Thinking Like a Villain

Posted: July 5th, 2011 under Craft, the writing life.
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Some people like to write villains, just as some gamers really like to play evil characters.     For writers who like to write villains, writing non-villains can be a challenge.  And the same is true for writers who don’t like to write villains.

Before we can talk about this, a few caveats.   Characters are not the writer.  All competent writers can create characters very unlike themselves (and not just taller, stronger, more physically attractive, either!)  Much of a writer’s research is “people-watching”–observing people of all walks of life, in different settings.    So someone who’s never been a doctor or a helicopter pilot can–with research–write believable doctors or helicopter pilots.   Similarly,  writers who are not nasty themselves can write nasty characters, and writers who aren’t saints can write good characters.

But  every writer also has a set-point for the good/evil axis, in terms of storytelling, just as they have for appetite.    Some find villains easier or more interesting to write, and some find heroes easier or more interesting to write.    I am not claiming any particular virtues–I’m certainly not perfect or near it, as my friends would tell you–but I find heroes much more interesting than villains.    The worst people I’ve known don’t fascinate me–they bore me even as they repel me.

I think Tolstoy got it backwards:  all unhappy families are alike, arising from the same character flaws and social blunders.  Happy families are all over the map in how they stay happy…they’re talented at having the clock tell the right time when it’s sideways, upside down, or two feet under the muck.   And that fascinates me.   How do they do that?   How are some people–with every reason to be sour, angry, vindictive, destructive, and just plain mean–actually cheerful, steady, kind, forgiving, helpful, and just plain good?

A case that’s achieved national attention (but was a local issue for us)  showed up again on TV as a 48 Hours: Mystery special Saturday night.    The featured character was Laura Hall, then a college student, convicted of accessory crimes in the murder of another young woman, Jennifer Cave.  Laura Hall’s then boyfriend was convicted of killing  Jennifer Cave.   (The program is available on the 48 Hours website.)   What was notable about Laura Hall, from the first, was how strange her thought processes were–those of us in the area, seeing local TV interviews early on, were aware from the first that she was a singularly unpleasant young woman.    It’s clear that she is oblivious to normal social assumptions–cannot connect her behavior to its effect on other people–and considers that the real injustice is her plans for her life being interrupted.

Among the chilling statements made on that program:  she claims she did not report the dead body in her boyfriend’s bathtub to the police because “I wasn’t ready to process that,” and  when asked if she felt any compassion for the dead woman, a look of surprise at the question and then “I didn’t know her.  I’d never met her.”   So why would I care? was hovering in the air, in her expression.

As a writer (leaving aside my reaction as a member of our society)  every word she said was insight into the mental processes of a villain.    Totally focused on her own plans, her own welfare, her own life–to a degree that none of us, I suspect,  have felt since we were toddlers.  Other people don’t count.   Other people barely exist, except as enablers or obstacles or enemies.

People focused on one narrow interest are boring to those who don’t share the interest: we all know bores who have only one topic of conversation.   People focused only on themselves–at a normal level–are boring enough, and repellent enough.  We know those, too–they talk about their marriage, their kids, their house, their job, and it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.   Yet they don’t walk in on a body in the bathtub and fail to report it.

A villain’s perspective is different than ours.   And–against the current theories of evil in fiction–I don’t think bad people cannot be wholly bad, or that they don’t know they’re doing bad things when they do them.    (Most of us recognize that we sometimes do wrong knowingly…not accidentally, not trying to do something good and failing.  Sometimes we just flat get mad and kick the dog, break the window, scream an insult: and we know when we do it that we shouldn’t, but we let go the reins.)   I don’t think villains wouldn’t be villains if we really understood them (or more interesting, either.)   I don’t think it’s necessary (or advisable) for writers to try to present  rationales for the villain’s evil acts.

Hall did not think she was doing a good thing when she drove her boyfriend to Mexico to get away from the police (who were wanting to question him about that body in the bathtub.)     She knew it wasn’t “good” in the conventional sense, but “good” is not in her mental checklist.  Prudent is, though she’s not very good at prudent (most people her age aren’t.)   “Processing” events to put herself in the best position is.   Pursuing her own plan for her own benefit, no matter what, is.   She’s not particularly skilled (yet) at these things either–she can’t act well enough to hide the underlying sociopathy (as sociopaths with some charisma can)   and so the narcissism and lack of empathy and underlying anger and vindictiveness show.    She’s not particularly flexible in her planning.    She does not care who gets hurt as she pursues her goals.  In fact, from taped phone calls, she relishes the thought that some will get hurt as she does that.

