Tuesday 25 November 2014

Tammy Cohen on 'Creating a Villain'.

To celebrate last week's publication of the dark, chilling and incredible Dying for Christmas, Tammy Cohen is embarking on a week-long blog tour - sharing exclusive guest posts and giveaways of the book too.

Thank you to Tammy for writing the following guest post.

Creating a Villain

Mrs Danvers, Hannibal Lecter, Voldemort, Nurse Ratchet, Count Olaf.

Let’s be honest. We all love a fictional villain.

When I decided I wanted to write a crime novel after four novels that dealt much more in the subtleties of family relationships, part of the reason was that I secretly longed to create a character who was out and out bad. After years of thinking ‘how would a normal person react to this situation?’, how thrilling to think instead ‘how might a crazed psychopath react?’

For a writer, creating a villain is wonderfully liberating. A literary villain has to be larger than life so you’re free to indulge in the kind of awful, extreme behaviour you’d never dream of in reality. Most of us live life constrained by moral and social boundaries but our villainous alter-egos trample those boundaries disdainfully underfoot. Writing evil means there are no limits, no such thing as moderation. The greatest literary villains are a seething mass of exaggerated traits, some good (charisma, wit, intelligence) and some just plain nasty (sadism, jealousy, a violent temper). Obviously balance is key and while a hero might be generally good but flawed enough to be human, in a villain it’s the opposite. The bad traits overpower the good.

But evil doesn’t exist in a vacuum and a villain has to have enough of a back-story that you understand his or her motivation, even if you don’t like or accept it. That’s why writers often give their ‘baddies’ an Achilles heel – a weakness that serves two purposes. Firstly in humanising what could otherwise become a pantomime caricature of evil, and secondly acting as a plot device for enabling good to triumph.

A good fictional villain fulfils a vital role in a book. Having an evil force to struggle against provides tension and conflict in both reader and other characters. It also gives a sense of danger and fear that keep the story from losing focus. The presence of evil will also throw everything else into sharp relief – pitting the compassion, bravery and selflessness of the other characters against the moral void at its dark heart.

Dominic Lacey, my fictional villain in Dying For Christmas is a charming sociopath with a predilection for sadism and depravity. He is also a man whose nightmarish early experiences have left him forever trapped in time with a child’s perspective and a child’s cruelty and lack of empathy, as well as a child’s bafflement when things don’t work out how he’d planned.

I loved writing Dominic. I loved how extreme he was and uncompromising and totally, thrillingly, self-obsessed. He’s a monster but he’s an honest one, never anything less than true to himself. How many of us can say that?

When I was fourteen, a girl from my school disappeared. For months I dreamed of something similar happening to me. I imagined my family crying on TV, saying how they missed me. How everyone would suddenly see what a jewel they’d lost.

Now it is happening. And I realize what a fool my fourteen-year-old self has been…

‘I am missing. Held captive by a blue-eyed stranger. To mark the twelve days of Christmas, he gives me a gift every day, each more horrible than the last. The twelfth day is getting closer. After that, there’ll be no more Christmas cheer for me. No mince pies, no carols. No way out …

But I have a secret. No-one has guessed it. Will you?’


Make sure you follow the rest of the blog tour for more exclusive pieces from Tammy and chances to win Dying for Christmas.

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