Crafting Believable Villains: 52 Questions to Ask

If you read much writing advice, you probably know that villains are supposed to be believable, well-rounded , and not necessarily evil. (And if you haven’t read that writing advice, now you know.) But how do you go about creating such a believable-yet-villainous character? Plunking a black hat on your bad guy is oh-so-much easier!

When in doubt, I like to start by asking questions—so I figured I’d share :). Don’t feel the need to answer them all; instead, ask and see which evoke answers that surprise or inspire. Happy writing!
52 Questions to Ask Your Villain

  1. Where did you grow up?
  2. Who took care of you?
  3. When you were a child, who did you love?
  4. Who acted as mentor?
  5. Who did you trust?
  6. Who betrayed your trust?
  7. Who hurt you? How?
  8. Did you seek vengeance or are you still trying to please them?
  9. Is there anyone in your life who you currently trust?
  10. Is there anyone who you currently love?
  11. Is there anyone who you currently need? How do you feel about this need?
  12. Do you have any friends? A lover?
  13. Who do you desire to protect?
  14. Who is your greatest hero?
  15. Who is your nemesis?
  16. Do you have a pet? What kind?
  17. Do you have a hobby? What do you do in your spare time for enjoyment?
  18. What do you love?
  19. What do you hate more than anything?
  20. What do you fear more than anything?
  21. What makes you angry?
  22. What are you ashamed of doing?
  23. What are you ashamed of being?
  24. Is there something in your life that irritates you daily?
  25. Is there something that you can’t forget?
  26. What do you want more than anything?
  27. What are you willing to do to get it? Hurt someone? Lie? Steal? Kill?
  28. What would you die to protect?
  29. What would you murder to gain?
  30. From whom do you hide your actions?
  31. What do you hide from yourself?
  32. What dream makes you wake in a cold sweat?
  33. What dream brings you peace?
  34. How are you admirable?
  35. Do you believe what you’re doing is right?
  36. Do you believe the world owes you?
  37. Do you believe the world is out to get you?
  38. Do you want to pay someone back for hurting you?
  39. What do you deserve?
  40. What do you need?
  41. If you can’t get what you want, will you despair?
  42. If you can’t get what you want, will you attack?
  43. When angry, do you fly into a rage? Or do you simmer in silence until the time’s ripe for vengeance?
  44. What emotional need drives you? The need for love? Respect? Success? Domination? Safety? Belonging? Self-esteem?
  45. Do you respect yourself?
  46. If your home was destroyed and you could save only one thing, what would it be?
  47. What is a ritual you engage in daily?
  48. What goals do you pursue?
  49. How are you like your nemesis/the main character?
  50. How are you different?
  51. How do you admire him?
  52. What do you despise about him? Or do you care about him at all—perhaps he’s simply in your way?

Photo courtesy of dariuszka on Flickr Creative Commons

Writing Your Character’s Thoughts: 3rd Person Limited POV

On Wednesday, I wrote about the importance of showing your characters’ thoughts in your writing—especially your main character’s thoughts—and gave examples for a first person point-of-view narrative. But what about third person narrators? How do you portray a character’s thoughts here without a constant stream of “he thought this” and “she thought that”? Here are some ideas…

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Third Person Limited: In this point of view, the narrative is written as if someone is peering over your main character’s shoulder to tell the story. (Examples below are from Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones.)

  • cityofbones Recount a memory: “An image rose in Clary’s mind. Her mother’s back, not quite covered by her bathing suit top, the blades of her shoulders and the curves of her spine dappled with narrow, white marks. It was like something she had seen in a dream…” In this case, the author specifically tells the reader that this is a thought.
  • Tell what your character thinks indirectly: “Simon’s band never actually produced any music. Mostly they sat around in Simon’s living room, fighting about potential names and band logos.” Here the author doesn’t say “Clary knew” or “Clary thought”, just dives straight into the info.
  • Tell what your character thinks directly: “She sometimes wondered if any of them could actually play an instrument.”
  • Write thoughts as pseudo-dialog: Okay, she told herself. Everything’s fine.”  Authors sometimes denote thoughts with italics, but it’s a technique best used sparingly.

I love the examples above because in every instance, Cassandra Clare uses Clary’s thoughts to accomplish multiple purposes. In the first, she paints a picture of Clary’s memory while simultaneously doling out important plot information. In the second and third, she breaks up the narrative with a bit of humor while showing Clary’s attitude toward her friend Simon. In the last, we see Clary trying to reassure herself, but in context, her thought only heightens the tension.

Which of these techniques do you use in your writing? If you have other examples, I’d love to hear them!

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Writing Your Character’s Thoughts

iStock_000016072830Large Character thoughts are a powerful tool for any fiction writer—but one that many don’t, well, think about. What can you accomplish by writing your character’s thoughts? For starters, you can:

  • Introduce problems or worries
  • Explore relationships
  • Expose insecurities
  • Show the logic that drives a decision
  • Illustrate bias
  • Develop the character’s voice

Great, you say, but how do I do those things? It depends on your chosen point of view. Here are some examples for writing in first person—I’ll have some third person limited examples for you on Friday.

First Person: This is probably the easiest point of view in which to share what your character is thinking, because the narrative is basically a running commentary of the main character’s story. You can make this point of view work for you by taking care to insert your character’s opinions, blind spots, judgments, biases, fears, loves, etc. into the writing.

There are several ways you can reveal your main character’s thoughts when writing in first person:FOL31

  • Ask a question: “I cringed. Why did bad news always have a way of leaking out?”* The author shows the Kat’s reaction both with her physical response and the question she asks silently rather than out loud.
  • Report a thought: The above could be written “I cringed, wondering why bad news always had a way of leaking out”—less direct but also effective.
  • Play out an internal argument or show a character’s inner struggle:I’ll show you some post-birth delirium. I felt like leaping over the desk and pouncing on her, sinking my three thousand dollars’ worth of orthodontia into her shoulder. Instead, I gritted my teeth and breathed in deeply through my nose. I would not let her get to me. I was not attached to this place anymore.”* Here the author italicizes the first sentence to show that the thought is directed at someone—almost spoken, but not quite. The rest of the paragraph shows Kat’s inner dialog as she talks herself back from the edge.
  • teach meShow a character figuring something out: “For the first  time I realize I have no idea what I’m going to do. This is the thing that smashes me. My whole life I have always had a plan, but now I have no plan. Only a raging need. A need for what? What can I hope for?”**
  • Reveal voice with a sarcastic—but unspoken—comeback: “Like there would be a next time…Yeah. The invitations to assist would come pouring in.”*

* Examples taken from Denise Vega’s YA novel, Fact of Life #31

** From R. A. Nelson’s YA novel, Teach Me

What about you? How do you expose character thoughts in your writing?

:) Cheryl

More Thoughts on Voice

Thanks for such a great discussion last week on voice, what it means, and how to find it! Blogging friend Charissa Weaks was inspired to write more on the topic on her blog in the post “The Difference Between Voice, Style and Tone.”

Here’s a taste:

THIS IS A BROAD TOPIC WITH EVEN BROADER OPINIONS AND I’M ADDING ANOTHER TO THE HEAP.

Why is this such a vague area?  Well…because there is no specific definition for it, so everyone defines it in their own way – which is exactly what I’m about to do!

After Googling around I came across several articles about voice and style and tone.  Some people see the trio as separate entities and others see style and tone as a part of voice.

Maybe they are the same thing…I don’t know…but in my eyes they are not.

Visit her blog and join in the discussion!

:) Cheryl

*Photo courtesy of UggBoy*UggGirl on Flickr Creative Commons