So here–for the writer–is an example–not the only–of a villain.   As it happens, in the current group of books I have more than one villain, mostly (so far) operating through intermediaries.    But more than one of them needs to be onstage, directly interacting with other characters, in this book and the next.

I don’t like writing evil POVs.    It feels like climbing into a bodysuit that’s lined with someone else’s sweat and excreta: it stinks, it’s slimy-sticky, it’s disgusting.    If at all possible, I want to be in someone else’s head and let the bad guy/gal do their bad stuff, and “my” character react to it.    That worked for #1 villain in this book.    But #2….#2  has been sort of hovering on the margins of the plot since Oath of Fealty, like a tropical depression making its way slowly across the Atlantic from Africa, growing day by day, until it’s a hurricane in the Gulf.    And that threat–definite, but not well-defined–needs to be very well defined by the end of the story.

Two books ago I wrote a chapter in that villain’s POV and left it out.   I’ve now put it (with updated references) into Book IV.  It may or may not stay, but it will help me look for better ways to show how this villain thinks–what this villain’s aims are, and enough of this villain’s psychology for the reader to find it believable.    I hope I don’t have to much more time in #2’s mind.    Though I wrote that chapter years ago,  villain #2 thinks a lot like Laura Hall.    All that matters to #2 is #2’s personal goals, feelings, and success.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to stay in that POV until either I make is useful in the book or find a way to show the essentials while staying in other POVs.    Given a writer’s memory, there’s really no way to take that mental shower, or “brain-bleach” as one of my friends puts it…the nasty thoughts the villain would have are in my head now and I can’t unthink them.    I keep wanting to convince the villain not to be (something that didn’t work with Barranya and isn’t working with this villain.)    Couldn’t #2 be satisfied with this other?   Wouldn’t #2 be happier to have friends than terrified minions?   No: #2 is determined to have [very large list] and won’t compromise.


  • Comment by iphinome — July 5, 2011 @ 11:50 pm


    So you try to influence them?

    Now I understand why Paks can’t be a viewpoint character anymore. Paladins are immune to mind influencing magic.

  • Comment by Rolv — July 6, 2011 @ 4:29 am


    I think you point to something very important here, that villains aren’t particularly interesting. Rather, by choosing evil, you are diminished as a person. Evil is not creative, it’s rather either a lack of, a rejection of, or a perversion of good. The really interesting ones are those who genuinely care about others.

    Reading your blog, I was reminded of C.S. Lewis, who said that “The Screwtape Letters” was the book he disliked most to write. He went through similar feelings of disgust when trying to think like a demon.

    Also, I think of Father Brown, who solved crime by seeing the world through the criminal’s eyes, becoming as an understudy to the crime. For him, that was a spiritual exercise, showing him the potential of evil in himself. As he put it, he had at least caught one murderer, and kept him safe under his hat.

    Finally, I agree that Tolstoy got it wrong, and that there are infinite variations of happiness. But I would maintain that even unhappiness may be very varied in origin as well as reactions, and may be quite diverse.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 6, 2011 @ 6:50 am


    Um…misunderstanding. I don’t try to influence most characters, and almost never the protagonist viewpoint characters. (I may say “Are you sure about this?” when they speed the train down the track toward the broken bridge, but it’s their train and their track.) Secondary characters, like Barra, if they do something that I think wasn’t in character, I will “argue” with. It’s not mind-influencing magic. It’s writing them another way to see if that works or if the character goes flat. If the character goes flat, then I shrug and let them go–but I’m not happy about it. Barra was conceived as a very different person from what she became–but she didn’t want that role. She wanted to be the central character or else. Or else is what happened.

    Paks never had a touch laid on her to push her one way or the other. She was a firebolt from the beginning (and enormous fun to write except during the worst places, where of course it wasn’t fun at all. Satisfying in the end, but not fun.) The only protagonist POV who’s ever had the Writer’s Fist in his collar was Gird, during his adolescent drunk period. I really do not like drunks (result of years in ambulance work) and he was a pain to write and he was determined not to grow up. You can’t write a good story with a POV like that: it’s boring, it’s unpleasant, and it does nowhere. You certainly can’t get a “farmer who led a revolution, developed the Code of Gird, and threw out the magelords” out of that stage: they have to change. So he got the Writer’s Fist in the collar, the shaking up, until his barely thought fantasy fell into my lap (“Someday someone will appreciate me…”) and I could dangle the right bait for him. Gird was granitic (one reason the gnomes worked with him was his essentially rocklike character) and very different from Paks.

