As I’ve been writing chapter 16, I’ve realized I don’t know Alonza as well as I think I do. As an author, I expect to know most of the important things about my characters. But Alonza’s personality is so close and yet so estranged from my own, that it’s easy to overlook his motivations. Through diagramming a brainstorming web, and listing off what Alonza wants from Bre, I realized that Alonza’s flaws are mostly entitlement and self-importance. He places his own worth above that of others, and fails to see why other people shouldn’t do the same. Why they shouldn’t give themselves over to his whims. Why they shouldn’t subject themselves to him. Therefore he feels justified in using nefarious means to get whatever he wants—because, of course, he deserves it, simply because he is who he is, and everyone should recognize that.
Unfortunately, because entitlement and self-importance run so rampant throughout our culture (in real life), they have become almost the norm of treating other people. Meaning, Alonza’s villainy doesn’t stand out as obviously as I assumed it would. This is actually quite sad, as a statement about our culture.
So, my challenge in writing chapter 16 is to make Lord Alonza stand out, as a villain easily distinguishable from the other nobles, from Pandora, from the temple, and from Rome.
You may be surprised that I just included Rome in that list. So was I, when my scene between Alonza and Bre in private turned out to look like a Rome-gone-wrong.
Through this, I discovered that the line between Rome’s self-confidence (in his abilities, and in his place in the food chain) and Lord Alonza’s arrogance (born of his self-entitlement) is very thin. The difference, in case you were wondering, is that Rome has a conscience. In other words, if he hurts someone (like Bre, or the “wheat girl”), he feels it. There is something in him that condemns the action, even if he tries to convince himself it was necessary or that it’s just “what he does.” Alonza, on the other hand, would not interpret what he feels when he hurts someone as “condemning.” In fact, he would interpret the internal pressure as pushing him to continue, like he’s going to feel that twinge inside until he experiences the pleasure of finally getting what he wants.
An article I recently read said that one way to make a villain more villainous is actually to not only make the villain more relatable (so readers can understand and almost sympathize with why they’re doing wrong), but also to make the villain the flipside of the hero. To make them like the hero, if the hero had had a different experience, or gone a different route. I’ve read this about minor characters (in general) too.A reader of my story once told me that I should never write something I don’t feel comfortable with. That may sound straightforward, to your ears. But what makes a villain truly villainous? Is it not the heinous crimes they commit? Don’t authors showcase the evil misdeeds of their villains—things they don’t agree with—in order to make a point? Doesn’t the protagonist have to defeat said villain to make a point about the evilness of their deeds? Therefore shouldn’t the misdeeds, and the villain themself, make readers (and author) uncomfortable?
That’s where I get hung up. I can’t stop every time I get uncomfortable writing a villain, can I? And yet, I don’t get uncomfortable very often while writing (unless I think someone is reading [or trying to read] over my shoulder as I’m writing).
The more villainous I try to make Alonza, the more uncomfortable it makes me. But if I’m honest with myself, part of that discomfort comes from Alonza not doing what he’s supposed to—or other characters not responding to him how they’re supposed to. I have a story track in my head, which is great…but my characters have taken on lives of their own. Just like real people, my characters’ responses to news or provocation depend largely upon the right wording, the right tone and volume of voice, the right accompanying gestures or body language, and the right timing.
For instance, if Rome calls Bre a “good bitch” in a seductively affectionate tone, Bre’s probably going to realize that’s not meant as the traditional insult. Whereas a more hotheaded, reactionary character like Kitiora might throw a fit, pull away, and even slap him.
If Alonza drags Bre into his personal chambers and does things that ride the line between cruelty and the promise of pleasure, she’s definitely not going to enjoy it. Because no matter what, her heart is already set on Rome. BUT, if she is given something that tampers with her normal rational state…she might be more receptive (despite her will), and he will look like less of a villain. Even though taking away her ability to contest him is definitely villainous.
See my dilemma?