The Villain’s Perspective

 Why do good girls love bad boys? Because good boys are boring! Villains are the cause of the story. Heroes are just the reaction. The actions of the villain are wild, spontaneous, and jaw-dropping. But their motives are even more interesting. Whether it’s sadistic killer or a ruthless gangster, stories from the villain’s perspective are fun, fascinating and frightening.

Villain horror, as I call it, is a form of psychological horror that takes you deep inside the deviant mind, where paranoid delusions, psychotic rantings and reptilian calculations run rampant.

Standard horror follows the vulnerable, the scared, the sympathetic as they run, trip and fall, or fight back against evil. The danger is often cloaked and mysterious: a malevolent spirit, a stalker in the shadows,  a possessed child. It plays on our empathy and our fear of the unknown to create tension and thrill.

Readers often compare these two forms without fully understanding that the goals, the tone and the emotions evoked are quite different. Writers (like yours truly) often try to compensate for these differences instead of embracing them, or even understanding them.

So what are they? Let’s take a look:

Dehumanizing

You can’t fear for the single lady in Apt. 3 while inhabiting the rapist leering through her bathroom window. To him-to you-she’s that selfish bitch who rejected you. She’s a whore that deserves to be slaughtered. She looks like your mother who poured boiling water on you as a toddler. Or, in the words of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, “She’s just a shape. She’s meat. She’s nothing.”

We are dehumanizing the victim as the killer would, and this process detaches the reader emotionally.

You cannot think like a sociopath and care about the victim the same time.

In most fiction we root for the protagonist. You still may root for the villain to achieve his evil goals, and you might revel in the spectacle of their behavior, but you won’t truly fear for an unsympathetic character. You won’t cry at their funeral.

Ride The Crazy Train

The Shining, even with all the spooky ghosts in the Overlook, wouldn’t be much of a read without the spiraling madness of Jack Torrance. Whether Alex is committing the ol’ ultra-violence in A Clockwork Orange, or Iceberg Slim is beating his whores with a coat hanger in Pimp (a true story), it’s not the actions but the sick thoughts and twisted motivations that drive our fascination.

The psychology of the serial killer with multiple personalities, or the mother who poisons her own child for attention. We seek to understand these people as a primitive survival technique. The more we understand about dangerous people, the greater our chance of survival, or so our lizard brain things. So we are wired to enjoy gaining these nuggets of insight.

Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment explores the rationalization of violence as a means to an end, as well as the value of life and the guilt riddled conscious. Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray studies the maddening obsession with youth and beauty.

The Blackest Mirror

In Villain Horror, the reader may become disturbed by their own enjoyment of the mayhem and harm inflicted on innocence. This is the true horror caused by this type of story. It’s not your fear for the safety of others, but the fear in discovering you enjoy their pain. Villain horror awakens the primal, the violent, the sadistic in the reader, then it makes you digest your own reaction.

American Psycho takes it a step further by arousing the reader with raunchy sex scenes that suddenly become grotesque nightmares of torture and murder. The result leaves the reader horrified at their own bodily response. This is disgusting! Why won’t my erection go down? 

Crash and Burn

Okay so maybe you won’t lust for the kill. Maybe you will grow to loathe your villain protagonist. That’s okay. Villains usually still lose in the end. They often end up dead or in prison, as they should.

Following a villain you despise can build immense anticipation for that glorious moment when they plunge to their doom, or tie their own noose. It can be a corrupt politician caught in a scandal or a Wall Street swindler getting sent to prison. You can root for them, root against them, or feel conflicted.

Bad Meets Evil

Villains come in all shades of moral ambiguity, often paired with positive traits or good intentions behind their wicked deeds. The drug kingpin who gives to the poor and builds schools and playgrounds.

Sometimes the hero, or anti-hero, is pitted against something worse, or at least more dangerous. While the story doesn’t take on villain perspective, Hannibal Lector famously helps catch Buffalo Bill will plotting his own brutal escape in The Silence of the Lambs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villains_by_Necessity

Two Sides of the Coin

Some novels flip between the hero and the villain perspective. In these cases, the reader never goes as deep because each switch in perspective is a reboot. Pause the movie, turn on the lights and get reoriented. This is often simply to show events occurring in multiple locations.

Examples: Stephen King’s Misery, Dean Koontz’s Intensity.

Summary

I love writing from the villain’s perspective, and I love reading about them, learning about them, trying to understand how they see the world. It’s a different type of journey that you should try… if you’re not afraid of what you might learn about yourself.

 

Here is a list of Villain Protagonist Novels on Goodreads

Review: The Art of Making Money

The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master CounterfeiterThe Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter by Jason Kersten
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazing story. The profile of the man and the details of his craft were well displayed. It held my attention cover to cover. I would have preferred if it had been written, or ghost written, in first person rather than in the style of a news article, with quoted interruptions from side characters. But that’s a very minor pick in an incredible book.

View all my reviews

Unraveling Draft 3 Complete!

After nine long months of revisions, I have completed the third major draft of Unraveling. My goal was to fix 80% of the problems and create 5% new problems (unavoidable). I believe if you try for 100% you will never get started.

Draft 3 Major Changes

  1. Broke apart the protagonist’s massive flashback into six segments, evenly spaced throughout the novel. This keeps the reader focused on the present, and prevents the flashback from feeling like a novella withing a novel. It also provides more transitions and parallels to unify the subplots and themes.
  2. Stayed in the protagonist’s point of view in every scene where he appears. Removed many scenes of other characters’ point of view.
  3. Removed a lengthy courtroom subplot. It diverted from the plot, tone, and genre of the novel
  4. Reordered several plot points to improve story flow and evenly space sub plots. Merged scenes and removed some micro scenes for smoother reading.
  5. Shortened length and sharpened tone of the school subplot so it keeps the horror tone rather than feeling like a young adult coming of age story.
  6. Cut 6000+ words total length!

