Monday, August 2, 2010

Villains, anyone? (And contest alert.)

As a Christian, is it ok to purposefully try to scare people by writing an evil villain?

Is it ok to use nasty things like murder and blood to make my villain more realistic?

I have a villain who starts out as an ok guy, but changes to a really bad guy. And he thinks he's justified in doing so. If he were a real character, he would be doing things far more dark and evil than I currently 'show'.

I could just tell the reader what he does instead of showing it. But then how do I make him an accurate villain without getting a slap on the wrist for "showing and not telling"? That's supposed to be a cardinal rule, right?

And also, isn't authenticity a must? Shouldn't my characters stay true to how I've written them? That's the best way to make writing good, and I'm striving to make my writing good to give glory to God.

Sometimes I wonder, when I hear other Christians talk about books and say "Oh, that was my favorite villain!" if they would feel comfortable putting their name as author on a book with such a villain. Do we all just enjoy the evil people in fiction that others create and refuse to make them ourselves because WE have morals? (If so, that's quite hypocritical.)

Hannibal, Iago, Jadis, Saruman, Cruella de Ville........
Which level of evil is appropriate to show?

(I listed Saruman and not Sauron because it feels like in the books we never actually get to interact with Sauron as much as Saruman.)

Even if it was totally ok for me to write my villain as evil as evil can be, do I want to? Even if I kept my character true to himself, would people really want to read about all that? Would I? I'm not even sure if I want to write it, let alone if I should.

And yet, am I denying my writing something that is essential to the story? At the risk of putting ammunition into the hands of everyone I once had an apologetic* argument with, every book needs a villain. It's a necessary evil.

*Apologetics: The art or act of defending what one believes, in this case, the intellectual defense of the Christian faith.

Contest Alert!!!

Possible prizes:

  • A copy of Hannah Moskowitz's book: Break
  • An ARC copy of Lisa Desrocher's book: Personal Demons
  • A query or first five pages critique from Fine Print Lit's intern, Gemma Cooper
  • A query or first five pages critique from Janet Reid's assistant, Meredith Barnes
  • A query or first five pages critique from agent Suzie Townsend
  • A query or first five pages critique from editor Brendan Deneen
First winner gets first pick. Plus they're having a new interview/awesome post every day this week. Contest closes Sunday. Go to it!


  1. I've never written a truly evil villain before--in fact, my antagonists aren't usually living, breathing people--so this in an interesting topic for me. Personally, I don't mind seeing evil characters as long as it isn't over the top vulgar. I also want to see good triumph or else it seems there's no point in writing a bad guy.

  2. Well, I'm not a spiritual writer, or even a religious person.

    But I think Cindy hit on my first reaction. That of vulgarity. What it means to be "over the top" with the villainy or evil content. I think you'll be the first judge of how far to take that concept. Because if it doesn't sit well with you, as the writer, then your message won't be clear to the reader.

    So first, maybe you should push your own limits as a writer and a Christian, and see how you feel about it. I believe there are as many differing concepts of values/morals and what it means to be Christian as there are Christians. If your values allow you to write and explore a deeper level of evil in your characters, then maybe you should go there.

    Hopefully you won't take offense at this; but I like to read erotica. I even write sexuality into my novels. But, I can't write erotica itself - not for publication, anyway. I get embarrasse at my own paltry attempts at the scenes. And whenever someone asks me about the sex in my novels, I have a hard time not blushing and thinking about taking the scenes out of my novel. But this is an essential ingredient in the novels success.

    For you, maybe you need to determine what you could proudly talk about within your congregation, and what you know your genre calls for.

    I don't think you need to compromise your Christian values to write the novel as you see it. You don't have to write every detail of a murder scene to "show" how devastating the act is. Or how twisted the mind. One of my other writer friends wrote a truly ghastly murder scene, and imparted how sick the perpetrator was without going into minute detail.

    It went something like (written from the detectives POV): The woman's eviscerated, mutilated body was spread eagled, tied to the kitchen table. Her face was burned off, her once blond hair matted with blood and gore from her prolonged ordeal.

    Then she went on to describe the reactions of the officers and supportive personnel that witnessed the ghastly scene. She accomplished everything she wanted, and did not have to go into minute detail. We know this guy is a sicco.

    As long as good triumphs over evil in the end, I think you can write both for yourself, and your audience, and still maintain your values Reesha.

    Good luck with your delimma.


  3. Writing and any creativity of any sort is about the pursuit of truth. Good writing is also about contrast. If you wish to portray the triumph of good over evil, then the evil must be a formidable foe. Too often (in especially Christian literature), villains are weak or one-dimensional. But in reality, a good villain must go to any any all lengths, regardless of whether you the author agree with the action or it inconveniences you as a writer.

    I've written many stories with evil characters. One was my first stab at a horror story: a man encounters a kobold (demon) in a village where every year the people sacrifice a child to the god to ensure their good fortune. In that story, evil triumphs because the man allows his fear of the demon to silence him.

    In another (this was a steampunk story), a man invents an automaton who then goes on to start killing women, Jack-the-Ripper style. The question is—is he evil?

    But the real question is: what purpose does having a villain or including violence play in the story? One of my favourite playwrights, Martin McDonagh, is known for extremely violent stories. But violence is always used to reveal character. However, Sarah Kane uses ultra, gratuitous violence to shock and disturb. Those are probably the two poles.

  4. David, you wrote a steampunk story? I must read......please? :)

    After doing a lot of thinking and listening to the comments here, I've decided to keep my villain as evil as he is. I don't like it. I hate writing him. But I don't want him to turn out to be weak sauce. And I'm going to strive hard to make sure that the reader is rewarded for reading about such a horrible character by writing the best story I possibly can.

    Thanks everyone. I think this also officially boosts my story out of the YA range, but that's ok.

  5. Just write the characters honestly. We the readers will resonate with that because we'll see ourselves in them—even the evil characters. Don't succumb to the temptation for them do things for your convenience. Have them do stupid things because people do stupid things. Have them struggle with taking the high ground because it's so much easier to take the low. And let us read the story soon!! :-D

  6. :D Hopefully you can read it soon. I'm on the last chapter as of today. (secretly rejoices)