Thursday, September 20, 2007

From the villian's POV

As I mentioned in my previous post, an interesting question was raised on whether or not it is a good idea, or plot device, to tell a portion of a story (namely the opening) from the villain's POV?

Now, I think villains are fascinating creatures. I love to know what makes them tick, what happened to twist their thinking to make them evil, but at the same time keeps them from becoming a cartoon villain. No one is all good or all bad, and villains are no exception, and that's what makes them so interesting.

However, this only extends to creating a villain. These are the things that I, as a writer, need to know as I create a bad guy. I need to know what shaped him and why, how, when, where - you know, the basic five w's. It's important to me as the writer that I know this in order to avoid the "cartoon bad guy syndrome."

Once I know this, that's it. I don't want to view things from the villain's point of view. Not as a reader. I would rather his motivations unfold throughout the story - layer by layer. See the results, rather than know everything going on in his head. I want to see how he came to be the person he is in the book, rather than have it all explained to me.

Of course, with the right words, a writer can do this from the villain's POV. It can be very successful, when done the right way. The trouble is, if I, as a reader, already know why the bad guy is the way he is, there's no real reason for me to continue reading the book. But, keep me guessing, and I'll keep reading.

To be honest, I haven't read the manuscript in question from the previous post. I only have the editor's rejection to go by. I don't know if that author could pull it off or not. Based on the rejection, I'd have to say no, the author couldn't do it. But that's only one assessment. I'd have to see for myself. It's purely subjective - what works for one reader might not for another.

As a rule, I keep my own writing in the hero or heroine's POV and how they react to what the villain does. Through my own stories, I try to drop hints here and there, but it all depends on whether or not the characters let me drop them. Sometimes, it just doesn't come out until later in the book. By then, hopefully, the reader cares enough about all of the characters to think, "Oh, so that's why... I never saw it coming." Or something along those lines.

So as a writer, it's essential that I understand the bad guy's motivations as thoroughly as I do the hero and heroine's. That's the only way to create a believable villain. As a reader, though, I don't want to be told flat out in the first chapter. Takes a lot of the fun out of it.

What about you? Do you want to see through the villain's eyes, or have it all unfold from the other side?

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