Sunday, September 07, 2008

The baddest of the bad: fictional villians

More about my villain and how I’m creating him. The Colombian drug lord? How does a suburban housewife fiction writer get into the head of such a person?

The $64,000 question, and of course if the novel ever sells and I receive an advance, that’s what it may boil down to.

S.O. and I had another “villain” conversation, with him arguing that bad people must realize they’re evil, and me saying, no, they justify it somehow and sociopaths and psychopaths have particular personalities.

In World of Mirrors, yet unsold, I created a likable villain, Chuck, who fit the portrait of a sociopath. I also had a bad guy, Putnam, who was worse than Chuck and a venture capitalist who was worse yet. Chuck was easy to write because I was basing him loosing on people I knew, as was Edgar, the worst of the lot. Putnam had a physical model with a few quirks was based on a nice guy I worked with. He began as a good guy and turned bad early on. I used many co-workers for the physical model of my characters.

At work, you can really study a person, and notice all their little habits that create individuality on the page. But I digress.

How does a suburban housewife writer, retired techie, to be sure, get into the head of a Colombian drug lord?

A back-story. Early life, parents, how he got into the “trade.”
How he sees himself now, which is as a businessman, not a drug lord. He does not refer to coke and weed, he thinks of “product.”
What he worries about.
Relationships with women, including his mother.

I like complete characters, not stereotypes, and of course, most villains are horrible stereotypes, so dark that no light shines through. And the villain has to want something, too, something that clashes with the hero. I’ve set mine up on a collision course.

It’s hard work.

I read the papers, the Boston Globe, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, virtual gold mines. For example, a few weeks ago there was an article about the drug cartels paying for mini-submarines to deliver “product” to these shores, submarines that were hell to detect. Cool huh? Well, not for the DEA, but my character is ordering some, and stewing about the vendors, wanting to talk details with the designers, all good stuff.

And today, an interview with a former CEO on various topics, and the interview is now on my messy desk with a gazillion other papers, because some of the advice he offers will go (reworded, of course, because Grapeshot does not plagiarize) into my villain’s head. I picked up two real gems.

So it goes. Writers love their characters, even the baddest; especially the baddest, people only a mother or creator could love.

In the same book, I have another unsympathetic character who came right out of the checkout line a few weeks ago. I like to say go out into the world and look around. For a writer, it pays big dividends.


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