Friday, May 04, 2007

The Bad Guys


A man and woman, a devil and angel, conversing on a path.
1482, Royal MS.
From Magic in Medieval Manuscripts by Sophie Page.


I've been meandering on this path for a week.

More precisely, I've been sitting beside it, nursing a twisted ankle from stepping in a plot hole.

Because I found I had not definitely decided on my villain(s).

The usual motives for murder have been inferred: money, malice, madness.

Bouquets of conflict, including rue and rosemary, have been selected and gathered.

In fact, I've been toying with the idea of having a succession of villains, each with their own agenda, pop up at each bend in the road.

That's all very nice, but each villain has to leave footprints in the dust to lead to such ambushes.

I don't usually approve of villains who blow in out of nowhere, like aliens, to provide an explanation for nasty things. The logic of their malignancy may be revealed after the fact, but their existence - their face - should be previously present in some recognizable form.

It's not enough for my Lillie to realize someone wants her dead.

At some point, suspicions have to coalesce, unless one's heroine is particularly clueless - which Lillie is not. At some point the list of suspects has to narrow.

So I wonder - what point mandates the villain's visibility in stories of suspense - where the hunted becomes the hunter.

Is there a rule of thumb?

24 comments:

Erik Ivan James said...

My personal preference is for it to happen at about the mid-point. And, they both become the hunter and the hunted.

Um...did i just make any sense? Probably not.

Bernita said...

Yes, you certainly did, Erik.
Hmmm, so I can stretch it out quite a while yet.

Ric said...

My preference is early on. Not necessarily identifiable, but there. I think it gives the reader one of those "Ah" moments. Events are happening (to keep the suspense), little clues as to whom it might be (for those of us who miss things like Rosebud the first time through), even if you don't clearly indicate the villian, an astute reader should be able to infer what's coming.

Damn, that made even less sense than Erik.

Bernita said...

Hmmm, I've mentioned the SOS - Save Our Spirits - who think dispatching ghosts is genocide...
Ric, do you have preferences for an individual villain or for a cabal?

raine said...

...nursing a twisted ankle from stepping in a plot hole.

Oh, very nice, lol.

Think I agree with the early-on idea. Give me all of my possible villains as soon as possible, so I can enjoy suspecting each for as long as possible.

Don't know if there's a rule--just anything, ANYTHING except the last-minute deus ex machina, yes please.

Curiously synchronized gestures between those travelers...

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I also prefer that antags turn up early. They are the root of the conflict, after all, and it solidifies the protags motivation.

That said, a few red herring antags are always fun. But then I like grey characters where everyone has a little bit of evil in them.

Charles Gramlich said...

I got a grin out of your twisted ankle from stepping into a plot hole. As for when the Villain should become visible, in suspense I think it can be very early on. This gives you time to really develop the villain into a big nasty. It seems that it's more in mystery that the villain can't be revealed until the end.

Bernita said...

I'd better get busy then, Raine, so far there's no visible antagonist.
In fact, most of the characters so far are dead.

'Tis a curious picture, the demon has his tail between his legs, and the male had his thumb hooked on his belt.

Yes,SS, trying to stay alive does focus one's attention admirably.A good point to remember - so not to have her fritter off on inconsequential activities.
Another vote for early identification.

Charles, so far, he ( or she, or they, collectively or imdividually) have sent her husband's tulpa and then zombie after her. That's fairly nasty up front. Looks like it's time I introduced more characters. Faceless evil can only sustain itself so long.

Dave said...

The succession of minor villians has to be under the control of a master villian. Otherwise it would seem too random and too much like chance occurences.

As for when the heroine realizes who the villian is or what he/she is up to? That the old "Face of Ultimate Evil" question. I'l borrow Hitchhock's "Psycho" as an example. We know that Janet Leigh's character is a thief. She even wears black to prove it. But we discover another more evil creation in the shower. However, the face of ultimate evil isn't revealed until the end of the movie. For most of the latter half of the movie, we know the peril but whe don't know the real truth.

That is the question, isn't it? If you are writing suspense, then you need to maintain the suspense until the end. You need to heighten the jeopardy with each new threat.

I hope this makes ese.

Bernita said...

Makes perfect sense, Dave.
Not sure I agree with your first premise though.
I can think of any number of individual roles where there may have more than one opponent lusting for a head on a platter, actively - each with means but different motives.
Of course, even knowing the author of a peril does not solve the problem for the victim.
I highly approve of heightening the jeopardy.
Multiple antagonists could be a tool to accomplish that. Just when you think the dangers over...

kmfrontain said...

This is a hard question for me. I specialize in "in your face" villains. They're the protagonists sometimes. The villains make the story. I've always believed that. But if you want him or her hidden, because the story is a mystery, then there should only be a nebulous presence, not a definite one. If this is done well, the villain doesn't have to show up until mid-book or later. Only his effects on the life of the protag shows up.

MissWrite said...

I don't know that there's a 'rule of thumb' but for me, IMO, I like the 'villian' or 'dark side' of the plot, whatever, to show up almost as early as the hero/heroine character. It's basically 'the point' of the story if you will. Otherwise you just have a 'good guy' meandering around for chapters and chapters. Hope that makes sense.

Bernita said...

Would it not be logical, though, Karen, for there to be introduced possible suspects?

One of the points of a story may be the peril, Tami, true.
But does it have to have am early specific face?

MissWrite said...

No, I don't think you necessarily have to 'show your villian' real early... maybe not even until the end (and still not be duex ex machina) if the prevailing theme of it, and reasoning are all there in the plot. That might be the toughest type of plotline to hold together though and really pull off.

Rick said...

I keep thinking that a true master villain would lurk just behind the scenes. A perceptive person could detect their presence, but only indirectly, like perturbations by an unseen planet.

Bernita said...

May be tough,Tami, but it's one of the standard structures, I thought.

Usually, Rick. Not sure I want a master villain. Most evil minds are banal, even ordinary.

kmfrontain said...

I'd categorize "introduced possible supects" under nebulous presence, lol.

Rick said...

Bernita, I am not really a big fan of villains, so to speak. There are enough dragons that you don't need a Dark Lord as puppet master. But in a suspense story you surely need a primary villain of some sort.

Well, who has reason to want Lillie dead? Who - and it could be several people - has the nerve and means to act on it. Is there a plausible way they can feel justified?

Bernita said...

Good, Karen.

Let's see Rick, revenge by the husband's lover, someone who wants her property, and fanatics who feel she is a danger - that's three possibles that occur to me, variations and combinations allowable.
Think I might categorize a primary villain as the one who comes closest to succeeding, ie. by result rather than intent.

December Quinn said...

Yep, bring them in early, but make sure you bring in a red herring or two around the same time, and somebody new later.

My favorite scenes are the Big reveals. If you let any of my books that have one fall open by themselves, that's hwere they open to, because I reread those scenes more than I reread the books themselves (although I reread both.)

Jeff said...

I usually prefer the villian or villians to be introduced somewhat early in the story. That way I have someone to keep my eye on, even if I'm wrong about the culprit in the end. :)

Sam said...

I usually try to redeem my villains, lol.

But each book is different - I don't think there's a rule of thumb, as you put it. It depends on the book, totally.

Marie said...

I prefer to bring the villain in early to create suspense.

Bernita said...

Thank you December, Jeff, Sam, Marie.
Thank you all.
This helps me tremendously.