    The reason Paks hasn’t come back as a viewpoint character is that from her point of view, her story is told. The story she came to me with, that is. Protagonists come with a story they want told–it may be from early in their lives, or mid life, or later, but they know what it is, and they show it to me. For Paks, how she became a paladin is the story–not what she’s done since. I may not agree (I would love to know all she’s done since from her POV) but I won’t write her as POV until she wants to be.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 6, 2011 @ 7:01 am


    There’s certainly a difference in origin between the unhappiness of the innocent person trapped in a bad situation, and the unhappiness of the person who is reaping what they sowed. But–and this comes from having an engineer mother who so often said “Accidents don’t happen: they’re caused”–many of the bad situations are themselves the result of “causing” the accidents. Not always by the persons suffering them…but by correctable failures upstream in time. (“The milk just fell, Mommy!” “You left the glass on the edge of the counter…what did you think would happen if you bumped it a little?”) Failure to notice, failure to think, failure to project into the future, failure to recognize predictable consequences…on top of the big three (according to my upbringing): greed, anger, self-centeredness (equates in modern terms, I think, to narcissism.) Good people create unhappiness in large part through mistakes–those failures to notice/think/think ahead, etc., and by temporary lapses into greed, anger, narcissism. Bad people live in self-centeredness, stew in it, and cannot do other than create misery around them.

  • Comment by Jenn — July 6, 2011 @ 10:31 am


    Very insightful post and comments. I really enjoyed this one and I completely agree with you that evil is very boring and uncreative.

  • Comment by WhoGuru — July 6, 2011 @ 11:37 am


    Thank you for this! You’ve articulated perfectly what I once tried to explain to a friend and didn’t do very well. I have a villain in my novel, who has evolved into not so much of a villain over time because sitting in her head with those ugly thoughts was just painful.

    Oh and people watching in the mall? Great way to get mental fodder for characters. 😀

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 6, 2011 @ 1:12 pm


    As in real life, some story villains will stay villains until the end (insight does not come to all.) If you need a villain to stay a villain, there are ways to protect yourself from some of the ickiness. I’ll get to that in a later post.

  • Comment by Hugo Fuchs — July 6, 2011 @ 3:13 pm


    Actually, I’ve found the best reference for writing villians, and it wasn’t a book on writing, per se. It was the AD&D 2nd Edition Complete Book of Villians. While the current ones delve into fetishes, deviancies, and the like, the 2nd Ed. one was a better overall idea planner for villians and their motivations. It’s no longer in print, which means ebay for a hardcopy ($15-$20).

  • Comment by Jonathan — July 6, 2011 @ 5:11 pm


    It’s the Superman dilemma – without the super villain, there is no Superman. Without conflict there is no growth.

    The AD&D suggestion seems like a good one.

    Hope your husband is doing well.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 6, 2011 @ 5:20 pm


    I don’t think any one book is a good reference for characterization (any characterization) for the writer, whether it’s DSM-IV (the big index of psychological conditions used by psychologists, psychiatrists, and others), pop psychology books, or AD&D books. AD&D books are specifically intended to help DMs create NPCs for gaming, and players to create their own PCs in somewhat more variety than most would think of on their own. They weren’t intended as references for writers, whose needs are different.

    The problem with a one-book guide to villains (or heroes) is that it tempts the writer to the easy way out–just take #43, maybe add a dash of #14, and you’ve got it. If you can tell which book the writer used (and I’ve read books where it’s easy to say “Oh, he/she read I’m OK; You’re OK [or Games People Play or any of a number of pop-psych books] just before writing this novel) then the writer wasn’t listening to his/her own book and developing a character that suited that particular book. Every such book has a bias–the bias of its writer–about what people really are and how they really think…and they don’t all agree, with each other or with field observations of people.

    This is not to say such books can’t be useful as part of the research the writer does into creating characters. They certainly can. They can awaken interest in the rich variety of humankind…in how people think about how other people think and act. They can remind the writer (whose own experience may be limited) that there are still wildernesses of human thought and behavior to be explored. But more useful in my experience–for a writer– are actual fiction works, and most useful of all is direct observation.

