The two primary goals of any novelist are to create multidimensional, true-to-life characters, and to evoke emotions in the reader. No matter how riveting the plot or lush the language, if a writer does not fulfill these two objectives, he or she has failed.
Stephen King—like him or hate him—is a master at creating fascinating characters. He can take an ordinary person, place him or her in an extraordinary circumstance, and bring to life a truly interesting character. If you think that King can only work his magic with horror, then you should read The Green Mile or Shawshank Redemption.
When it comes to stirring emotions, a reader cannot be fully invested in a story if he or she doesn’t feel something. If they’re lukewarm on the characters or don’t feel churning in their belly as they turn pages, then the writer has not met his or her responsibilities.
The interesting thing about emotions is that negative ones—fear, anxiety, concern, dread, trepidation—engage a reader more than warm and fuzzy emotions. When a character is walking into a dark room and the reader feels it in their bones that something evil is lurking, it builds much more drama and suspense if the reader cares about the character’s welfare.
Villains, in particular, are difficult to create and make believable. The biggest pitfall for a writer is trying to create a villain that is totally evil, devoid of even one redeeming quality. Pure evil doesn’t exist. Well, there are a few politicians that I feel are evil to the core, but that’s a post for another day. A truly gifted novelist can create an evil character that is so charismatic and alluring, that the reader struggles whether to hate him or love him.
For all practical purposes, I am about 95% finished with writing, editing, and proofreading Resuscitation, the sequel to They Never Die Quietly. However, I am terribly unhappy with my villain. He didn’t meet my expectations, nor is he complex enough. All three of the readers I asked to evaluate my manuscript confirmed my fear that the villain is “boring and lacks characterization”.
This is bad news for me because now I need to backtrack, and literally recreate the villain to more clearly define his motivation to commit evil acts, to change his demeanor, modify the way he interacts with other characters, and of course, I must make him more believable.
I am under contract to deliver a completed manuscript to my agent no later than January 15th, so the hourglass is draining quickly. Needless to say, I’ve got my work cut out and must admit that I feel a pang of panic. So if you don’t see any new posts for a couple of weeks, please forgive me. I may check in from time to time with a quick update, but don’t expect my usually witty, compelling, intellectual, satirical, thought provoking, and of course, humble perspectives.
Wish me luck.