Christa Miller brought up a good point earlier, that writers are sometimes like method actors. We try to get inside our characters' heads, write them from the inside out--in essence, becoming that character.

I'm interested to know how other writers approach Evil. When you write a villain, whether it be a serial killer, a jealous stalker, a terrorist, a disgruntled employee bent on revenge, etc., how do you go about getting inside that character's head? Is it merely a matter of research, or do the best writers have a true dark side they can tap into?

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Very scary, Karen. But as you write the villain, do you distance yourself as a rational observer, or do you really try to crack The Evil One's subconscious and understand his/her motivations?
Backspace is great! I'm not a member yet, but I have visited the site.

I think you're right, Karen. Killing people for a living is therapeutic. ;)
Evil, a favorite topic of mine. I was a therapist for 25 years, and I can see both sides of the paradox. On the one hand, when you get to know the cocaine importer, the hooker, the crooked lawyer, the junkie, they are real people, with complex pasts and a lot of trauma that they are very unsuccessfully trying to cope with. On the other hand you see the wide swath of destruction and suffering behind them and see their absolutely disastrous impact on those closest to them. That's how I know my villains, I have to love them and despise them.
I like that, David. Love them and despise them. Excellent!
Dark side, definately. Then the research follows. My villain in my WIP began with a phrase and then, like always, he just started appearing out of a darker recess of my mind. I then did the research on the particular obsession that fuels him. It's odd, but he's easier to write than the protagonists. Besides, I always like the bad guys much more than the good guys. They are meatier and without them to bounce off of, the good guys would have absolutely nothing to do. So, the more evil my villain , the more fun the writing.
I agree, DA. Villains are fun to write. And making them really bad makes defeating them all the more satisfying.
Thanks for the link, Karen. Very interesting. I agree that most villains exhibit varying degrees of NPD.
I have a lot of trouble with villains. While I totally agree with DA, putting it into practice is hard for me because I tend to draw my characters from people I actually know (not precisely; I use some element of a personality to jumpstart my characterization). My villains tend to be a bit two-dimensional as a result, even when I do give them backstory (like the label "conduct disorder" or something).
Christa: Two-dimensional villains can work in certain contexts, but I think it's more satisfying (for writer and reader) to give their personalities multiple layers. When the hero then exposes the villain, it's sort of like peeling the skin from an onion. It takes some work (and tears) to get to the heart.
Sounds like you're really getting inside your villains' heads, Jon.
My research tends to be inside me -- taping into that dark side--thinking like my bad guy thinks, smelling what and how he smells, touching what he would touch, doing what he would do, and then reacting the way I think he would.

For me, I must BECOME the bad guy.

Then, of course, I must come up out of that 'mind' realizing I am NOT him. I do have different reactions, feelings, etc. I drive that little guy right back down inside and lock him away, cleansing myself on the way.

And actually, I find this approach liberating. Because, my bad guy ultimatlely loses, and my good gal wins, so -- I know what I DON'T want to do in my world--with my life, 'cause I like to win!

Syl
I think that's when villains are most convincing, Syl. Written from the inside out.

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