    Other fiction shows several things a writer needs: how character is seen by that writer, how observations are particularized for character creation, and how a character is conveyed to a reader. For this purpose, both “good” and “bad” fiction are useful. Fiction failures (however defined by the writer-as-reader) show what not to do, and fiction successes (ditto on definition) offer models.

    Direct observation adds reality: maybe, in that novel everyone praised, that your lit teacher insisted was true to life, the characters acted like this….but you notice that no one you know–facing the same challenges–acts that way. Real people’s thoughts–their expression of them–their actions and their stated reasons for them–are the bedrock of characterization, and the more the writer knows of real people, the better off he/she when writing villains or heroes or the spear-carriers in the back row.

    So use a book as a catalyst to your thinking about characters, but don’t stop with that. More books (history, political science, economics, psychology, biography on the one hand, and fiction on the other) and a lot more observation will improve characterization.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 6, 2011 @ 5:40 pm


    Um…not really, Jonathan. Conflict does not depend on villains (in the usual sense of the word.) It does not even depend on enemies (who may not be villains.) Many of the conflicts we deal with every day are not the result of person-on-person conflict. (Oedipus was felled not by his father’s villainy in having him exposed, but by his own ignorance and uncontrollable anger. To take an example from my own books, Luap’s conflict was with himself–his own inability to manage his pride, his ambition, in a harmless way.)

    Nor is growth the only goal (in real life or in fiction.) There’s an interesting book by Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One, which gives the very different world views of eight different religions: each sees a different problem, articulates a different goal, has different techniques for getting to that goal, and has different exemplars for its followers to use as models. (I was unusually lucky, in my senior English class in high school, to have studied six of those religions and many other things not on the curriculum that our remarkable teacher thought we college-bound kids needed to know.)
    So it’s possible to imagine a Superman without a supervillain…he would not be the familiar Superman (who was created with that villain as a binary system) but he could have super-powers, and he could have conflicts different from the familiar ones. A number of science fiction stories have dealt with individuals having super-powers (from longevity to incredible strength, or the ability to see into time, etc.) without invoking a villain. (Sturgeon’s _More Than Human_ is one such; my brain’s blanking on others I’ve read.)

  • Comment by Hugo Fuchs — July 6, 2011 @ 6:26 pm


    Just a thought on the book I mentioned. I continue to use it, though I haven’t gamed in a decade, because it discusses it from more of a story viewpoint, rather than from a straight up gaming viewpoint. Not to say there weren’t tables in it, but that as an AUTHOR’S workbook, you wouldn’t do things randomly anyway.

  • Comment by arthur Piantadosi — July 6, 2011 @ 6:50 pm


    This is Arthur. Wow! I have never heard anyone say things in quite that way. I see people on the internet and in life, so afraid of SILLY things. Even I am afraid of silly things. Because I am autistic, I do not naturally socialize well, and because of this, I get to thinking about life and get depressed. It is easy to get depressed when you notice trends and see things that others do not. But I hold out hope for people. Despite all the bad things that have happened, and all those that may come, people are still surviving and even thriving! Barra really seemed to self-destruct, in Oath of Gold. It was kind of sad, knowing Paks remembered her as a companion. But that is how you write your books. As a journey. Paksenarrion as a sheepfarmers daughter running away to join Duke Phelans company is not the same person as she is at the beginning of Divided Allegiance. She is a veteran now, and has gone places and has combat experience, but not knowledge of how to be a warrior on her own. And Paks at the end of Divided Allegiance is about as low as she can go. Every time I reread the Deed, I find out new information, or I see something I have forgot, even though I had read it several times before. And that is the thing. Your characters evolve. Many of them have core values they will not change, but other parts of them will change. Like Andressat, though he changed most in how he treats his child born out of wedlock. I feel I am self-centered sometimes, but I do not want to be. It is better to help people.

  • Comment by Alaska Fan — July 7, 2011 @ 12:12 am


    Earlier in my career, I represented person I would describe as sociopaths and psychopaths. They all had in common a lack of empathy, extreme narcissism and the ability to hide those traits, to some extent. And they were certainly villains in the accepted sense of the word.

    But they aren’t the only types of villains. There are a lot of folks whose beliefs are so passionate that they treat them as superior to the law. They have empathy, and they aren’t any more narcissistic than most of us.

    There’s another class who are simply so selfish that they put their needs and wishes ahead of everything else. Willie Sutton, asked why he robbed banks, reportedly said, “That’s where the money is.”

    There are folks who are mentally ill, perhaps they hear voices tell them to do despicable things, or they suffer irresistible impulses.

