- Ann Schwarz
- I'm a published author of short fiction for kids and adults. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. I'm a former content writer for Spirit and Truth publishing on their Living the Word series. I've also worked as a paid book reviewer and as a student editor for The Louisville Review literary magazine. I'm a wife and mom to two great kids, three dogs, and a cat. I love books, movies, gardening, kids, and animals.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Embracing Your Inner Villain
One of the hardest things to do sometimes as a writer is creating a villain for our story. We often love our main characters and ultimately we want our readers to love and cheer for them too. But you can't cheer for someone if they don't have any problems. As a reader myself the conflict is what drives me to keep reading and turning the page, whether it is a mystery, romance, fantasy, or children's book.
Recently I read through a middle-grade, short story that I wrote and re-wrote a couple of years ago. I loved the character, the setting was great, but the mean kid, bully of the piece was what my husband would call weak sauce. There wasn't enough meanness to the mean kid. In fact, in one part of the story the bully seemed to be too interested in actually helping the main character. No child would buy this, especially if they have been bullied themselves. When, I began to wonder, did I become so hesitant about embracing my inner villain?
This question really got me to thinking and over the next several days I began to watch my own children at play and listen to their stories about interactions with their peers. It made me realize something. By the time we reach adulthood we've become so good at following directions and following the rules, so we'll be good examples to our kids, that we begin to forget how to embrace that little bit of larceny that is in all of us. This isn't a bad thing, but it can be if you're trying to create a story anyone can identify with. I also realized something else. Kids aren't afraid to create problems or pretend to be a big baddy when playing, whether it is with action figures, legos, or Barbie dolls. Listen to a child play and there is always some sort of villain that has to be defeated or a mean girl the good character has to get around or get the better of. Recently, while watching my son play Lego Batman on the Wii, I asked why he was playing the Joker instead of Batman. He very seriously explained to me that sometimes the bad guys have cooler weapons or super powers. In the picture above, my daughter was being an old crone. Why did she decide to dress up and make herself look this way? Because it was fun and sometimes seeing how convincing you can be is more important that looking like the pretty princess.
What did I learn from all of this you may ask? Children are fearless in utilizing their imaginations even if sometimes it means exploring darker aspects of it. Does this mean they want the bad guy to win? Probably not. My kids still get upset when it looks like the good guy isn't going to win. My son even confessed to me recently that the movie Bolt makes him tear up at times, even though he knows everything works out fine in the end. But in stories this is what we want our readers to do, FEEL. So the next time you find yourself hesitating over that keyboard, or wondering where you went wrong in a story with your bad guy, think of that inner child inside you somewhere. Imagine yourself as the villain and think of why you became so bad. Then have fun being that person for a while. Maybe even dress up like them if it helps. Embrace your inner villain and let them wreak some havoc on your main character. That main character will bounce back, and even grow, and maybe so will you.