Draft 4 Plans

  1. Increase reader sympathy for all characters
  2. Reduce family dysfunction, improve character relations.
  3. Changing a main character’s profession.
  4. Smooth out the protagonists arc in places where it jumps or backtracks.
  5. Thread the subplots more closely to the central themes
  6. Improve voice by keeping simplifying language
  7. Reduce total length to under 100k. Make every word work for me!

A few beta readers have completed draft 3 with more on the way, so I will get more insight soon. Until next time.

My Novel Speed Writing Formula

I don’t believe in long introductions, so here it is:

  1. Pencil and Paper.
    Scrawl down outlines, notes, dialog chunks, scenery, lists of action beats, stream of consciousness, thoughts about the novel, whatever. This is often right before bed.
  2. Rewrite in word processor
    (Scrivener for me). Organize by Chapter > Scene > Scene Notes. Record from paper into more organized scene notes files. Set the scene color to yellow. As I record, embellish, clean up, or write new content if an idea spins off which happens frequently. Follow the thoughts wherever they lead. Strike through paper as it’s recorded so nothing gets lost. This is often done the next morning.
  3. Formulate
    Build scenes from scene notes with two files open side-by-side, copying in and filling in gaps. These three steps may get repeated several times on a single scene. This part is the most thought intensive so it should be done early afternoon, at my mental prime. But it can happen whenever
  4. Edit
    Do a quick read through as I complete each scene. Change the scene color from yellow to blue when it’s complete. Then compile to MS Word, do a read through track changes and edit. Then go back to Scrivener to put my edits in.
  5. Listen
    Put each chapter in a Google Doc (yay extra backup) Listen with Natural Reader. Pick up more stuff. Edit and Compile.
  6. Chapter Critiques
    Send to a local group, post to a site like Scribophile. Don’t solicit critiques or focus on them. Whoever finds you is fine. I want motivators mostly. Cheerleaders.
  7. Fix
    Fix glaring spelling, grammar, and emergency issues but don’t spend much time on it. Don’t over think and don’t try to perfect sentences. Keep going forward to the next chapter
  8. Full Beta Critiques
    Finish the book and do full beta critiques, not per chapter. Use Natural Reader to read novels quickly and give broad advice. Don’t zero in on line edits unless requested.
    Also it is advised to take about 3 months away from your manuscript. You deserve it. Finishing a novel draft is a huge accomplishment. Also, you need to step away to gain perspective.
  9. Review
    After half a dozen beta critiques, look for common issues. Major character flaws, areas where the pace lags, or large loop holes
  10. Structural Changes
    Get the large pieces in place, outline new scenes and what scenes will get cut or overhauled.
  11. Repeat
    Start the whole process over for the next draft. Don’t try to fix everything or you will never begin. But aim to fix 80% of the issues.
  12. Polish
    Now we want to fine tune. Do chapter critiques. Get people scrutinizing every line. Make sure the voice of the character is consistent. Make every word count.
  13. Send to professional Editor, Query an Agent and Publish!
    Ok so that’s a whole process that requires its own system, but I’ll summarize here. Only 1 in 1000 novels get this far. Best of luck!

Yes this makes it sound too easy. I skipped the nights of fussing over issues, months of rearranging scenes, struggling with plot holes and character flaws, and I haven’t even gotten to the rejections. But hey, let’s stay positive!

Fixing Plot Holes

Here’s my process.


Diagnosis
Normally critics point out the holes, but sometimes you just realize things don’t add up..

1. Plot Holes: he couldn’t have gotten there in time, or I’m a professional X and this is not how that works. or, it seems too coincidental that this showed up at that time.

2. Character Holes: why doesn’t she just call the cops? He doesn’t seem like the type of guy to do that.

 

Analysis

ok several people noticed this so it needs to be fixed. Only one person had an issue with that because they had some obscure knowledge.

 

Options

I break it down like this:

Hole: The police would have gotten a record of that cell call

Option A: he never makes the call (pros, cons, new holes caused by this)

Option B: he used a different phone

Option C: the call does get brought up but there’s another explanation.

 

Choice

Don’t make a choice right away, let it marinate and stir, or else you can get swallowed in an endless loop of despair when each fix causes a new problem. Normally one choice will outweigh the others, then write it.

 

ASK YOUR CRITICS FOR HELP! OTHER PEOPLE’S PROBLEMS ARE ALWAYS EASIER TO SOLVE!

The “Unraveling” Journey

I am currently working on the third major draft of my first novel, “Unraveling.” The original concept came to me in a dream when I was about ten years old. I wrote a summary of the idea in my giant crate of ideas to get to some day. Most of them faded but this one stuck with me.

At the age of 19, I wrote a short story titled “Dawn,” about a prodigious gymnast under the rule of a tyrannical mother. I wrote a few other short stories here and there, but this idea still stuck with me.

In my early twenties I decided to try to write a novel. The first draft took two years. Then something happened. It all took a back seat to other things. I started a web development company which took up my evenings. I began to hate the solitude of writing. It all seemed like too much effort for too little benefit. So I stopped.

Flash forward twelve years to January 2016, I was struck with the idea for a short story. So I wrote it, then five more. Then I reread my draft of Unraveling, deciding if it could be salvaged. I scrapped nearly all of it as I wrote my second draft over four months that summer.

After a three month break, I collected my thoughts and critiques, came up with a game plan and began a completely restructured third revision. I am currently halfway complete this draft, which I hope will solve 80% of the issues from draft 2. I’m amazed how much work it’s been, and how far it’s come and so excited to see how far it will go.

Until next time…