Tuesday, July 21, 2009

There are Villains, and then there are...

by Jude Mason

As others have hinted at, when I first began writing, I had no idea villains were such an important aspect of story telling. I figured writing romance and erotica, all I really had to do well was write about sex!

Okay, so after my first book was published, I realized I needed to do some work on my bad guys. It wasn't easy and I still suck at those really cool ones you don't realize are bad until the end of the story. Mine are all so obvious it's painful. But, maybe that's all right too. You get your cliche' bad dude and it's easy for the reader to hate him. Here's a little snippet from Livin' on a Prayer, one of the Slippery When Wet series':

"Mr. Santino?" Logan reached across the man's desk to shake hands with one of the fattest men he'd ever met. He'd called and Santino had told him to come right over. Apparently, Shane had told the man about him and the job was still open.

"And you're Logan White; Reverend Grayson spoke highly of you."

"Call me Logan, please. I really need the job; I hope Reverend Grayson explained I need to start as soon as possible."

"Sit down," he said and lowered his bulk into the office chair. The office itself was small, a filing cabinet and the desk with the two chairs was about all there was room for. Santino filled his side of the room, and more. Balding and in his late forties, at least, he had a dour look that made Logan slightly uncomfortable for some reason. "Yes, Shane told me you were new in town and money was tight. He also told me you're fresh out of COR."

Logan's stomach lurched, but he sat down opposite the big man. Here it comes—the excuses and reasons why he couldn't hire an ex-con. Logan readied himself for the disappointment.

"Yes, I've been out for about two weeks, maybe a little longer now."

"Any trouble inside?"

An unusual question, he thought, but replied, "No, nothing. I did my time and got out."

"And you want to start right away?" Santino shuffled through a folder, sorting out a set of papers.

"Yeah, the money I had is about gone. I either find work soon or I'll be out on the streets." The confession came hard.

"Can you have these papers filled out by tomorrow morning? You can start then."

"Really?" Logan asked, shocked, glad, confused, but most of all just happy to have a chance. "I mean, yes, I'll have the paperwork back to you first thing and what time would you like me here?"

Santino laughed, a loud belly laugh that rocked his chair, threatening to break it. "Well, we don't do a breakfast so get here at no earlier than ten. Chef can show you were you'll be stationed and where things go.

"One thing, you mind your own business and whatever goes on at Zarah's stays in Zarah's. Got it?" There was a threatening tone to that last remark and Logan wondered what the deal was, but agreed. He really had no choice.

You get right from this little bit of description and dialogue that Mr. Santino isn't a nice man. If I'd made him blond, blue eyed and smiling, he'd have been a better villain, in some ways, but that's my shortcoming.

I'm also very, very fond of strong women who take care of villains. Roses was one, but let's take a look at something from Cat's Claw instead. The villains in this book were a family of hillbilly poachers, the Baxter's, who are so damn obvious it was impossible to make them anything but.

Ahead, the window slammed shut. Both of them ducked a little lower into the weeds. Looking toward the house, she saw the front door swing open and a tall, slightly over-weight man strode onto the veranda. He was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and at first, Morgan didn't think he was the one—too ordinary looking. Dark-haired and bearded, he looked a little like a bear. But when he reached behind himself back into the house and brought out a rifle, she knew he wasn't just somebody living in Tommy's house, it was him.

A gentle push against her haunch reminded her of how dangerous their position was. Less than twenty-five meters from the house, if they made the wrong move, this man, Tommy, might very well see them.

She watched Joshua ease through the long grass and weeds, moving in a winding path toward the house. She followed his lead, but not his path, and zigzagged forward, always keeping the man in her sight. A thistle caught at her hide, something dug between the pads on her left paw and she bit back a yowl of pain. The journey took too much time. She was afraid the man would go back inside before they got close enough to charge.

Joshua bolted. He'd managed to get a little closer then she had, and took the opportunity to rush the man first. She was right behind him, her cougar scream making the hair on her own neck stand up.

"Christ!" the man screamed. He had just enough time to raise the rifle to his shoulder. But before he could aim, or pull the trigger, Joshua was on him. The man hit the floor with a loud thump, but somehow managed to keep his hold on the gun.

