In My Soul to Keep, there is a character who is a murderous psychopath. She’s been purposely programmed to be that kind of person. So how do you go about creating a story villain who’s truly evil but has some redeeming qualities? If she loves a rag doll, is she still evil?
Fortunately I had a mentor who knew how. How did he know? First, he’s smart. Second, he’s studied successful fiction and movies for a long time. What did he say to me that gave me a clue? He reminded me that a great story villain isn’t all villain all the time.. He also reminded me to look at the villains in books I’ve loved. For example, in Dean Koontz’s The Watchers there is a creature who had been created to be a destroyer, a murderer. He’s loathsome in appearance in and in deed. However, there’s a scene where the investigator-character discovers the monster’s lair. In the lair, the monstrous villain has treasured objects that include a collection of Disney branded toys and movies. It made this reader’s heart soften a touch toward the monster. And it made the monster more real, less one dimensional.
WHAT I DID
I took that lesson to heart when I developed the psychopathic villain for My Soul to Keep. Rather than refer directly to Disney characters or movies, I used a character name from J. M. Barrie and twisted it so it was an oblique reference. If you’ve read my novel, can you figure out which character name I used and how?
But I didn’t stop there. I wanted something that would throw back to her childhood that hinted at the idea that she once had the potential to be a kind and caring person. When I’m stuck for ideas like this, I do an image search on Google and Pinterest. And this is what I found.
Read this post about that rag doll. It struck me that in the alternate world of My Soul to Keep, this would be the type of doll created for this character by her mother. And while there is a strong link between the doll and the character, the assassin is never seen with the doll. This was also done on purpose. Often the strongest emotional resonance is when we see something about a character through another character. Thus Beryl thinks about her daughter and we learn about Azrael.
IF IT’S GOOD FOR ONE
For each of my characters, even the walk-ons, I created at least one detail that demonstrated the character’s past history or personality. One character lives in a shabby cabin but reads Shakespeare. Another character has a tight perm that made her bangs wobble and bounce.
In My Soul to Keep, the rag doll gives the villain a past readers can relate to, but it doesn’t change her. So in answer to my question, if she loves a rag doll, is she still evil? The answer is yes. In which books that you’ve read have the villains had a touch of humanity or love or charity that made them more dimensional?
I loved this about the story. That doll made a big difference in understanding the character. It felt a lot more real and believable because of this type of detail.
Thanks, Lisa. I’m glad it made such a difference in your reading of the story.