Tuesday, August 23, 2011
One of my favorite books is Say Goodbye by Lisa Gardner. *shudder* It had to be one of the freakiest books I’ve ever picked up—and devoured. Now anyone who has talked to me for at least ten minutes discovers that I hate spiders with a passion usually reserved for hot dreams starring Vin Diesel. When we were younger, my sister and I stapled the spider section in the Encyclopedia Britannica together so we wouldn’t flip to it by mistake. When we moved into our house ten years ago, I spied this huge spider—yes, it was huge!—in the basement. And I haven’t been down there in, let’s see…one, two three…yeah, ten years. Yup, it’s that deep.
I reveal all this seemingly random information for a purpose. It just so happens that Say Goodbye is about a serial killer who does women in with spiders. Even now, I don’t know how I made it through that book with her detailed descriptions of Brown Recluses (did I spell that right? I don’t know, but I’m not Google-ing it to find out!), Black Widows and every kind of tarantula possible! But what kept me reading like strawberry cake awaited me on the next page was the villain. Freaky. Creepy. Scary. Disturbed. Did I mention FREAKY??
Even now, months later, he still haunts me. Now that is the earmark of a damn good villain! As writers, it’s so easy to make our antagonists bad because…well, just because they’re villains and they’re supposed to be bad. *raising my hand and waving madly* I’ve so done that in my writing life time. But I’ve discovered that the most interesting, compelling and memorable villains are three dimensional. They have layers. Lisa Gardner’s villain contained all that and then some!
An antagonist should have a history just like the hero and heroine. I need to know what makes him tick. What is his motivation? Even if it is completely irrational, I want to get into his head and be a visitor in his crazy mind. I mean, if he kills women who wear Betty Boop t-shirts because she was his wife in a former life and she left him for another man, I want to read how he rationalizes that! Also, he needs to be scary intelligent. I mean, really, if Barney Fife could nab him with that one bullet in his pocket…I ain’t buying it! In order to be pitted against the hero and heroine he definitely cannot be too stupid to live!
And, oddly, I need to be invested in him as much as I am in the main characters. He should have a stake in the story, and I want to care about whether he reaches his goal or not. Lisa Gardner created a character that was so evil, so devoid of human empathy and emotion, it terrifies me that someone like him may actually exist out there. Yet his past, the pain and horrible abuse he endured caused me to actually feel for him—even though I wanted him to die. How conflicted is that? And I still think about him…I still ache for him, a fictional character, even as I feel just a bit safer that he’s dead. Have I been drawn in to that story, or what?
That’s what I desire as a writer. To create a villain so terrifying, so evil…so heartbreaking…that weeks later he or she will continue to haunt readers. You think it’s too early to ask Santa for an X-mas gift in my stocking…or my next book? *snicker*