Crafting A Villain: Looking at Ourselves by Lindsay McKenna

A good villain in a story is essential to make it interesting, dramatic and sometimes even dangerous to the hero or heroine.  When I first started in the publishing world, back in 1980, I, like many ‘young’ inexperienced story tellers, did not give a villain what I term, a “full personality.”  He was a cardboard character in my book.  Honestly?  I didn’t like my villains at that time.  Why would anyone want to write about another human being who had the capacity to hurt, harm or kill another human being.  For that reason, I didn’t want to get my hands “dirty” with the inner machinations of why a villain was a villain in the first place. Blame it on immaturity!

I began to look at my villains differently over time.  I began to realize that babies, when they are born, are NOT inherently evil or bad human beings.  Just the opposite:  they are innocent and pure, untouched by humans around them.  I started delving into the psychological reasons of why some kids turn out to be ‘bad,’, to be bullies, or capable of negative human traits and actions.  As I pondered this over several years, I came to realize that the first 18 years of our life, do indeed, mold and shape how we see the world because our parents are doing it every day we live under their roof.  What a parent did or did not “brainwash” a young child of two or three, on up until they were eighteen and could leave that home, and get out into the world, would be carried with them the rest of their lives.

I began to see villains in a far more compassionate light.  I’ve gotten many letters and emails over the years about my villains.  Not so much that they did ‘bad’ things, but readers too, began to understand that those first eighteen years made the villain the way they behaved.  And readers began looking at their OWN life as a result.  What was their upbringing like?  Was their abuse? Dysfunction?  Or did they get lucky and have that ‘happy family,’ that 95% of the rest of the world, didn’t get?

My villains, their shaping and coming to life in my books, has been remarkable for my own insights into myself and the way I was raised in my family.  It gave me self-awareness that some of what I was taught, wasn’t healthy.  And when I saw that, I changed it from unhealthy to healthy.  Not without a lot of work!  And you can too.  But some never see it and remain stuck in that way of seeing and living in the world.

One of these days I’m going to write a book starring a villain and watch how he or she comes out of the brainwashing done to them in a dysfunctional family and then blossom into a healthy human being instead.  Cree Elson comes from a dysfunctional family.  I hope I’ve drawn him to be understood, despite his inability to be self-aware enough to stop his behavior.  At least he’s not a ‘cardboard character.’

The new novel from the bestselling author of Wrangler’s Challenge.

No one can outrun the past forever . . .

As a combat photographer in Afghanistan, Tara Dalton saw things she won’t ever forget, as much as she would like to. And after returning Stateside, she can’t fight her way past the PTSD that’s haunted her ever since. Desperate to make a change, she joins her old friend Shay at the Bar C Ranch, where a group of ex-military vets are putting their lives back together one step at a time—including one strong, gentle bear of a man who makes her feel safer than she has in years.

Harper Sutton fell farther than he ever imagined after his tour of duty as a medic was up, and he’s not proud of it. But at the Bar C, he’s doing work that means something, and he’s training to be a professional paramedic. That’s enough to concentrate on, until Tara comes to share his place at the ranch. The shadows in her eyes are darker than simply memories of war, and every moment he spends with her opens up parts of himself he’d thought long dead. But as Tara’s troubled past threatens the present, it will take trust in each other to fight for a future together…