Cat claws ripped through cloth and soft human skin. Cat teeth sank into tasty human flesh. Ear splitting screams tore at them. As Joshua raised his head to scream his triumph, she joined him. Straddling the man's flailing arm, she took hold of the gun with her teeth and flung it off the porch.

"No! Get away!" His pleas came fast, furious, and made little sense to either of them in their rage. "Help! Help me!" The call echoed through the night, unheard and unheeded.

There's no mystery, no waiting until the last few paragraphs to drag out Mr. Ugly, as soon as you see this man, you know he's bad news. Perhaps it's just one more style of writing. Perhaps I still have a lot to learn when it comes to plotting (this I have no doubt). Perhaps I just need to stick to my ubur sexy guys with kink and leave the mystery writing with those sneaky villains to others.

Here's a question for you readers. Do you like to know who your villains are before the end of the story? Do you like to have time to hate him, wish the hero would figure it out? Or do you like that shock when he's revealed, mere paragraphs from the end? I'd love to know.


  1. Your style works well for you, and I've always enjoyed reading it. Sometimes it's nice to know who the bad guys are.

    I just like the build-up of wondering who they could be, especially in stories with more mystery.

    Great excerpts and post, Jude!


  2. Hey Jude,
    For me, I separate the two. If you know who the bad guy is right away, then I consider the book a Thriller. And I love thrillers where you get to know the bad guy. Have time to get inside his head and find out just how evil he or she really is. They can be useful to drive the story without losing the edge because you know who they are.
    If you have to keep guessing who the bad guy is, then I look at that book as a Suspense novel. Now I know most places don't really make these distinctions, but it's another way of looking at it.
    Just my two cents. I think both ways work equally well because, in the end, the villain is only there to set the story between your good guys.
    Thanks for the excerpts. Great job.

  3. Jenna,

    Thanks so much. I'm not sure if it works or if I'm still evolving. I like suspense, but maybe a different kind. Find out who the bad guy is and spend the rest of the story getting even with him somehow. LOL


  4. Hi Kris,

    Thank you. Perhaps you're right. I love thrillers and getting under the skin of the bad guy, or the one seeking revenge is something I really like to explore.

    Hey, you back from Edmonton yet?

    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on this.


  5. Nope. Still trapped in Toronto along with three stir crazy kids. My mom has some surgery tomorrow so I'm here till the 30th. I hope you're doing well. And I've been thinking. There's a definite drawback to seeing more clearly...you don't have an excuse as to why the kitchen floor isn't clean, lol.
    I'll check in again later to keep up with all the ladies and their take on the subject.

    hugs right back at ya,

  6. Jude,

    The beauty of the obvious villain is that every time you trot him out onto the page, the reader gets a little chill, anxious to see what Mr. Bad Guy will do next. And there is nothing wrong with that at all!

    Your villains seem to work marvelously well, obvious or otherwise, and you describe them so well, I couldn't not enjoy them!

  7. Hi, Jude,

    What I really like is a villain so complex and compelling that you're really not sure whether he's evil or not. Or a villain who seems evil at first, but then makes you wonder whether perhaps you have judged him, or her, incorrectly. A villain who thinks rings around the good guys, and is only barely foiled by the end.

    I saw a movie last week on DVD called "The Flock", Richard Gere and Claire Danes. This movie annoyed the hell out of me because it promulgated the lie that anyone who is interested in BDSM is a sick pervert, a sex criminal and possibly a serial killer. However, it had a fabulous villain, a woman named Viola, played by KaDee Strickland (an actress I had never heard of). Viola is the wife of a man executed for serial killings involving mutilation and sexual abuse. She was acquitted - she portrays herself as just another one of his victims. By the end of the film, you realize that she is the one with the heart of darkness, that she forced her husband to kill her victims and then deceived the jury. The amazing thing is that she believes what she does is okay. She loves it. And she is fiendishly intelligent, taunting the anti-hero Gere, trying to get him to kill her...

    Pretty awful movie, actually, but this particular character almost made it worth watching!



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