The Orchid

The Orchid

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Creating an Enemy

An important part of novel writing is creating a realistic and believable enemy. In The Orchid, my editor praised the character of Clarence, who turned from a friend of Ava's into a man intent on destroying her. Cardboard cut-out villains are very easy to write, motivated by either money or just pure malice, they hide as a shadowed, malevolent presence on the side lines of the novel, appearing when necessary to make the heroine's life impossible. To create a memorable enemy however, you need to look a bit deeper.

Fiction is filled with famous villains: Dracula, Moriarty, Voldemort, and a personal choice, Heathcliffe. These men are not just evil however, but also deeply troubled. Dracula is shown at the end of the book as a man who was unable to stop the cruel manner he behaved in because he was a vampire. Heathcliffe was driven by a hard childhood and his love for Cathy to act as a monster to those around him. Given different life, these men could have been very different characters. 

This is where the power of a good villain comes across. They are dangerous, often violent people, but they need a reason, a motivation, to act as they do. What drives your villain? What does he want and why? 

Disorders like Narcissist and Psychopathic personalities are mental health issues. It's easy to label your character a 'psychopath,' without showing the true elements, or respect for those suffering these disorders. The person afflicted can't help the way they are, which brings in a element of pity, yet their behaviour can be very destructive to those around them. Their actions can be very secretive and subtle, so fit well in a psychological thriller or novel about verbal abusive/coercive control. The brilliant movie 'gas-lighting,' shows the lying and manipulative ways of a psychopath very well. They act as they do because they lack empathy and compassion for other people, but that doesn't automatically make them sadistic. 


The 'Day of the Jackal,' is a novel about a remorseless killer, but there is one paragraph in the book where he is described with his face pressed against a shop window, staring at the display within. It was only a few lines in the book however it was enough to remind the reader that the man was human. A light touch is often all that is needed. 

4 comments:

  1. This is a dilemma I'm currently dealing with myself as i don't feel my villain is realistic. I'm delving deeper by writing his own backstory which will never see the light of day in the finished book, but might just help me add depth to him, and more importantly identify his motivation.
    Thank you for sharing.

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    1. I find mine often develop more in draft 2 or 3, when the plot is in place and you know more about what your character will do. Good luck!

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  2. I like writing baddies. I agree they can't just be bad with no reasons and no redeeming features though.

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    1. I think you can have more fun with a baddie! I like adding the human elements to them so people dislike them, but understand them. I've got an out-spoken eldery woman in a book I'm working on and she's been great to write.

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