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.
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!
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