    And perhaps the worst of all are the folks who are so certain of their righteousness that they will trample everything to get their way.

    My point is that evil is boundless in its variety, not confined to just the charismatic sociopaths and psychopaths you describe. Pratchett and Gaiman, in the Delightful “Good Omens,” make the point that we don’t need heaven and hell to inspire us; we have utter good and evil in us already.

    Everyone of those kinds of evil can be a villain.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 7, 2011 @ 7:06 am


    I thought I made it clear that Laura Hall is about as charismatic as a western diamondback rattlesnake. Charismatic sociopaths are certainly not the only kind of villain. Most of the villains I’ve written have not been: the religious fanatics in the Serrano-Suiza books, the “anti-humod/pure human” factions in Vatta’s War, as well as villains motivated by political beliefs, by the desire for personal power/glory/advantage, and by fear.

    There’s a distinction to be made, though, between “evil” (something we all have done in some way) and “villain.” Evil is, as you say, both widespread (Solzhenitsyn said it: “The line between good and evil runs right down the middle of every human heart”) and varied…in type and scope. If you look at evil and villain the way Southern whites used to look at race, when even a drop of African blood made someone “black,” then everyone’s a villain. But in life and fiction both, the term “villain” is confined to those on the far end of the line connecting saint to villain. Characters, like real people, do bad things for a variety of reasons (stupidity, thoughtlessness, confusion, anger, misunderstanding, ordinary selfishness, fear, etc.) but that doesn’t make them villains. Villains (real or fictional) not only do evil themselves, but teach, encourage, command, and frighten others into doing it. The torturer does evil (for whatever reasons) but the person who commands the torture is the villain. In fiction, we normally use villains at the top–or near the top–of their chain of command (or ladder); some readers find those in the middle less believable, even though many of us have met and recognized the villainy of those on the way up. (Crenshaw, in The Speed of Dark, is a middle-management villain with aspirations to the big corner office on the top floor.)

    For me, the kind of mentally ill person who hears voices (paranoid schizophrenic, etc.) or has truly irresistible impulses to do horrific things does not make a good story villain. They function more as a natural disaster–the tornado or earthquake or (among live things) the bear that wanders into a suburb–than as a villain; they arouse fear, but also pity, because they’re so obviously not in control of themselves.

    I’m not sure that those whose fanatic beliefs (religious or political) allow them to put those beliefs above the law do have empathy outside their own group (the callousness with which some believers treat those who suffer from the consequences of their beliefs suggest not. When House Speaker Boehner dismissed with “So be it” the certainty that his plans would cost hundreds of thousands their jobs…there’s not much empathy in evidence.) And I’m not sure where selfishness crosses the line to narcissism–or if it’s a continuum, with no real difference in the underlying cognitive process, only in the amount. (Not sure of that for myself, in fact. Is taking the larger cookie of two on the plate putting me on the slippery slope to sociopath? I like to think not, but isn’t that what any sociopath thinks?)

    At any rate, being in Villain POV (which is what this topic was originally about) requires the writer to not merely acknowledge his/her own capacity for evil but to exercise it–use it for profit, as it were–and thus participate in it. That should be scary and unpleasant for those who are not willing participants in the world’s evil.

  • Comment by Jenn — July 7, 2011 @ 9:47 am


    This is a fantastic thread. I love the depth of thought that is reaching and am going to come back to reading it when I have more time to give.

    On a lighter note… I have always wonder why evil wizards have an apprentice. it seems like a waste of time. Either the wizard must kill the apprentice for becoming to powerful or the apprenctice kills the wizard because he is more powerful. Either way someone loses out you would think they’d have learned by now.

  • Comment by Hugo Fuchs — July 7, 2011 @ 11:21 am


    In Regards to Apprentices: First their are the menial magical tasks to perform that couldn’t be trusted to a mundane. Second, there’s the dangerous tasks. Third, is that if they feel death approaching, they might choose to pass the knowlege on to a successor. Generally, a master takes several apprentices unless they’re going to pass the mantle, as they tend to be expendable.

  • Comment by Genko — July 7, 2011 @ 11:29 am


    Love the Solzhenitsyn quote — so true. Evil is not something “out there” but “in here.”

    The concept of a continuum of some sort seems also to be true. The speculation about Venner not being evil when he was first working for Kieri, but somehow evolving to a place where he does very evil things and believes them to be necessary, and maybe even right. And we’re beginning to see the Pargunese as not evil in themselves but deluded by those more powerful.

