Warning – this post contains spoilers
The novel I’m writing sits within the Fool Triumphant or Chick-Lit genre. Although, it doesn’t strictly fit as chick lit because there isn’t a love interest – at least, not in the version as it currently stands. I am wondering whether incorporating a love interest will provide an additional layer and give a greater depth to the novel, but that’s a thought for another day.
Anyway, back to the point. As I was writing draft two of my novel I was reading two books on the writing and editing process. Both mentioned Bridget Jone’s Diary. So I decided to buy it and see what all the fuss was about.
Advice from ‘On
A good story requires the author to know their hero or heroine inside-out. The book ‘On
Editing‘ advised writers to also delve into the back story of all supporting characters and villains.
Unlike fantasy stories, the villains in this genre aren’t inherently evil. They are normal people whose lives cause the hero or heroine to stumble, preventing them from reaching their goal. This could be intentional or coincidental. Either way, they make life hard for the heroine.
Bridget Jone’s Diary is an excellent example of this. While it is clear that Daniel Cleaver is the ‘bad guy’, what is interesting is that he isn’t trying to be a villain. There is nothing bad about him per se, he is simply a jackass.
Thoughts on Daniel Cleaver
Anyone who has watched the film but not read the book will envision a smooth, ultimately harmless Daniel Cleaver whose charm prevents you from staying mad at him for too long. We know he is the villain, but we kind of love him anyway.
I expected to find a very similar character in the novel.
Boy, was I wrong!
The novel-version of Daniel Cleaver has absolutely no redeeming qualities at all. Nada. Zilch. And the worst part – there is not a single hint of why he acts the way he does. So I read the entire novel looking for something I would never find.
I don’t know if this is because Helen Fielding didn’t explore Daniel’s history, or whether she did but chose not to include it so that the reader doesn’t find themselves excusing his actions.
Most likely its because the book is written in diary-form and there is no way Bridget would know the little nuggets of information that make up the villains backstory. If she did, she would most likely use it to excuse his behaviour and as a good enough reason to hop back into bed with him; ultimately preventing her from getting together with the ever-so-dapper Mark Darcy.
What does this have to do with my novel?
My villain, like Daniel Cleaver, is a narcissist. Unlike Daniel Cleaver, he is also an arrogant, nasty, belittling little…I can’t type the word. Please use your imagination and insert a bad word of your choice here, that’s my villain.
However, as the story currently stands, he comes across as a little wooden. Like the pawn he evidently is that pushes the story along (ironic, right? – a narcissist whose only objective is to aid someone else story). So, I decided to take Helen and Kathryn’s advice, the women who wrote the book ‘On
It’s time to delve into my villain’s backstory.
I have an entire wall dedicated to my novel, including an outline of all of my minor characters, including the villain. I list their quirks, habits, what they look like, how they move the story along and anything else I think will make them feel more rounded and life-like.
I asked myself what happened in my villain’s past that led him to behave the way he does. But that brought me to the question: what does cause someone to become a narcissist? Or mean? Or spiteful? And by assigning a reason behind their actions, are we essentially excusing their behaviour because [insert something sad or bad] happened?
How much digging is ‘too much’?
While I completely agree that we need to understand all of the characters we write about to honour and respect them, I don’t want to give my villain any excuses for his actions. At least not this particular villain.
I’m very aware that this argument most likely stems from the fact that I don’t want to get to know my villain. I don’t like him. I don’t respect him. And I certainly don’t want to honour him. The last thing I want is to start peeling back his layers and discover that I actually like him.
BUT, if exploring his character will enhance my novel then it’s something I have to do. If for nothing else, to honour the characters that do deserve it.
This is very much a part of the story-writing process that I’m not enjoying.
See, being a writer isn’t always a bed of roses…sigh.