Writing a three-dimensional villain – Liv Constantine

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By Liv Constantine

While cooking up the story line for The Last Mrs. Parrish, some of the most fun we had was bringing Amber Patterson, our antagonist, to life. Actors often talk about how exciting it is to play the villain — it’s also exciting to create a villain for the page. ♥

Only a few paragraphs in, it’s clear that Amber is up to no good — that her entire act is one she’s employing to get what she wants. Is she a woman who you love to hate? Yes. Is she a woman who is completely bad? No. And isn’t that what we find in life – that no one is all bad – and so the most convincing villains have a piece of good in them somewhere.

Possibly the most problematic and notorious villain in all of literature is Shakespeare’s Iago. He is evil to the core, betraying Othello’s trust and destroying his life, all for no apparent reason. Iago’s pure wickedness is what has made him a mystery to readers and critics alike, a villain who seems to have no rhyme or reason for his maliciousness. But today, most of us want to know the “why” of a villain’s actions, and this is one of the things that make him or her authentic. A one-dimensional character, no matter how outrageous, quickly becomes boring.

It was critical that Amber be able to justify her actions to herself — to be the hero of her own story despite the path of destruction she leaves in her wake. Amber’s internal monologue gives the reader a glimpse into her talent for justifying what for most people would be grievous wrongdoing. For instance, when she drives an older woman to the brink of insanity by sabotaging her at work, even lacing her coffee with drugs, Amber’s line of thinking lets her off the hook. “Amber felt a little bad about what she was doing, but the woman really needed to retire. Her time would have been much better spent with her grandkids. She’d told Amber she had five and complained that she didn’t get to see them enough. Now she’d get to be with them more, and Jackson would probably give her a good retirement package — especially if he believed that she had dementia. Amber was doing her a favor, really.”

Occasionally, Amber has a moment of self-reflection that causes her a twinge of conscience, but she promptly dismisses it with her own twisted rationalizations. Her motives and tainted view of morality make it impossible for her to empathize with another person, and she always chooses to do what serves her best, the repercussions be damned. Amber is a complicated and interesting character who has elicited shock, outrage, amusement, and even sympathy from our readers. “Good” villains captivate us, their dark side making us search our own hearts for what might be hidden there.

Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. Separated by three states, they spend hours plotting via Skype and burning up each other’s emails. They attribute their ability to concoct dark story lines to the hours they spent listening to tales handed down by their Greek grandmother. The Last Mrs. Parrish, their debut thriller, is out now.


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