Who doesn’t love a good villain?

5 08 2014

This isn’t a throwaway title. Carefully weighted and judged.

Villains come in many shapes and sizes. I have written before about “black hats” and “pencil moustaches” in the traditional baddie but the thing about most cads and rotters you read about or see in films and on TV is that they have a redeeming feature. Something to hook in the audience.

Is it a tale of an abused childhood to elicit some sympathy and possible empathy?
Is it a love of stroking long haired cats? How can a cat lover be all bad?
Does he love his old mum?
Carry a terrible secret?
Walk with a limp? (A limp what?)

Most villains are written with something good on the side. Something that either gives the reader or the hero some pause to consider the person behind the balaclava mask, the motives for evil.

However, sometimes you find someone without that redeeming feature. You find a villain written as a villain, pure evil, self-centred, careless with the precious world and all else in it. What does the reader do then?

Typically, they will look to empathise, look for something to help understand this bad guy. And if they cannot find it they start making excuses,
…perhaps he???
…surely he must have???
… he’ll be redeemed in the end – just wait and see.

penguin

As a writer I try to give my villains something for the audience to hook in to. Not necessarily something big or obvious since no-one likes being led by the nose! Sometimes however, sometimes, the villain fights back. Sometimes the little bit of good you give them turns out to be a con operated on you as the writer.

Sometimes a bad guy is just that. Bad!

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Using a photo of your hero/ine

18 06 2014
my hero?

my hero?

How do you picture your hero? Your leading lady? That person you are spending every spare waking hour thinking about and trying to get inside their heads – what do they look like?

Most first time writers find their characters too close to either themselves or to a friend, ex-colleague. Then they have to go through and add a false moustache, dodgy accent or side parting. However, is there an easier way for us to disassociate with your characters whilst also having a focus for the thoughts and feelings you are endowing them with.

I use photos and portraits. Some might argue it’s a bit of a cheat but I argue back. How is it so different to illustrating a character for a cover of a book? It is still from imagination since all I have is a face, hair, sometimes not even a body. But with a picture I have a base to build their dreams upon.

But whose to use? I have a red folder full of faces. Some cut from magazines, some from the internet, some blown up from backdrops in holiday shots. All filed away in order of hair colour initially, then within hair colour are grouped people with the same shape of face, down to nose categories. I built my folder with a hundred men and a hundred women some five years ago so even if any had backstories I had glanced at in the magazine of choice I have no recollection of the facts. They are just fodder now. Nameless faces I build my books upon. Ghosts.

How do I picture my heroines, my leading men, by bit characters and murderers. I look them up in the directory and give them their names. Then they build their biographies as their stories come to life.

Hopefully some of their fictional lives make up for hard times in the real world.





On the corner of Worship St

9 06 2014

I tweeted the other day (@hhcoventry) about the title of a story which came to me whilst walking through Shoreditch in London. It whirled around in my head with various ideas slotting into place. Some I discarded as derivative e.g. where we first met, where she died, where I was born. Some I discarded because they were just a bit shit.

I am a chick-lit writer. It’s in my soul. But there has to be more. My drawer of ideas fills up regularly and so perhaps it is time to consider other genres, other foci and then do a bit more than just consider them. Chick-lit isn’t dying but tastes change and readers are looking for something different.

Chick-lit will continue to be the bread and butter of my life but why not try a different flavour of jam. Suspense, thriller, psychological nightmare horror. All are in the mix but for Worship St I am thinking about a heist.

I do detectives in my chick-lit novels. Chick-lit-dicks as I have called them before. But now it is time to jump to the other side of the fence and stay within the law when solving a mystery. I see a police detective – a woman of course, it’s what I know – with a snitch who hears something about Worship Street in the wind. A half heard conversation. A hard nut vanishes for weeks only to be seen in Shoreditch. Why Worship St? Just a quiet backwater or a cut-through for a security van when the high st is closed for repairs?

I like the idea of fitting a story to a title. That’s why so many competitions do the same in the writing world.

Now I need to decide which one of my creative minds I will task to bring DI Sheila Cooper to life. Make her breathe. Make her strong. Make her love. Make her real!





Quirks in your writing – what do you always include?

16 05 2014

Clive Cussler appears in each of his Dirk Pitt novels. Somewhere, for at most a page or two, a silver haired gent appears in the narrative and says or does something a bit helpful to the hero before never being seen again. It’s nice, a kind of magic in each novel. Something to watch for. Something you know is coming and you wonder how he will weave himself into the world this time.

