Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Making a Villain
So, I had a vision of one key scene in the story , I had a world in which the story could happen, and I had at least the first part of the story plotted. I even had the hero, and some of the subsidiary characters , although I still needed to do a lot of work before I could think about writing much about them. What I didn’t have , though, was a villain.
It’s always seemed to me that in the kind of book which I was going to write, you’re going to have a villain, and he, she or it is every bit as important as your hero. Maybe even more so. So its vital that you’re clear about just how you are going to use him ( I shall use the male pronoun for the villain from now on for the sake of brevity ). Are you going to have a shadowy figure of great power to terrify, who you never see clearly, and whose evil is achieved through is minions – such as Sauron in Lord of the Rings ? You could make a similar claim about Voldemort in Harry Potter, although to be fair he does play a far more active part in the books than Sauron does, and in my view he’s a far more fully conceived character than Sauron. Or do you create a villain who is far more on a level with the hero ?
It was a thing which I had to devote quite a bit of thought towards, I don’t mind telling you. I think I started to make headway when I started thinking about the kind of killers who make the headlines in the papers, especially those who commit multiple murders. Its certainly not a very pleasant thing to think about. Still, when one of these ‘monsters’ is finally discovered, one of the things which is often said by those who know them is that they seemed perfectly normal – the people around them , who had dealings with them in their everyday lives , had no idea that they were killers, and frankly, warped. This was something that I thought might be interesting to explore, and so my villain, I decided was going to be outwardly respectable. Obviously a man of some power as well. It would be interesting to explore the idea of a seemingly weak, pathetic and powerless individual actually turn out to be a monster in human form, but I didn’t want to stretch credibility too far.
I certainly haven’t studied serial killers at all extensively. Still, another thing which came across from the little bit of research that I’ve done is that although we can’t understand what motivates their actions, indeed, its madness to us , they often can understand it. To them, there is a sense , a reason and logic behind their actions. This was something I wanted to explore. My villain does some terrible things, but he can explain why he does everything, and he has a reason for doing it.
One other thing which helped me create Absalom, my villain, was to consider the effect that doing evil has on the psyche. You can call it conscience, or guilt if you like, but whatever the case it led me to one of the most intriguing motifs in the second and third parts of the book. Here’s just an extract to give you a little flavor of it : -
“The threads of the web withdrew from Ermine’s scalp, and before his astonished eyes now began to snake through the air towards Absalom. They curled through his long dark hair, and then, in the middle of the thread, a loop appeared, which stretched out towards Ermine, and floated gently over his head, settling upon his brow like a crown, or a noose. Once again ermine lost the sensation of being in his body, but only for a brief moment this time. When he regained feeling he was no longer inside Absalom’s room. Instead, he was inside Absalom’s head.
He was on a vast and endless ocean. Standing on it, rising and falling gently with each wave, but never breaking the surface. He was instantly reminded of the insects that Harold had told him were called pondskaters, insects with ridiculously long legs that managed to stand on the surface of a pond without breaking the surface tension of the water. Slightly ahead of him he could see Absalom Havelock, running away from him across the surface of the water, and he could hear his voice screaming. Absalom was being pursued by many many figures, dressed in robes, dark and grey with long hoods. The closest one to Absalom , who seemed to be on the point of catching him, was obviously a woman. Her hands like claws continually reached out and grabbed, forever falling a fraction of an inch short.
Ermine began to chase after them as fast as he could, but this was not very fast at all. Running on water was like running on treacle, although Absalom and his pursuers seemed to be having no difficulty. Falling further and further behind the mad chase Ermine took a gulp of air and shouted,
Absalom ignored him , and so did most of the pursuers, but the closest figure, the backmarker stopped. It turned to face Ermine, its face shrouded within the dark expanse of void within its hood, but it beckoned him, and in a voice no more substantial than sea mist whispered,
Ermine did as the ghostly figure commanded. He walked, carefully and with difficulty up to the waiting figure, straining to see beyond the blackness where its face should have been. Eventually he did so, seeing the face of a man, indistinct , but a man nonetheless, a large man, middle aged and rather sad. The man spoke, his voice made of shadows,
“ What do you want, magician ? What business do you have invading this man’s dreams ? “
Ermine did not know how to make reply. He didn’t know what to say.
“How do you know that I am a magician ? “
The ghostly man did not laugh.
“Only magicians, or the Dead, can enter a magician’s dreams. What is your business in Havelock’s dreams ? “
Ermine decided that the truth, such as it was, would probably be the best thing to say.
“ The iron spider brought me here. I don’t know why. Anyway , “ and here he tried to sound braver and more cocky than he felt, “ what are you doing in Absalom Havelock’s dreams yourself ? “
To Ermine’s eyes it looked a little like the shadow man was laughing, but no sound came from his lips , before he replied ,
“What would a shade be doing in any magician’s head ? ! We’re haunting him, of course ! He killed us. All of us. “
Ermine stated the obvious,
“You’re a ghost ? “ The shade made an exasperated tut and raised its eyebrows .
“Yes, obviously. My name was Ingo Seivebaecke. “
Seivebaecke’s shade so obviously was not human, or not human in the sense of being alive, that ermine found no difficulty in accepting what it had said. This was partly the effect of finding himself within a dream, standing on the ocean without his feet getting the least bit wet watching his master receding into the horizon. And so he listened, as the ghost of Ingo Seivebaecke told him its sorry story of how Absalom had come to be his apprentice , and how the nineteen year old Absalom had raised the Leviathan of the Deeps to sink the Mary Rose, killing him and many of the sailors on board.
“A magician who uses his magic to kill must expect to have his dreams plagued by his victims, “ concluded Seivebaecke. “I bet that your master has never taught you that truth. “
“He hasn’t taught me anything very much at all. Did he kill all of these people ? How ? “
“They are most of them poor sailors from the ship. And as for the others . . . “ The shade stopped talking abruptly.
“Go on. “ urged Ermine.
“I cannot. “ replied the shade. “He is waking. “
With these words still in his ears, Ermine lost all sensation, then found himself back in Absalom’s room. “
Of course, these things, while important, weren’t enough by themselves to create a character. There were still many secondary questions I needed to work out the answers to – his back story , and what exactly made him the monster that he is – his exact connection to Ermine in the first place – the way that their relationship has to develop – and so on. But as much as questions about Ermine and Harold drove the development of the plot of the first part of the story, questions about Absalom were just as important in helping me develop the plot of both the second and last parts of the story.
Mind you , there is one other important element of the story that I haven’t mentioned at all yet.