What’s Your Villain’s Childhood Trauma?

Hi everyone!

I’m back in Deadline Mode, so today I thought I’d give you a snappy writing tip disguised as an observation about The Count of Monte Cristo, followed by a link to cute babies (not mine this time), and then I can go back to work.  Excited?  Ooooo?  🙂

Don’t worry, I won’t give away anything major about The Count of Monte Cristo – this is an observation about the first few chapters (and I haven’t finished it yet, so I can’t reveal too much anyhow!).  (Side note: my post title is an oblique Buffy reference…big hugs to anyone who got that!)

So, the book starts by introducing us to this very likable character, Dantes.  But in the first chapter, we also meet a guy who hates him, and this villain’s motivation, pretty clearly, is Envy (with a bit of Anger mixed in).  He resents how likable and popular and successful our young Dantes is.  You can kind of understand that, and yet you are also squarely on Dantes’ side; he’s just a nice guy, and he can’t help it.

But the bad guy’s envy is so well executed that my first reaction, reading it, was: “Wow, he could be a poster child for one of the Seven Deadly Sins.”  (OK, I’ll grant you that might be an odd reaction.  Possibly I studied for Jeopardy! too much.)  😉

But THEN in chapter TWO we meet ANOTHER potential bad guy, and his motivation, very clearly, is Greed.  He loves money; he covets Dantes’ future wealth; he let his neighbor starve by demanding repayment of his debts.  There’s also a fair amount of Gluttony in him, as he also loves food and drinking.

The Seven Deadly Sins, by the way, are:  Envy, Greed, Gluttony, Anger, Lust, Sloth, and Pride.  So as I’m reading chapter two, I was like, wouldn’t it be hilarious if we meet another villain in chapter three who’s, like, motivated by Lust somehow?


Our third villain hates Dantes because the girl he wants is in love with our hero! 

Well, I thought it was hilarious.  Surely Dumas did this on purpose.  It’s too clever to be accidental, right?  Because guess what?  A few chapters later…BAM, our fourth villain shows up, and he is Pride up and down.  TOO AWESOME.

As far as I can tell, Sloth isn’t making an appearance, but it’d be tough to shape a compelling villain around laziness, wouldn’t it?  (Writing challenge for you!)

Anyway, the writing tip I’m circling around here is that if you’re looking for a strong motivation for your central villain,  it doesn’t hurt to start with the Seven Deadly Sins.  I think a lot of villains are drawn as characters who just want power, and too often we don’t know much more than that.  But that’s not really a motivation; that’s more of a goal, and what you want to know is why.  Is he jealous of someone?  Was she rejected in love?  Did he think he was going to win (because all his life people have always told him he’s amazing), only to lose for the first time?  Is she looking for a shortcut to fame and fortune? (Hey, there’s your lazy villain!) 

The list of Sins isn’t the end of your search for a motivation, but it can be a helpful jumping-off point.  Dumas made his Deadly Sin villains much more than walking adjectives, and he spun a 1000-page book out of it (a really good one!).  

There, now isn’t that deep and helpful?  ;-)  Thanks, Dumas!  Now I need to go work on my own current villains (revenge, pride, greed, lust…ooo, they really do suit the list!). 

So I’ll leave you with this:  Hilarious things to do with a sleeping baby!

HEEEEEEE hee hee!  My favorite, naturally, is the little bookworm.  SO MUCH AWESOME!  Now I am sad that my own little guy is past the age of sleeping soundly enough for this kind of fun.  He so needs his own pirate tableau.  Thanks to Jon Scalzi for the link!

Stay cool, everybody!  This is perfect library weather, so go hide in the air conditioning and read something wonderful.  Might I suggest The Count of Monte Cristo?   :-)  By the way, check out this selection of cover options:

image  image  image  image  image  image

Boy, cover design is a wild and crazy world, especially when you’re dealing with a public domain classic where the author can’t rise up from his grave to complain.  (Do it, zombie Dumas!  And dibs on that movie idea, by the way.)  I’m particularly not sure about that last one, where our noble Count looks more like Mr. Collins, the insufferable clergyman Elizabeth declines to marry in Pride and Prejudice.  HMMM.  I think I like the prison ones best…I’d rather leave the Count to my imagination.  :-)  But there sure are options for everybody!

Quote of the Day:  “I prefer rogues to imbeciles, because they sometimes take a rest.” – Alexandre Dumas