    Given that we are generally trying to cultivate goodness in ourselves and not perpetuate harm, I can see where writing a villain, that is, getting into that mind-set, would be tricky. Need to stay clear as possible about what you are doing without losing that ability to touch that evil in yourself. I suppose staying aware of that sticky, distasteful sense of it is going to be part of the ability not to get caught in it. How DO you explore quicksand without getting caught?

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 7, 2011 @ 12:07 pm


    On the apprentice issue…I pretty much agree with Hugo. In the same way that scientists want someone in the lab who has (or is willing to learn) some scientific knowledge, and some knowledge of how to handle the equipment and why (you do not want your average housekeeper-for-hire washing lab ware in a biology lab handling biohazards) you need someone doing the chores who is specially trained. It’s important not to be seen washing the dishes or scrubbing the scorch marks off the floor when customers arrive, and having a s/e/r/v/a/n/t/ apprentice adds to the wizard’s prestige. The promise of arcane knowledge will keep your apprentice working for very little and maybe even paying for the privilege (ask any post-doc!) In Paks’s world, many wizards are not that interested in training a successor (and most of the wizards aren’t evil…in Tsaia, at least, the Fellowship sees to that!) but will sell their books and equipment to the highest bidder when they retire. They might give something to a favorite apprentice.

    One of the oddities of evil wizards (and villains in general) is that they seem to like having subordinates around, even though statistically (in books, though not always in real life) having them increases the risk of death.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 7, 2011 @ 2:22 pm


    You know the old saying, “He who sups with the devil need have a long spoon.” The long spoon in this case is, as you suggest, a very clear idea of what you’re doing and why, and some experience in pulling yourself out of a bad role. Role-playing (of the kind we did in children, not necessarily formal role-playing games of the modern sort) is now being recognized as an essential way for children to develop socially…to pretend different roles accelerates language, ethical thinking, the development of empathy, etc. When we played that way, someone always had to be the bad guys (so the rest of us could be the good guys) and it was important to switch sides from day to day (as a friend of mine told me once, “You can’t ALWAYS be Robin Hood! Somebody has to be the Sheriff and it’s your turn!”) In a healthy series of role-playing games, everyone gets to be the hero sometimes, the villain sometimes, the comic side-kick sometimes, the spear-carrier sometimes. From that–and from role-playing later in real life when a necessary performance (“Act like a little lady” and “Now be brave: you don’t want the doctor to think you’re a sissy”) was not at all natural–we learned to put on and take off various personas. Hats, as we might call them in adult life. Most of us wear more than one, from time to time: student/teacher/spouse/parent/friend/host/employee/boss/member of a group. So most of us can segue from one role to another, hanging one hat on the peg and putting another one on.

    But some are more comfortable. Some we would be happy to inhabit all the time, or almost all the time. Since the temptation to evil is always there, for most of us–always that temptation to be just a little less careful, a little less thoughtful, a little more of whatever particular flavor of vice feels best to us–putting on an evil persona can feel liberating and exciting. It’s just a fiction–we’re just writing a fiction book, and none of it’s true, so how could it hurt?–says the temptation to keep that costume right up front in the closet and put it on “just for a lark” or “just for a moment” more and more often. That’s when the knowledge of how to wriggle out of the costume–and the habit of doing it even when what was disgusting, repulsive become comfortable–really helps.

  • Comment by Kip Colegrove — July 8, 2011 @ 2:41 pm


    Well, now, this is a thread I have to jump into, late in the game as it is.

    When writing sermons, I have to place my reason and imagination on both (or, as Arvid would say, all) sides of a moral question. You can’t preach as a good person for good people or a bad person for bad people; you have to preach in solidarity with all who have that line down the middle. The moral compass I look for in fiction (and other works of art and craft) takes that need for balance into account.

  • Comment by Laura BurgandyIce — July 10, 2011 @ 10:01 am


    We had an employee for a short time that inspired a villain in a story that was blooming for me. Her carelessness towards the things that mattered to us (as bosses) coupled with real intelligence was a weird, weird mix. She wasn’t necessarily evil, but as you suggest, self-centered with her own goals. It was easy to see how her goals conflicted with ours. And from her point of view, we were the Bad Guys for firing her.

    Thanks for sharing some process… of villains’ place & how the characters choose who’s POV. I really enjoy your insight into writing especially with specific word count goals!! Thanks.

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