Monday, November 7, 2011

Welcome to the place where the past meets the present! This is a new weekly feature (most Mondays) where I'll be comparing classics with Christian fiction, sharing some writing advice from the classics, and/or sharing interesting historical facts that could be catalysts for new story ideas. I'm allowing myself some creative license here. ;)

Today we're talking about the villain.

What's the classic we're discussing? None other than Shakespeare's Othello!

Now, I'm sure most of you writers out there aren't working on tragedies. We're very much a happily-ever-after bunch, I'm thinking - or at least a satisfying, warm-feeling conclusion. Not so keen on the everyone-dies-and-no-one-is-happy ending.

So what does Othello have to offer us aspiring and/or published authors?

Well, while this isn't true of all books, sometimes the villains just aren't complex. They're evil, sure. But sometimes the villains we create are lacking a certain depth. Cue Iago.

Iago is a dastardly villain if ever there was one. So if you're looking for some ways to make your villain more...well...villain-y, look no farther than Iago! He's definitely "bad to the bone." Let's take a look at what makes him so terrible (in a good, villain-y way):
  • He's intelligent. Let's face it. We've all read those books with the incompetent villains who are just asking to die. Seriously. Iago is not that guy! In fact, Iago's got all the other characters in the palm of his hand - playing them off of each other, getting into their minds, deceiving them completely, all while still maintaining an innocent facade. Unless we're writing tragedies, we don't necessarily want the bad guy to win...but we do want him (or her) to be a real challenge to the hero/heroine, right? We don't want no cardboard cutouts! (Excuse the double negative...)
  • He's intriguing. Iago has his reasons for seeking to bring everyone down around him. Of course, some of those reasons can be debated since we aren't given all the specifics. However, he's a motivated man. And he has a wife, which certainly adds some interesting dynamics! So, when we're creating our villains, we should keep in mind that they have a past, family and/or friends, and a depth to them that leads to their thirst for revenge, etc.
  • He's indisputably evil. My first draft of my first manuscript is missing a villain. (My second WIP has one right now, but that's beside the point right now...) A close relation of mine suggested to me that perhaps a villain is in order. While I don't think all books need a villain - sometimes the villain isn't a specific person - I think they can add a lot to a story. It's the classic good vs. evil theme, where readers are cheering on the good guys. In Othello, we still cheer on the good guys, despite the fact that it's a tragedy, and that means there isn't a happy ending... (Although happy endings are not required for meaningful stories!) But I digress... The point is that while we want our villains to be three-dimensional and authentic, my close relation reminded me that having an obviously "evil" figure really involves the reader. When you read Othello, you really, really want Iago to get his comeuppance and to leave all those other poor characters alone!!
So let's connect the past to the present! Do you have a villain in your current work-in-progress? Is there anything you can learn from Iago (or other notable classic villains) that might help you create a more believable, dastardly villain?


  1. Oooohhhhh - great idea, Amber! Your imagination knows no bounds!!! Pertinent for me as well because my WIP does have a villain and I've just decided that he's a bit wooden...has as much personality as, well, a block of wood, only not as interesting. LOL.
    He's definitely needed because he makes things happen and moves the plot along but that's all he is doing right now. I need to give him some depth and this idea of pulling from past classics like Shakespearean villains is fantastic! I know what I'll be working on this week! Thank you!

  2. Kav,

    *Blush* Thank you so much! :) To give credit to where credit is due, though, Elizabeth was the one who gave us a list of some of her ideas for the new blog features. One of those ideas was "Think Back" where there would be a focus on the classics. I just renamed the feature idea and ran with it. :)

    And I'm so happy to hear that this post is pertinent to where you are in your writing journey right now! Glad I could help give you a springboard for this week's writing. :) I, too, have a lot to think about when it comes to my villain(s)... Easy to give advice, a bit harder to incorporate it in my own writing! ;)

    Hope you enjoy this new feature, and happy writing!


  3. This is such a timely post, Amber, because having just received my first round of edits, I facing this exact problem. We put SO much thought into making our hero and heroine three dimensional, but our villains tend to be predictable (at least, mine are). So I had to go back to the drawing board and make my villain at least partially sympathetic--give them a REASON for being villainous, so to speak. Now that the work is done, I have to admit, my villain is MUCH more interesting.

    And as for Iago...well, SMART villains are so much scarier, right?? Think of Hannibal Lector!

  4. Lisa,

    I'm glad this is timely for you, as well! :) I'm curious to hear more about this more sympathetic villain... Which book are you editing right now?? If you can't tell me yet, I'll try to be patient... ;)

    And yes, smart villains are tons more scary!! Moriarty also comes to mind... *shudder*


  5. It's book one in my Edge of Freedom series for Bethany House that I'm editing--No Safe Harbor. In it, the villain (one of them) is actually a woman who lost her husband and is seeking revenge at all cost. I had to go back in to the manuscript and give her real emotions which inspired compassion, even though she's trying to kill off my heroine. LOL!

    Another villain, I won't say who because he figures prominently in book two, needed more of a motive for his actions. He is definitely the "mastermind" type, so I had to beef up his stakes in order to make all of his scheming seem realistic.

    Fun stuff!!

  6. Lisa,

    Ooh, I'm excited to learn more about these villains! And again, it's so awesome that you have a new series with Bethany House! :D

    Definitely fun stuff!



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