of DISTURBED and TERRIFIED

“A deliciously slow burn that builds to a ferocious crescendo, Nancy S. Thompson’s THE MISTAKEN kept me riveted until the very last page. Tyler Karras is a complex and flawed protagonist, and his redemptive journey makes him the perfect anti-hero. This psychological suspense is a standout, and I can’t wait for Thompson’s next book.”
   ~ Jennifer Hillier, author of CREEP and FREAK

“Fast-paced and emotionally gripping – once the ride begins, you won’t stop reading until it ends.”
   ~ Alex J. Cavanaugh, author of CASSAFIRE and CASSASTAR

The Mistaken Blog tour:
10/23:  Julie Musil
10/26:  LG Smith
11/19:  Arlee Bird

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16 thoughts

  1. Fascinating post. Yes, villains are definitely more convincing if they feel justified in their actions… to the point where you even sympathise with them. It's a great thing to explore. I must remember the “push and pull” idea!


  2. Nancy,

    I disagree that Luka Magnotta was moronic and sloppy. His goal has always been fame. Maybe he couldn't stretch out his luck for long, but now that he's the first person who officially shot a snuff movie (and a very disgusting/perverted one on top of that), he has what he wants and nobody can take it away from him.

    He's going to make a show in his trial, take his sentencing like a man and do interviews with journalists and psychology students for the rest of his life, making him happier that he could ever get on the outside. I think it was all part of his place.

    Looking forward to read, THE MISTAKEN, miss.


  3. It's alarming how many evil serials we've had here in Canada. Makes my stomach turn. Is our society partially responsible? Too big a question for me. I just want to wish you the very best, Nancy. I think we human beings will always be captivated by the evil people do, whether they're real or fictional characters. Maybe it's because we hope our understanding will keep us from being touched by such evil. They say everyone is capable of murder, but atrocities? Anyway, best of luck on your tour, and Jenny, I hope you're doing well, in light of the horrific path Sandy is forging.


  4. Wow, that cover is almost life-size! Thanks for having me over me over, Jenny. Ben, that's scary to think someone would go to such lengths just to get some attention, to forfeit their very life for some reality TV exposure. That's where the story lies, not in his crimes. And Joylene, Canada's had a few noteworthy villains lately, but they don't hold a monopoly. Just proves they exist as a constant percentage among the human race.


  5. The motivation for what makes people do bad things is fascinating. I mean, sometimes it is a matter of mental health, but often they do it simply because they either want something and will do anything to get it, or they aren't getting something they want and will do anything to punish everyone else for depriving them of it. I love a good villain who believes in what he's doing.

    Happy Halloween!


  6. Real life doesn't always make sense, but fiction must. It's kind of strange… but maybe it's a psychological thing. Maybe we want to believe it is understandable and fiction helps that desire. ? Maybe


  7. Thanks for stopping by, everyone! I'm so happy and proud of Nancy. And I totally agree that villains are more believable (and scary) when they're layered and complex. A villain can have a positive trait (or two) and still be totally villainous.


  8. I love this post and it's so true. In real life villains can be dumb and make no sense but in novels, people want some semblance of logic and symmetry. Awesome post, very helpful! And Nancy's book is amazing, everyone should read it!!!!


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