Since we are looking into the construction of characters, it is only right to dive into those characters who are not fundamentally good–the villains. As Reissenwebber points out: “Literature is filled with great villains. Part of what makes them so compelling is the bit of ourselves we can see in them.”
Is that the truth or is that the truth?!?!
Think about it. When a character isn’t being bad, he’s doing the things you and I do. Right? He/she is watching TV, eating dinner or grocery shopping for the week. Just because a character may be a villain doesn’t mean they need to be evil every second. Maybe they are even helping their neighbor with a lofty weekend project? Like us, real-life breathing humans, characters should be dimensional.
Your Turn: Recall the worst person you’ve ever met. A psychotic boss, a back-stabbing friend, a playground bully. Or make someone up. Next, assign one redeeming quality to this character–kindness, courtesy, sympathy, a fondness for animals. Then write a passage with this person in action. Perhaps you show a sadistic ex-spouse helping a homeless person find shelter, or a bank robber arranging a baby sitter on behalf of a woman he’s just tied up. The result? A fully dimensional villain.
She stepped out of the shower and wrapped a bath towel around her. She grabbed a smaller towel for her head. She flipped her head upside down and looked at the dirty blonde hair that had fallen in front of her eyes. It was getting longer than she usually wore it. Though she loved the way the longer hair fell around her face and sometimes in front of her eyes, she wasn’t about to compromise her work for a moment of feeling sexy. Longer hairs, at least in her mind, were easier to spot. She had to remember to get it cut soon.
She twirled the towel around her forehead and balanced it on top of her head. She grabbed the gallon of bleach from beneath the bathroom sink. She quickly splashed the bleach around the walls of the shower and let it pool in the bottom of the tub.
“I’ll have to come back and do a more thorough job, but for now, it’ll work.” She thought to herself.
The woman walked down the hall to her bedroom. She quickly dressed in a clean flowing long skirt and a plain white tank top. Within 10 minutes she had blow-dried her hair, dressed and put on a quick layer of make up. It was her same routine now for over 15 years.
Walking out her front door, the woman took a deep breath of the summer air. She was hit with the scents of fresh-cut grass and the flowers that grew in her front yard, it was sweet and made her feel grateful to be alive. A sense of exhilaration swept over her. Though the fresh air did not feel as empowering as the metallic scent she smelled just 20 minutes before, she felt so electric.
But that is how she always felt after taking another’s life away. Alive. Exhilarated. Electric.
Walking down the street, she peered at her reflection in a neighbor’s massive bay window. She was tall and thin, but extremely strong. She looked great. She looked powerful. She looked confident. She wore a smile as she waved to Mr. Perry who was watering his flower beds across the street.
“Mr. Perry!” She yelled across the street, waving.
“How are you? Water tank holding up?” He asked. A week ago she was having difficulty with her hot water and had asked him to come take a look at it. Mr. Perry was always working on his house. He was known in the neighborhood as the handiest man around. He was miraculously able to get it to function for a few days longer, but urged her to begin looking for a new one.
“Oh, well, I took your advice. Put an order in yesterday for a new one. Thanks again for all your help, Mr. Perry. I don’t know what I would have done without you.” She replied with a gracious smile and she kept walking. She waved once again saying goodbye for now.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Hopefully, this one will last longer and don’t mention it, dear. Anytime, you just give me a call.” He smiled his sweet smile and waved goodbye. In fact, she didn’t mind having to replace the hot water tank at all. Hot water tanks hid bodies well if even for a few hours.
She walked until she was in town. She stopped at the Centre Cafe where she bought herself a bowl of oatmeal with a dab of molasses and a small chai tea. She chatted with the ladies from the neighborhood for about an hour. She didn’t particulary find their company entertaining. In fact, she didn’t really like the majority of them at all–Housewives discussing new recipies and kid issues weren’t really her cup of tea. She made up her mind to head over to Memoirs Antiques with her neighbor and the only woman she really cared for, Polly, who had hung out in the cafe all morning. They strolled over to the shop to look at all the old items that held, what the woman liked to think of as mysterious memories.
“I love to look at all these vintage pieces and think about the stories they tell. Just think about the people who once loved this little wooden doll. Some little girl probably had the fondest memories about this little baby.” The woman said to her friend.
“Oh, I know. Isn’t it just nice to fantasize. Sometimes I creates elaborate stories of what might have been.” Polly said as she turned over a tiny plate in her hand. “Like look at this! Apparently, this china goes back to the Civil War. Imagine the owner of a giant plantation eating breakfast off of this as they hear gunshots in the distance.” Polly said with wonder.
She smiled at Polly with sincere affection walking over to take a better look at the china from the Civil War.
The women continued to look through the store building elaborate stories for the antique treasures for another 40 minutes before leaving. The woman said goodbye to her friend, lying that she had a hair appointment to make. With a quick kiss and a hug, she promised to call tomorrow morning to set up a brunch date.
Though not sure what her next step was, she decided a hair appointment was a good enough lie and it gave her something to do. The woman headed over to the salon to see if they could fit her in. It never took long to cut her hair since it was already pretty short to begin with. On her walk over, she stopped for a second to look at herself in a store front window. Did she need a wash? She had just washed it a couple of hours ago. But she might as well. It would give her more of an opportunity to be seen and remembered. She looked at herself for another second thinking she was glowing with a radiance no one could understand. It was as if the sun was only shining on her. She felt electric once again.
After her wash and cut, she walked the two blocks to the market to pick up some dinner and a few items for tomorrow. She decided she would have Polly over to her house for brunch tomorrow. That would be nice. To cook for a close friend and catch up on all the neighborhood gossip she had absolutely no interest in.
So there is my piece…I tried to make it a bit more subtle than the prompt suggested. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It’s just a passage so there isn’t any plot–conflict, problem, climax, resolution all that good junk. The woman is a narcissist and a murderer, but yet friendly. I’m still developing her, but I want her to be a murderer (not good), but her victims themselves are not going to be fundamentally good. Does that make her relatable? We shall see.
Create a villain with me!
What sort of average human traits would you make your character have?
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This post is part of my creative writing experiment that will get me writing more often and more creatively. All excerpts and “Your Turn” prompts are from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide From New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School. As I write my way through this book, I welcome all constructive criticism, suggestions, advice and comments.