Thursday, July 4, 2013

And Now For A Word From Our Villain

Here's another writing peeve. It's not a BAD thing, just an annoyance that I recommend against.

In thrillers you'll enjoy Our Hero doing great things and defeating the bad guys. And as the novel, or series of novels, progresses the challenges Our Hero overcomes grow larger and larger. This process of escalation is a Good Thing and I can't recommend it enough.

But as the challenges become larger and more complicated, they need to be explained and elaborated to the reader. And the writer may want to increase the sense of jeopardy that Our Hero faces even if s/he doesn't know what's coming. It's not a Bad Thing for the reader to know that the Nazis have held back a secret Death Radio transmitter even if Our Hero doesn't know they intend to use it on her/him. My peeve is how the writer discloses this to the reader.

Let's suppose the Nazi with the nefarious plan is Agent X. The opening chapters of the novel really have to be written from Our Hero's point-of-view (POV) or the POV of someone close-by. And let's suppose you manage to get Our Hero through several scrapes of greater and greater danger. All the while you're sticking with Our Hero's POV.

The moment you change the POV to Agent X is jarring. It is more jarring the longer you wait. My peeve is that I think you ought not ever use the villain's POV. I think a skilled writer need never do so. Suppose Our Hero is in love with the fetching Deja Thoris and milliseconds after they proclaim their unending love, she is spirited away by Agent X.

Now, s/he can gloat in front of Deja or, even better, Deja can investigate what her captor is up to.

I think it is better to keep the POV in characters who are sympathetic to Our Hero's story-goals. The reader really ought not identify with the villain's story goals, and writing scenes from Agent X's POV humanizes him/her. You can write Agent X as a fully-developed non-cardboard character, but you dare not make him so sympathetic that your readers start rooting against Our Hero.

If you go into Agent X's POV, then you might show him kicking puppies or something else to make the reader hate him more. It really depends upon whether your plans for Agent X's defeat require the reader to really, really hate him.

(I've been known to stop reading just before the climax b/c I hated the hero and loved the villain. Such works never get more than 1-star or even the time it takes to write a "that sucked" review.)

Part of the reason why I advise this is my own discomfort when reading scenes wherein a room full of Nazis detail their nefarious plans. I'm not happy seeing them twirling their handlebar mustaches and laughing nefariously.

Or let's suppose you want to show Agent X as a conflicted, tortured sort who will repent of his/her Nazism and help Our Hero at the last moment. That can justify a few scenes in Agent X's POV to make the repentance seem un-contrived.

Now, if Deja Thoris is spitting in their beady little Nazi eyes, and saying "they'll never get away with it" it's a little better. Hackneyed, but a little better.

But I'd rather see Our Hero thwarting that nefarious plan, and I may just skip the Nazis plotting chapter just so I can get back to Our Hero.

For the most part, I recommend you stick with Our Hero's POV and if you have to jump into someone else's head, make it someone sympathetic to his/her story goals. Of course, you know your story better than I do, and you have to balance the forces in play to tell your story as clearly and as interestingly as possible.

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