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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Motivating Our Villains

German poet and playwright Fredrich Hebbel once said, "In a good play, everyone is in the right." That is also my favorite way to write conflict, the sort of plot where good people have conflicting goals. Although everyone may indeed be "in the right," they can't all get what they want.

One of the best examples comes in the love triangle. Let's say it's a woman in love with two men. They are both good guys and genuinely care about her. She is a good woman who genuinely cares about both of them, yet you know from the outset that this story is going to end badly for someone. Debbie Macomber is good at this kind of plot. Although the essence of the conflict in the story may well be person-vs-person, everyone is a good guy, or as Hebbel put it, "everyone is in the right.

Yet sometimes people aren't in the right. Sometimes, as in the case of the movie villains we examined yesterday, there is a superbly evil person who is, unquestionably, in the wrong -- the VERY wrong.

So what did you notice about the villains in yesterday's list? What, besides their villainy, do they all have in common? I'm sure we could come up with a list, but the one thing that stood out to me is absolutely selfishness. Without a care as to how their own goals or plans affect anyone else, each of these villains seeks his or her own self-interest first, last, and always.

I currently have a story in the works that will have a bad guy -- a very, very bad guy. I'd share more about this villain except the story is a mystery and if I tell you now, there will be no reason for you to read it when the book is finished.

Instead let me share something about how I'm writing the villain. At a writers' conference I attended years ago, the inimitable Tami Hoag offered a workshop called "Psychopaths are People Too." The concept is simple and true: every person's motivation seems rational and justified to him or her.

I'm finding it spooky, but oddly satisfying, to think through the motivations of my fictional villain. I'm writing a bad, bad person and enjoying it immensely.

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