Do I think like the villain or like the good guy? Easy – I’m thinking like whoever has the most to lose in every scene.
My point-of-view characters are usually my protagonists – the good guys – so I spend a lot of time in their heads because it’s their character arcs that figure most prominently in my books.
But a villain must be well-motivated or they’ll bore your readers, and so they must have three-dimensional arcs as well. Their screen time may well be far less, but they must seem real.
I’m wrapping up the third book in my Stella Hardesty mystery series, so at this point I’ve set Stella up against three major villains (and a variety of ne’er-do-wells).
Each time I’ve had to spend some thinking time exploring the thoughts I would think and the acts I would commit if I was that villain.
That’s an awkward sentence, but it’s also accurate. As a writer, you don’t “become” your character. You consider – in a hazy, free-associating kind of way – all the impressions and memories and facts you know about all the people and events that resulted in the composite who is your villain and then step into the suit that is the result. From that unique vantage point, you write what you (now) know.
I wrote a story a while back about a frustrated, indulged middle-aged executive whose misgivings and self-doubt goad him to violence. I have little in common with him, but I know this guy well; he’s a composite of people I’ve known or worked for or talked to at cocktail parties, and his frustration and insecurity aren’t so different from the garden-variety I’ve experienced plenty.
So when he picks up a Sur La Table meat pounder and contemplates using it to kill, I was, for the moments it took me to write that scene, in a mind-meld with the guy.
I like that character. He’s creepy and believable, but I was only able to write him that way when I put on the Suburban Malcontent suit. (Luckily, I took it off again when I was done writing or who knows what sort of havoc I might have wreaked.)