I heard someone say recently that it’s easier to write a villain than it is to write a hero. I think I’d have to agree. Villains have a consistent motive—their actions are always reflective of their goal. What is it that they want? What are they after? And to what lengths are they willing to go to achieve that? Once those things are nailed down, a villain can begin to take shape.
Heroes and heroines aren’t always quite so black and white, their motives not always as clear, their actions ruled sometimes by more than just what they want. At least that’s been my experience.
So when I sat down to write my newest book for Love Inspired Suspense, A Promise to Protect, I figured identifying the villain of the story would be the easiest part of writing it. Boy was I wrong.
So join me on a behind-the-scenes look at how I came up with the real villain of this book.
My hero, Matt Waterstone, a United States Navy SEAL, was always part of this story. As was Ashley Sawyer, director of a battered women’s shelter and little sister of Matt’s best friend. I knew from the get-go that Ashley was being threatened because she’d helped an abused woman disappear. In fact in the original opening scene of the book, a woman and her son appear on Ashley’s doorstep, and she agrees to help them vanish.
But who was after them? What would make a woman pull her child out of their home and need to disappear? I asked those questions over and over, hoping to find the right answer. But all I really found were more questions. If the woman was being abused by her husband, why not get a restraining order against the abuser?
That would work . . . unless the husband was above the law. Hmmmm . . . I thought on that for a long time. Could he be the only judge in a small town? Maybe he thought he was the law. Sure, that makes sense. I felt pretty good about that direction, and let it fester. Sitting with an idea for a little while is a good thing for a writer. Letting an idea fester, on the other hand, generally means there’s something wrong with it.
And there sure was with this idea.
As I mentioned before, a villain’s motive is always clear. Maybe not always to the reader. Definitely not to the other characters at first. But he knows why he’s doing what he’s doing. And that motive distinguishes the lengths to which a villain will go to get the thing he wants.
So here I had a judge, who’d lost his wife and son and wanted them back. That was pretty much it.
Which left our heroine, Ashley, in a good spot. So she got a few angry phone calls. Maybe the judge would yell at her if they ran into each other in the produce aisle. Sure, that's not fun. But it’s nothing that would make Ashley’s brother send his best friend running to protect her. She’s tougher than that. The stakes were too wimpy. That meant my story was lacking a reason for the hero to even show up, which makes for a really terrible romance.
So I scratched that idea and tried again. Same abused woman and little boy. Same Ashley whisking them away. And this time the husband was running for public office, a state senator running for the U.S. Senate seat. He needed his wife for campaign appearances. We all saw in the recent election how important wives are on the campaign trail. Now he had something at stake, a reason to come after Ashley and try to get his wife back.
But again, there was something missing. What would raise the stakes and add to the pressure? What would make the candidate move from merely threatening Ashley to actually trying to harm her? A suspense novel where no one’s in any real danger isn’t really a suspense at all.
I was stumped. I loved Ashley and Matt, but I couldn’t find them a worthy villain. Someone who would both bring them together and put their lives at stake at the same time.
And that’s when I realized that I needed someone much worse. I needed someone with not only motive but also means. Someone who was getting pressure from outside. Someone with something on the line if he couldn’t get what he needed from Ashley.
When I freed myself from the idea that my villain had to be an abusive husband, the ideas flowed and within days I had a worthy adversary for Matt and Ashley. I had been so sure who the villain would be, but by following his motives, I discovered an even better one. And a much better story than I would have had otherwise.
Sorry. I’m not going to tell you who the villain of the story is here. That’s a spoiler I won’t spill. But Camy has been so kind to host me and let me share with you a little bit extra about the book, that I’d love to share a copy of A Promise to Protect with one lucky commenter (US and Canada only).
To enter leave a comment on this blog with the answer to this question: Who is your favorite literary or film villain and why?
About the author: Liz Johnson graduated from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff with a degree in public relations and works as an editorial and marketing manager at a Christian publisher. She is a two-time ACFW Carol Award finalist, and A Promise to Protect is her fourth novel with Love Inspired Suspense. Liz makes her home in Nashville, TN, where she enjoys theater, exploring the local music scene, and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her two nephews and three nieces. She loves stories of true love with happy endings. Keep up with Liz's adventures in writing at www.lizjohnsonbooks.com, Twitter @LizJohnsonBooks, or Facebook.com/LizJohnsonBooks.