Nicola here, introducing the August Ask A Wench. This month we are talking about heroes and villains. I enjoy reading a story with a good villain. From Georgette Heyer’s languid beau, Basil Lavenham, plotting to take his cousin’s inheritance in The Talisman Ring to Daphne Du Maurier’s splendidly dark Mrs Danvers, the villain can be a powerful force. But do the Wenches find it easier to write heroes than villains, and which do they prefer? Here are their thoughts:
Mary Jo Putney:
I never have any problems writing my heroes. Oh, I might have to spend some time thinking about how I’m going to torture them and what the consequences are, but really, characterizing my protagonists is easy.
It’s villains I have trouble with. If they have any redeeming human value, I have a terrible desire to redeem them. To make them heroes of later stories. Heck, my very first book, The Diabolical Baron, included a villainous cousin, Reggie Davenport. He was a cranky drunken sot, but the blasted man showed at the end that he had a sense of humor, so I ended up writing a book about him.
Granted, The Rake and the Reformer did great things for my career. (The historical version, The Rake, will be reissued by Kensington next April. Haven’t a cover yet, but I’m told it will be rather like the lovely cover they did for the reissue of The Bargain.)
But there’s a limit to how often one can redeem villains. Since I don’t like killing off characters that might not be totally bad, I usually make my villains operatically awful. The sort of monsters that deserve to die. (I think the nastiest villain I ever did was in Silk and Shadows.) For me, it’s easier to do that, but it makes for rather two dimensional villains. Mea culpa!
Villains are definitely harder. My problem, writing villains, is that the bad guys are really peripheral to my core story. I'm not writing 'protagonists fight evil' so much as 'protagonists fall in love'. The villain is always relegated to a subplot.
What this means in practical terms is that I can't spend a lot of time of him. I can't make him so complex and interesting he takes the reader's attention away from my major players.
This is a little bit of an excuse though. I just plain find it hard to write bad, selfish people. It's one of the hard parts for me. I keep promising myself to work harder on it.
I love writing heroes although I don’t necessarily find them easy to write. I enjoy creating a hero who possesses integrity and the other qualities I admire and I love presenting him with problems and challenges. But villains… Now here’s the thing. I love creating villains too.
Often there isn’t that much room in a romance book for a villain; they are part of the sub-plot because the main story is always going to focus on the relationship between hero and heroine. That said, I think that a “good” villain can add another dimension to the story. A villain can act as a mirror to the hero and heroine, a contrast, dark to their light, used to draw out their good qualities. In Whisper of Scandal I used Lottie as a contrast to the heroine Joanna. On the surface they appeared to have a lot in common but Joanna was a heroine who drew on her integrity to do the right thing whereas Lottie was in contrast irredeemably selfish. I say irredeemable but I almost always want to redeem a villain. Sometimes I resist the impulse of trying to reform a very flawed character; other times, as with Lottie in One Wicked Sin, I succumb to the impulse and try my hardest to show that even the worst of characters have reasons for behaving as they do and the ability to grow nad improve.
Sometimes, of course, a writer just wants to create a really bad villain and give them their comeuppance and I have thoroughly enjoyed writing Tom Bradshaw in the Scandalous Women of the Ton series. Tom makes his final appearance in the next book, Desired, and goes out in suitably melodramatic fashion!
I definitely find heroes easier to write. I like my heroes. I can give them qualities I admire and that interest me, and I know that when I toss challenges at them they'll reveal new strengths.
Villains, however, aren't my thing, even though they're a necessity. I often have petty ones. That might not be as thrilling in a fictional sense, but so much of the evil done in life arises from the envy, greed and particularly the fear of ordinary people, and if I start to create a Truly Vile Villain – he
or she seems so over the top I just can't go on. The TVV I did create was in my medieval, Dark Champion, but he was mostly based on a real person in a bloodthirsty era. Fire, rape, and pillage isn't so easy in Georgia England!
Therefore I generally despise my villains rather than hating them, and sometimes even feel so sorry for them that I can't bring myself to smite them mightily. As a reader, however, I like to see a Truly Vile Villain meet his dreadful but just fate.
I'd be interested to know other people's best and _believable_ villain in a historical romance.
That depends, she waffles. In my romances, the hero takes up a whole lot more space than any villain, which requires far more complexity of character, motivation, and dialogue. So an immense amount of time and thought and constant editing and revision will go into his development. But all the hero’s details are pretty strong in my head, so it’s just a matter of digging into the raw clay and perfecting him.
My villains, on the other hand, are little more than a plot device. Yeah, yeah, he’s the hero of his own story and has his own motivation, but he’s just not on screen much. In THE DEVILISH MONTAGUE, the villain is vilified more in conversation than actual stage action. I’m far more interested in what’s happening between my hero and heroine than the problems of a shadowy background character. He pops his head in occasionally, and it’s devilishly difficult to squeeze all his character and motivation into those small scenes, but a few pages out of a hundred can’t be classified as “hard,” in my book. The difficulty comes in figuring out how he fits into the plot, then packing all the information he carries into a small space.
Let’s just say I like writing heroes better than villains and call it a draw!
Now it’s over to you. Do you enjoy historical romances that feature villains and have you read any historical romance villains that fit Jo’s criteria of being interesting and believable characters? I’m offering a backlist book of choice – which may or may not feature a villain – to one commenter between now and midnight Tuesday!