William Kendall: Writing The Villain

A few days ago Maria was writing in her blog about the villain. If we don’t find a way to give them at least a measure of humanity, they lack depth, becoming little more then a Snidely Whiplash.Right about now, somewhere beyond the Fourth Wall, Snidely Whiplash is offended at the suggestion that he lacks depth. Well, that’s what you get for tying heroines to train tracks, Snidely.

The villains in my field of writing, intelligence thrillers, are by large terrorists. Heaven & Hell features the Covenant group, among others. I’ve made use of groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, in terms of direct or indirect appearances in the book already. Regardless, I knew early on that the terrorists in question would have to be a fictional group. With good reason. Let’s just say that the Very Bad Thing that I’ve alluded to would never be attempted by these real groups.

Regardless of what they’re doing, I’ve still gone out of my way to humanize the Covenant. The group is small enough that each member can get enough of a spotlight. Each of them has history, motivation, and personality. And I’ve come to like writing them. They’re something different then what we think of when we use that word, terrorist. I find myself wondering if I’ll feel the same sort of sympathy about these people when I’m done writing the Very Bad Thing portion of the book as I do now. It’s really the point of no return, and will I still be able to like writing them after that? Time will tell.

Terrorism will rear its head again in future books. I’ve already placed some elements of it in this book, with brief appearances by former IRA men and Protestant Irish terrorists who will appear again down the line. I’ve alluded to a terrorist group, the Sword of the Faith, who will appear in my second book. They’ll be a bit more of a challenge, I think, giving them a hint of humanity.

The challenge is to not give these characters too much sympathy. They are, after all, terrorists. In the world we live in, this is the sort of person who sets off bombs in markets and pubs, or uses suicide bombers to make their point. The villain, as far as my future work is concerned, has to have at least some kind of understandable motivation, something that drives him (or her) down that wrong path.

No, not politics, but thanks for thinking that way. I know, I’m a bad influence.

This entry was posted in Advice, Writing by Norma Beishir. Bookmark the permalink.

About Norma Beishir

Author of sixteen novels (so far). Two new works are upcoming, as well as the reissue of my backlist as e-books. Writing under three names: Norma Beishir, Scarlett Martin and Toni Collins. Compulsive blogger with six active blogs at Blogger in addition to my page here.

7 thoughts on “William Kendall: Writing The Villain

  1. This is one of my favorite posts about writing. I love to create villains. And it’s so important to create a complex character-not the typical “mwuahaha” villain who wears all-black and leers around.

  2. That was excellent, William!
    Every bad guy has issues…mine, in “Remember The Eyes” and in “Nothing Without You”, was so obsessed with the male character and with his love interest, that she took it upon herself to try to kill them. But, she also had a mental illness (of course, I think ALL “bad guys” subscribe to some sort of mental illness)…her illness is evident in her character. But, writing a “bad guy” character with dimension is what’s needed to make the story interesting. If the bad guy is lame, then so will your story be.

  3. Something I’ve read more than once in relation to creating bad guys in fiction had a great effect on me:
    “Villains don’t ever think of themselves as the villains.”
    For those writing two dimensional bad guys, this concept is game changing.

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