Monday, June 29, 2009

Split Person-ality

Question: Do you think like the hero or think like the villain?

Depends whose point of view I'm writing in.  I write deep third person point of view and try to immerse myself totally into that character while I'm writing them.  Every character is part of me and I'm part of every character--even the badguys.

That being said, I don't often write in the villain's point of view.  I enjoy complex villains and want to make them psychologically as realistic as possible.  Since I've actually met real life killers, including one serial killer, I know that this reality is often not what readers expect from their fictional badguy--they want their villains to be over the top, diabolical, with a reason for everything.

Sorry, but real life isn't like that.  In real life, the badguys look just like you and me.  They aren't plotting three steps ahead of the cops or laying a trail of red herrings. 

They're often impulsive and take action because it's convenient or just easier to turn left instead of right....they're often narcissistic sociopaths and don't need a lot of motivation to do anything if it gets them what they want.

Since going into that kind of villain's point of view probably wouldn't be compelling or entertaining for readers, I tend to instead allow the villains to slowly reveal themselves through their actions.  The other characters experience the consequences of those actions and the reader can learn about the badguy at the same time the point of view characters do.

But....there's always a but, isn't there?....I've just started a project that features a badguy who feels very real to me.  In his point of view, he's just trying hard to be a good son, to do right by his parents, and to protect his family.

To the rest of the world....well, let's just say that the "creep" factor is revving past the red zone on this one, lol!!!

And, yes, I'm having a blast!  But I think it is because he truly is the hero of his own story.  He's doing all the wrong things for all the right reasons.  So who are we to judge him?

Here's my question for you all: why do YOU read crime fiction?

Is it for the vicarious thrill of being inside a badguy's head as he dishes out delicious deviltry that you'll never (ever) get the chance to experience in real life?

Or is it for the catharsis of playing the hero,  the comfort of knowing that some times the good guys do win and justice is served?

Thanks for reading!

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller."

The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, is due out October, 2009. Contact her at


Unknown said...

Thanks for the thought-provoking post! I think I stick with mystery fiction because my favorites posed interesting questions in their books: "what does it mean to be a moral person in an immoral universe" or "what price does deep perception have on a person?" or "how different are the cops, the crooks, and the big rich?"

Plus I have a criminal turn of mind, despite my clear strong moral compass. So, the inner conflict of being able to figure out how to beat a system, but knowing it's wrong to actually do so, is often reflected in a comforting way.

Plus all the reasons you guys gave for writing it -- seeking justice for tragedies witnessed as a younger person, etc...

I'm never as interested in the villain as I am in the protagonist, though. I grew up in Las Vegas in the late 60s-early 70s, and there were predators aplenty in real life to avoid :)

Debbie Kaufman said...

I love watching the story all play out in a crime novel. I'm not much for a slow pace introspection, just drive the action for me! That said, I seem to find it easy to write the villain's point of view. That may be because of all the DFCS files I've read or it may be something I need to take up with a therapist :)

CJ Lyons said...

Love to play with those questions--and the paradox of having a moral compass but being able to think like a criminal!

What fun!

Thanks for stopping by!

CJ Lyons said...

I hear you on the DCFS stuff--I think that's why there's always kids in my stories, nice to see things work out for them in my not-so-real world.

I agree, keep the characters compelling and the action coming!

Hmmmm.....not sure if I should be worried about how easy you slip into the villain's pov, lol!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Isn't it depressing to find out the truly stupid and random reasons people have for doing things, even tragic things? Circumstances just come crashing down and it's usually nowhere near as complex as fiction. But no one wants to read about that.

CJ Lyons said...

Sad, but true, Becky. But that's why we write fiction, right?

Rebecca Cantrell said...

To make the chaos make sense by sheer force of will. Yup, sounds like a good reason to write (and also like someone who's a bit of a control freak...).

CJ Lyons said...

Control freak??? Moi???? LOL!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Well, I meant me of course. :) But I think control freak may be a common writer's disorder.

Or at least that's what I tell myself.

CJ Lyons said...

LOL! Yeah, where else can you play god, creating your own universe??? Perfect for us control freaks!

Kelli Stanley said...

Control Freaks? Us? ;)

Occupational characteristic of writing ... along with OCD. Or is that just me? Tell me it isn't. ;)

BTW, Ceej--I want to know more about this new character/project! Sounds really cool!!



Kelli Stanley said...

AND I want to know more about Mysti's childhood sojourn in Las Vegas ... no wonder the girl's a noir fiend! ;)


Jen Forbus said...

Like Mysti, I enjoy the questions that arise in mysteries. The more complex the better. And I enjoy the puzzle...whether it be a question dealing with social issues or the basis of mystery...the "who dunnit." Puzzles have always fascinated me. Again, the more complex, the better. I want to be entertained, but I wanted to be challenged, too. The truly great crime fiction novels can do that in spades...;)

CJ Lyons said...

Kelli, I think a little OCD isn't a bad says the seat of the pants writer who often has her editor tell her she has the same character in two places as once, lol!

CJ Lyons said...

You're right! I'm more into characters than the puzzle-part, but when a writer can give me both, I love it!

Just finished John Hart's THE LAST CHILD and Lisa Gardner's THE NEIGHBOR...both books were very character driven yet had great whodunnit plots.

Terry Odell said...

I like the puzzle aspect of solving a mystery, so I really don't like a villain's POV at all. I want to "play along" with the detective, hero, or whoever has to solve the crime. I do read suspense, but only really enjoy it IF the hero, detective, or whoever is a compelling character.

Thus, I'd rather not spend so much time in the bad guy's heads in John Sandford's PREY series, but because Lucas Davenport fascinates me, I've read the entire series.

CJ Lyons said...

I agree, Terry. Suspense is so grounded in psychology, in the present (as opposed to straight mystery or thrillers), that a compelling character is necessary.

Love Lucas!!! Definitely a compelling character there!