Creating a Good Villain (Guest post by Katherine McDermott)
Creating a Good Villain, and the Perfect Oubliette
by Katherine McDermott
June 15, 2016In creating romantic suspense the “bad guy” is just as important, if not more important, than the hero and heroine. He must be a “real” person with legitimate motives and his own back story; otherwise, you end up writing a melodrama with stock characters like Dudley Do-right and Snidely Whiplash.
In my suspense romance Hiding, I gave a lot of thought to my stalker, Alex Sinclair. When Alex was a child, his father deserted his mother, and Alex has pent up anger over the abandonment. His fascination with knives is symbolic of his father’s action in cutting off his family. Alex is insecure and easily becomes jealous. He hates to look foolish in front of other males.
At first, he is a strong shoulder to lean on, an excellent financial advisor and friend to the heroine, Teresa, who has lost her father after a long struggle with cancer. Her mother dies when she was small, and her father’s medical bills have left her almost destitute. Fortunately, she has a college education and rare artistic talent. Alex goes out of his way to help her, even lending her money, but he finds her desire to establish independence threatening. When he strikes her in anger, she flees to Paris with the last of her savings, hoping to leave his over possessiveness behind. But eventually, he tracts her down.
Next, I needed the perfect setting for the climax of the novel. After reading a fascinating article on the labyrinth of tunnels under Paris that include a sewer and water system, French resistance outposts from WWII, and the ancient and eerie catacombs, I knew I had the perfect oubliette. The French word oubliette means “forgotten place.” An on-line tour of the catacombs gave me a realistic vision of the underground bone yard. When Alex abducts Teresa and takes her there, she realizes with growing horror, there is no better place to kill someone. What notice will be taken of one more set of bones among the many?
A “good villain”? Oxymoron? No. In creating a believable monster who genuinely thinks he has been wronged, an author cranks up the suspense. Breath bated, the reader forges ahead as this legitimately off-balanced person commits acts of increasing atrocity. Like the narrator in Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart,” who keep insisting that he is perfectly sane, the reader sees and fears the villain’s psychosis.
Raised in historic Charleston, SC, Katherine McDermott, writes fiction, non-fiction, and self-illustrated children’s books. She has a B.A. in English from the College of Charleston and a Masters in Clinical Counseling from The Citadel. Having worked as both an English teacher and a counselor, she currently teaches freshmen English and creative writing at Trident Technical College.
“When I look my degrees,” she said, “I see that I’ve been fascinated by what motivates fictional characters and real people.” Her first romance novel, Hiding, won a Daphne du Maurier Award for suspense and special recognition by the SOLA RWA branch.
Katherine likes strong heroines and ambitious, perceptive heroes. She was inspired to write the novel Hiding after a trip to Paris. In her spare time, she like the protagonists, Teresa, is an artist using acrylics to paint beachscapes, southern marshlands, and wall murals. She lives with her husband in Charleston where she has two grown sons and two grandchildren.
“You can’t grow up and live in Charleston without cultivating an appreciation for history which is all around you in the colonial style homes and cobblestone streets of the old city,” she said. With that in mind, the next romance she is currently writing is historical fiction, set in the time period immediately following the Civil War. It’s entitled Abbey’s Tale and is expected to be available next year.
Teresa Worthington escapes her abusive boyfriend, Alex, and flees to Paris to pursue a dream career in art. Alone and wary of men, she gradually makes friends and explores her new home. She is distraught to learn that Alex is still stalking her, but is determined to create the life she has always wanted.
Handsome, compassionate, and brave, Serge Gervais, a young Frenchman, slowly wins her trust. He shows her the sight of France and promises to protect her from Alex. Teresa finds herself falling in love for the first time until the unspeakable happens. Alex tracks her down and forces her into the catacombs beneath the city. Will Serge find Teresa in time to prevent Alex’s vengeance?
Ales illuminated the crypt with his light, and Teresa tried to interpret what she saw: uneven walls, a doorway surrounded by orbs, a floor littered with dried reeds. No, they weren’t reeds; they were bones. And the orbs were skulls! The catacombs! Her heart pounded in her chest like a jackhammer. Alex had withdrawn his knife. The blade glittered in the dim light of the torch which cast luminous shadows on the walls. What better place to kill someone? What was another set of bones among the many? Lord, as you helped the Christians long ago who met secretly in catacombs, help me.
For more information about this book, please visit the author’s website.