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The Sirens of Suspense

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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Allison Brennan is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of seventeen romantic thrillers and many short stories. RT Book Reviews calls Allison “A master of suspense” and her books “haunting,” “mesmerizing,” “pulse-pounding” and “emotionally complex.” Joyfully Reviewed made her latest book, IF I SHOULD DIE, a Recommended Read: “If I Should Die is a spine-tingling chiller that will wrap you up in its mystery and take you on a heart-pounding race to the breathtaking finale!” Lee Child says Lucy Kincaid is, “A world-class nail-biter,” and Lisa Gardner says, “Brennan knows how to deliver.” The fourth book in the Lucy Kincaid series, SILENCED, will be out on 4.24.12. Allison lives near Sacramento, California with her husband, five children, and assorted animals.

Find Allison on Twitter and Facebook.

http://www.allisonbrennan.com

A Worthy Villain item1
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The villain is the hero of his own journey.

--Christopher Vogler

 

That quote from Vogler was a lightbulb moment. Once I realized that the villain is his own hero—that there are few truly evil people in the world, that they are all motivated by something—it made creating believable villains not only easier, but more fun.

While a “good” evil villain can make a story amazing (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE RED DRAGON, the Emperor from STAR WARS), the best villains are conflicted or have some “good” in them.

A good villain needs to challenge the hero; a good villain must be as smart—or smarter—than the hero. The villain needs to be complex, capable, and cunning so the hero is challenged. It’s the hero’s intelligence, perseverance, and humanity that brings the villain to justice—not merely following the breadcrumbs of a villain who would rank in the Top Ten Stupidest Criminals.

In essence, not only does the villain need to be worthy of your hero, but your hero needs to be worthy of your villain. It’s the creation of this dynamic that gives the reader what she is looking for in crime thrillers.

Every book has a villain, but not all villains are cut from the same cloth. In non-thrillers, the villain is really the antagonist—someone who isn’t necessarily a bad person, but who prevents the hero from achieving his goals. For example, a mother who doesn’t like her daughter’s fiancÚ and tries to break them up; the colleague who sabotages her friend in order to get a promotion; the guy jealous of his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend.

In romantic suspense and thrillers, the villain is a “bad guy.” There may be redeeming qualities to the villain, but he (or she!) is definitely someone who needs to be in prison … or dead.

When you think about the villain as the hero of his own journey, you realize that there are logical reasons for every action the villain takes. Logical for the villain. This is why authors (or actors) need to spend some time in their villain’s head. Think of the villain as you would the hero, ask the same questions.

What does the villain want? (Goal)

Why does he want it? (Motivation)

Why can’t he have it? (Conflict)

This is only the start. To me, these questions are simplistic, and a good villain is anything but simplistic.

Villains are not pure evil, though they can be. Most villains, however, have some humanity. Mariah Stewart, in DEAD WRONG, had a very compelling villain. He committed evil acts, but he loves dogs. Dogs reminded him of the one bright spot in his childhood. This love for animals is both his “good” and his downfall at the end of the book. So while some writers will use the statistically accurate “serial killers kill animals in their youth,” others find a believable twist that shows the humanity within even the most horrific bad guys.

One of my favorite authors is Dr. Keith Ablow, a forensic psychiatrist, whose hero, Dr. Frank Clevenger, is also a forensic psychiatrist. Ablow gives him an authenticity that is rare and deep. These aren’t books for the faint of heart, and Clevenger is not a heroic hero—he is a semi-recovering drug addict who has screwed up many times, and screws up in the course of the six-book series. But he is so compelling and at his core he is a hero.

PSYCHOPATH is a game of cat and mouse. Johan Wrens is the Highway Killer. He slits the throats of random people all over the country. His body count is in the dozens. Wrens is also a brilliant psychiatrist who helps disturbed children. He has relationships with women, is attractive and cultured. He’s a bit reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris’s “arch-villain”—but in many ways, far more layered. He’s definitely the bad guy, but he also saves children for a living. He detests crimes against children, and that redeeming quality, especially when the reader learns his whole story, makes him a tragic character. Truly one of the best books I’ve read in the genre.

The villain makes—or breaks—your story.

I spend a lot of time developing my villains. I really don’t know my villain until I get into their head. Sometimes, that’s hard to do. Sometimes, it’s so easy it’s scary!

In IF I SHOULD DIE, the latest book in the Lucy Kincaid series, I had fun with my villain. She’s a narcissist and smart and ruthless. She has little impulse control—her control is learned and not organic to her character, so when things begin to fall apart for her, she becomes impulsive—which is both dangerous for the other characters and destructive for her.

Chapter Two foreshadows the villain’s impulse control issues (WARNING: explicit language):

 

When I was ten, I wanted to kill my brother.

I pushed him off the roof because I caught him searching my room for money. I was half his size and five years younger. I may have been born with a vagina, but I’ve always had more balls than he ever did.

He only broke his arm. I went down to the front yard and broke his fingers for good measure. He’s lucky I didn’t cut off his hand like they do to thieves in some countries.

When I turned fifteen, my daddy’s best friend tried to force me to suck his dick. I shot him in the balls.

I don’t suck dicks.

Daddy took care of that problem. I didn’t kill the prick, but he’s dead.

Amen.

Before he got himself killed, Daddy always warned me that my temper would get me in trouble. I listened. Common sense taught me I had to control the Amazon inside. Can’t push my brother off the roof because he’s family, and blood is all we can count on. Can’t shoot someone in the balls because it’s messy, and messes are hard to clean up.

      

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WHO ARE SOME OF THE MOST COMPELLING VILLAINS YOU’VE READ LATELY? Seen on television? In the movies? Tell us, leave a comment, or ask Allison a question by commenting below or visit us and share your thoughts on our Facebook page and be entered to win of the first book in her Lucy Kincaid series LOVE ME TO DEATH!

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