Hitchcock loved a cameo in his films, and what will be world be if the next reboot of Star Trek doesn’t rely on one flash of light that shows a Spock moment somewhere. If we ever lose Nimoy I expect CGI will be fired up with pointy-ears a-plenty and he’ll save every one of us.

Do you have a gimmick? Something you always put into your writing which makes you smile as you type. It may be you do it just for yourself and if anyone noticed you’d deny it. Perhaps you set it as a challenge for your readers in the know.

It’s strange but it’s true that, for me, in stories if not in blogs, it is not complete until I have a Queen lyric or two somewhere in the crazy paving. Perhaps in the dialogue, perhaps in prose. Somewhere Freddie, Roger, Brian and John live again





Cultural references again. Positive stereotypes in your writing

12 05 2014

I talked in a previous blog about the difficulty of finding an innocuous name for your heroine without the baggage of being named for someone famous, someone your readers associate with traits uncommon to your character. Depending on the age and demographic of your readers, Julian could be seen as Clary or Fellowes, Tom could be Cruise or Stoppard, Maria could be playing tennis or singing.
Instead of seeking to avoid falling foul of unwanted associations you do have the option to embrace them instead. Find a big personality, someone everyone knows with unmistakeable mannerisms – then take it to extremes in your writing. Give your character the name Biggins and everyone in the UK has a picture in their head which you can build on. Use Eastwood and you will struggle to distance yourself globally from the hard man of film. So do it! Build a tale around an Eastwood who is struggling against the stereotype but cannot help but slip into character when at parties, to meet girls. The accountant who acts a film star?
If I want a quiet northern girl to blossom in my story perhaps she should be a Miss Horrocks? Victoria W is always telling jokes in her job and seeking a way to perform for a living?
Of course, the difficulty with this is that you may be in danger of being sued if the person you are obviously parodying to extremes is not 1) dead or 2) willing to play along with your libellous words. So, using positive stereotypes may be one only for the braver writer. Perhaps the rest of us should stick with making people up –made from bits and pieces of scores of others, but made up all the same.
If one is a gay comedian or another is a short, religious action hero then it is just a coincidence and any reader wishing to overlay a real person on the loose descriptions I write is welcome to do so. It’s all in their heads anyway!





White hats, black hats, masks and pencil moustaches – who’s the baddie?

14 10 2013

I don’t write children’s books where, for the very young, an author has to make the baddie obvious. They cackle rather than laugh, they lurk rather than wait, they are sly rather than cunning. And they often wear a black hat.

In the world of adult literature the role of the baddie isn’t so clear cut. Nor should it be. There are bad people out there – people without redeeming characteristics, without a care for the social convention. But they are pretty rare. Most of us live in shades of gray – not 50 necessarily, but quite a few and those shades can lighten or darken depending on what we are doing at any one point in time.
Ask anyone not locked up in my cellar and they see me as a good man, someone with obvious flaws, attractive ones of course, but nothing which would put me on a register or lead to imprisonment. Ask me, and I might give you a bit more background about hidden motives behind good deeds which may cast shadows on your perception. Does that make me a baddie? How would I portray myself as a baddie in the written word to put the reader on notice or should I leave it to them to work out for themselves?

The latter is the obvious answer. Leading my reader by the nose is not how I see the contract between us. Every one of us has had a bad day, most of us succumb to the darker urges to varying degrees at some time in our lives. I think it is my job to show by actions, by written thoughts, by implication that this is the villain of our show. If you, dear reader, are worse than the bad things I illustrate him or her with then I rather imagine you will keep it to yourself!HH Coventry wears many hats but does not have a pencil moustache!





What’s in a name? Cultural references and your hero/heroine

27 09 2013

Now we have a new Prince, is George destined to be the name of heroes and lovers rather than office workers and bores? George Clooney started the rot with his handsome ruggedness but now the name is securely that of a real man.

How do you choose your character names when all the good names are being associated with the great or good, famous or infamous? There are so many so-called celebrities flashing themselves brightly for their 15-minutes that it is difficult to find a name without a cultural reference – if not for you then for one of your editing circle.

Nicknames may be the way forward for some but you can’t use them for everyone in your book or you’ll lose the reader in a morass of confusion.

Changing names depending on the subjective voice in your book is another way to change a perception of a character. His mum says William, his friends call him Bill, his niece cutely speaks about Uncle Billykins and the police just say Mr Adams.

You could go for the commonplace – everyone knows a couple of Johns, Simons, Lisas, Sandras. No single character trait will therefore be endowed. You can give them their own life history, their own cultural references. Elton and Elvis are more difficult to assign to new characters though.

How about surnames? If nothing comes to mind, you can’t beat a good road atlas. Place names abound through literature without you even noticing!