June 4, 2010 – Give to thine hero a fault, and to thy villain bestow charm

This is an old rule for writers who want believable characters.  For me, giving my villains charm is more difficult than giving my heroes faults.  My book has three villains.  One, an Imuechmeh by the name of Eric von Gault, is the el supremo villain.  He’s clearly evil from the beginning, and is obviously who our heroes must eventually fight and attempt to overcome.  But von Gault is clearly quite intelligent, and he doesn’t just spray and pray with a gun to hit his targets.  He hunts people down.  He sets people up.  He uses people—and can be very charming and convincing when he does.  And he can even use that friendly, innocent charm to make someone turn traitor.  He’s clearly something of a psychopath, but he’s a psychopath that can blend in with normal society anytime he wants to.

Jonas is the second villain in my book, and he’s a poster child for Anselm’s saying about some people are just mean bastards, and nice people can’t understand why they are.  All we see out of Jonas is an arrogant, spoiled man, who takes whatever he wants.  We do find out, however, that the woman that was his sire was in love with him.  Kalyn can’t imagine why, but it plays to that old saying, “a son only a mother could love.”  I’m not sure if that’s adequate charm for Jonas or not—knowing that some fool woman loved him—but he’s not a major character anyways. 

The third villain is a traitor who I won’t name, because I don’t want to give away the surprise.  He is not a villain in the way that the other two men are villains.  He turns traitor not because he’s mean, but because he’s weak and a coward.  It’s the idea that the road to hell is paved with good intentions: my traitor manages to convince himself that things are okay, or that he can make things work out, but he just keeps digging a hole for himself deeper and deeper.  His charm is the fact that he’s not intentionally mean.  It doesn’t change the fact that he is directly responsible for a number of people being killed, but I think when you hear his excuses, you’ll probably recognize someone you know—someone who is always full of excuses for poor decisions, and who is always trying to shirk responsibility. 

Giving my heroes faults was not a problem, and not even something I had to think about or plan on doing.  Anselm is a perfectionist.  And while that’s a good thing most of the time (he’s an excellent housekeeper), it can make him a bit indecisive because he wants so badly to make a perfect decision.  He also burdens himself with too much guilt and is too reluctant to talk about his feelings. 

Micah’s teasing sometimes walks a fine line between being fun and being inappropriate, but for the most part, he’s capable of being serious when he needs to be.  His main problem—and one he will admit—is that he’s not patient.  He would bull ahead into situations which might get him into trouble, if not for Anselm’s cautious nature (which is separate from his indecisiveness).  Micah is not quite as mindful of the consequences as he should be, and could be easily lured into a trap because of his impulsiveness.

Kalyn is very intelligent and is quick to see problems and work through solutions.  But that turns into a fault when she makes a decision and tries to plow ahead with it, regardless of what anyone else wants.  This namely comes into play with Anselm; her impatience, coupled with Anselm’s indecisiveness, leads to some friction in their relationship.  She wants to go faster and he wants to go slower.  Some might even accuse her of having a stubborn streak.

Marie is a very strong-willed woman, and she tends to run her group with an iron fist.  Which isn’t to say she isn’t fair, but she also believes in being obeyed.  She can also be practical to the point of ruthlessness, if necessary.  Anselm, by contrast, believes that he needs to earn people’s loyalty rather than demand it.  It’s the old Machiavellian argument of whether it’s better to be feared or loved. 

Joshua probably has the least noticeable faults of any of my heroes.  Unlike everyone else, we never see him argue with anyone.  He is not without a certain amount of ego, but I think it’s carefully tempered by the fact that he will put everyone else above himself any time it’s necessary.   But Joshua himself tells Kalyn that he has to work at reminding himself that he’s not God, and to not let people’s near-worship of him go to his head.  Joshua, unlike everyone else, recognizes his flaw and works hard to try and overcome it.  (We will eventually see, though, when Joshua has his own book, that he was once a very prideful, arrogant young man, and he learned a hard lesson, a long time ago, about controlling that pride and arrogance.)

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