I used to think that writing my hero was easier than writing my villain. That was until my critique partner Rachel got her wonderful hands on my first drafts and left comments that my villain was coming across as a mustache-twirling bad buy, who with maniacal laughter was tying the heroine to the railway tracks.
And my heroes were just too perfect. Something suited for a pedestal.
Boring!!!!! Not realistic.
But we don’t want realism in fiction…do we?
Yes, yes, yes, oh yes,
Your fiction—no matter how out of this world the plot may soar, no matter how much it leaps out of ordinary life, even if you’re writing super hero comic books—your heroes and villains must have their feet firmly planted in reality.
Your readers must relate to your HERO even if he is Superman.
Superman in his Clarke Kent role showed his vulnerability. This hero wanted what all the rest of us want:
- · Acceptance
- · Friendship
- · a place in this world
- · …love.
And your readers must also be able to relate to your VILLAIN.
Think about Darth Vadar when he slips away from the bridge of his Destroyer Ship to his private quarters and removes his helmet. Beneath his mask we find a broken man who—just like our hero—is also seeking his place in the world.
- · But our villain’s desire for acceptance has been twisted to a desire to control others.
- · His need for friendship has been warped to a desire to dominate.
- · His need for love has been poisoned to—not hate—but something more frightening, a cold lack of empathy.
You’ve heard the old phrase—“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
This phrase was coined by mid-sixteenth-century English Reformer John Bradford in reference to a group of prisoners being led to execution. I too firmly believe that left to our own devices we humans are all capable of totally destroying our lives and worlds.
Therefore, I don’t have to look far to find my villains. I take out those sad memories of when I have “blown it” and push that offense to its farthest extreme to create my villains.
I also don’t have to look far to find my heroes. By using those values in me that the Lord has developed I push that to its farthest to create heroes I can only aspire to become.
In the following examples I show you where I used myself to create a few of my heroes and villains.
MY HEROES AND THEIR FLAWS
Major Geoff Richards in Shadowed in Silk would have been a complete bore had I allowed him to be perfect. He needed a flaw—something in his soul that the Lord was in the midst of working on. Geoff represents what many of us Christians become after a number of years of faithfully following our Savior’s example.
I had learned to be good. I went to church faithfully, knew my Bible well, but because of that I’d become somewhat judgemental of others who continued to have difficulty in obeying the Lord.
I love Geoff’s character arc in Shadowed in Silk. As the author, Geoff’s growth was as important to me as that of the more “seemingly” flawed Abby. I hope that as readers finish the story they will realize that Geoff’s slightly puffed up pride as a Godly man was the thing in his soul that offended the Lord. In God’s eyes, Geoff’s difficulty in accepting Abby’s flaws was distasteful to God.
On the other hand, Eshana in the entire Raj Trilogy is the most saintly character I’ve ever written. She has suffered so much as a Christian in India that her spiritual journey is much further along and one I can only aspire to. But…Eshana had a flaw too. And one I pulled out of my own life.
Eshana loved the work that the Lord gave her. She didn’t realize until God took that work away how much she loved her labor, and discovered that in a small way she had made that work an idol before the one true God.
Eshana’s cousin in Captured by Moonlight is an ordinary woman, but through lack of understanding, lack of a larger world view, inflicts physical pain on Eshana who she is one of her jailers. All this simple woman knows is that Eshana’s words and actions are shaking her world and this frightens her and creates a villain of her.
Charles in Sofi’s Bridge was a nice ordinary man many years before the novel begins. In fact, Charles used to be Sofi’s father’s best friend and business partner. But life hasn’t gone as well for Charles as it had for Sofi’s father. It is ordinary life disappointments that create this villain who steps out of his life and considers doing the reprehensible. In fact Charles does exactly what John Bradford said, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
One of my favorite villain excerpts is from Sofi’s Bridge:
The end of the bridge felt too far away. Nothing but air beneath the gaps in the ties. Nothing to guard Sofi from the emptiness over the river. But why should she fear Charles? It was only Charles. Only Charles who had allowed men to drop, perhaps to their deaths. Charles who’d altered her bridge so that it was unsafe. Charles who refused to let her look at the books. And he knew she knew. But he wasn’t a criminal. He was her parents’ colleague. All the same, she tried to pull her arm from his hold.
“What are you up, my girl?”
She forced a light tone. “This is a ridiculous place for a conversation.”
“Also a ridiculous place for a young lady to come at night.”
In the dark she couldn’t make out his expression. But felt his fingers constrict above her elbow. Her pulse hammered in her ears.
Odin’s bark shattered the air.
Charles jolted, but kept his hold on her.
The dog stood at the edge of the decking. His gangly shape, hardly visible in the dark, pawed the ground before the first gap in the ties. Men around the campfires came running, their voices stabbing the night air.
Charles laughed, but she heard the nervousness beneath it. “Your dog frightened me out of my skin, Sofi. We could have fallen.” He called out that all was well, and walked her to the abutment. Flickering light from cooking fires lit the hard line of his mouth.
Her pulse started to slow, but Odin crouched, baring his teeth at Charles.
“Call your dog off. The stupid animal thinks I mean you harm.”
She grasped Odin by the collar, but after snuffling his nose into her skirt, he growled again at Charles.
With her feet on solid ground and men not far away, she wrenched her arm from Charles’s grip. “I want you to cancel the inaugural run. The structure isn’t strong enough. A few more months—”
“My dear girl the bridge is complete. If you want your precious accident compensations paid, then the opening must occur. We all need this.”
“We do not need a bridge that isn’t safe. This steel is not the thickness I—and my father—specified when we designed it. This bridge needs to be strengthened, and I’m going to see that gets done.”
“My dear Sofi, you’re acting like a spoiled child.” Charles’s normally jovial tone returned, and she doubted he’d meant her any harm on the bridge. She’d been a fool to imagine that.
She swung to face him. “This bridge is my design.”
“Oh come now. You’re letting your father’s overindulgence make you think more of your artistic aptitudes than you ought.”
They walked past the workers’ sleeping cars and stood in the light from the switching yard. Odin’s hackles were still raised.
She grabbed hold of Charles’s sleeve. “Think what you like, Charles. I’m going to stop you.”
His wide-eyed glare reflected his cowardice. He was all bluff and bluster like Trina had said. No true power.
“What’s making you do such outrageous things, Sofi? First you run away, taking your sister with you instead of leaving her to medical professionals. Now you’re telling me how to run the business. Is the grief over losing your father driving you to do the unthinkable?”
What a strange thing to say. He may be a meddling fool . . . but fools could be dangerous. “Is that the case with you, Charles? What anxiety in your life made you act the traitor to my father? You are not the man you used to be.”