Thursday, January 28, 2010

Choosing A Villain

The latest book by cyber-friend, medical colleague, and fellow author of medical suspense Michael Palmer will be released in about two weeks. The Last Surgeon opens with a scene that introduces us to a thoroughly unlikable villain. There's no doubt in this story who the bad guy is. The major question is who is behind the killings he carries out and why. Members of Brandilyn Collins' "big honkin' chickens club" may want to sleep with the light on after reading it.

I was thinking about this today as I began writing the last third of my latest novel. Unlike a magician, who never reveals his secrets, I'm about to let you in on one of mine. When I begin a book, I know how it's going to start, the arc of the story, and how it will end. What I don't know is who the villain is going to be. Sound crazy? But it works. Throughout the book, I choose characters who may end up being the bad guy/gal, but often I'm at the end before I make that final decision. I plant appropriate clues along the way, some of them meaningful, others a "red herring." And if I don't know the identity of the villain or the exact reason for his/her actions, the reader is unlikely to understand until I do.

What brought this to mind? I had to make a decision about the motivation of a certain character. And I actually found myself thinking, "But if that were true, it might ruin his life." The characters had become so real to me--as they do to many authors--that I was trying to protect this one's reputation. How's that for realism in writing?

Anyway, I need to get back to bringing this novel to a close. Hmmmm. Who could have done that? And why? Guess you'll have to wait until September of 2011 to find out. But don't worry, there are two other books coming first, and I guarantee you won't know who the bad guy/gal is in them, either. After all, I didn't...until the end.


Timothy Fish said...

I remember seeing a DVD where the writers of a television show were talking about how they would change villians if one began to seem to obvious. As much as I want to say that was Murder She Wrote, I remember them saying that they wanted to show enough clues to allow the viewers to figure it out sometimes. In any case, I thought it was a nice approach, since the writer who knows who the killer is will tend to treat him differently and potentially give away the answer too soon.

Carol J. Garvin said...

Very cool! There's a lot I don't know about my plots as I write but I need to have all the basics under control before I start. I can't imagine not knowing "who dunnit", but it's a fascinating technique. :)