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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Character Clinic: Natalie Crenshaw, Non-POV Villain

I've got Stephanie's villain on the couch today, and I must say, I'm thrilled! I think villains are unappreciated and not nearly as thought out as they should be, so kudos to you, Stephanie, for realizing the importance of making Natalie unique yet sympathetic.

Natalie grew up in a Christian home, her dad a powerhouse deacon who was a little strict and demanded perfection from her. The smartest thing Natalie did was begin to date Chris Anderson, a guy who takes his faith very seriously. However, after they got engaged, Chris went through some sort of trauma he doesn't talk about, and a psychiatrist gave him a new drug that he ended up getting addicted to.  Natalie broke up with him, concerned about her "perfect future" being ruined. Now Chris is back in town, sobered up, and Natalie's out to get him. But Chris is into another girl, Grace, and Grace's ex-husband is in cahoots with Natalie to break them up. Natalie's faith is surface-level at best, and all she wants is to be accepted, especially by her dad. Chris is her linchpin to getting what she wants, and he's not cooperating.

Stephanie wants to know: How can I make Natalie a villain no one's seen before without crossing into her POV? Grace's ex-husband is the one who does the dirty work here--Natalie's just a willing participant.

Stephanie -

You've set out a task for yourself in that you don't want Natalie to be a POV character. That means that you'll have to use dialogue and action to get her point of view across. But what is that, exactly?

You've got a clear goal (get Chris back) and clear conflict (Chris is into Grace). What I see as problematic is no clear motivation. You might be tempted to say the motivation is to win her dad's love and affection again--or her perfect future/life--but in reality, this is an internal goal. Debra Dixon's book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Great Fiction is the best book on this subject. Period.

I'd do some reconnoitering about her motivation to win Chris back. Is her pride hurt that his addiction came before her perceived importance in his life? (This would be based on a lack of understanding of what addiction really is.) Does she feel guilty about throwing his ring back in his face? Does she regret/doubt her decision to leave him? Is he disappointed in her because of that? Does she feel a need to win back his good favor....much the same way she wants to win back her dad's affection?

It appears that Natalie is the mastermind behind Grace's ex-husband's actions. She's the brains, he's the brawn. This set-up is not original, but you can play with it to make it so. What would make for an interesting switch is if Natalie starts as the brains but her own mental health issues get in the way. Maybe she finds herself craving even the ex-husband's approval, to the point where she loses control of the situation in her attempt to be pleasing. 

You didn't mention if you were using the ex as a POV character, but without one of the two giving glimpses into their covert conversations about how they plan to break Chris and Grace up, you will have a much harder task on your hands. But good luck!

Let's Analyze: Any tips from you writers/readers out there how to make a non-POV character's motivation shine through?