THE LADY OF LANARIA: You Have to Have a Villain

Thursday, September 24, 2020

(Photo credit: Pinterest, Canva)

I usually write books where situations are antagonistic, so this was new for me.  And I hated the villain.  But then again, if I loved this crazy person, I might have to have my head checked.  (No offense to the folks who do end up liking her.  I have my own little collection of favorite villains.)  

Amaranth Argent was originally going to be an extremely powerful witch - the most feared of all the lands, as suggested in the "Rapunzel" fairytale.  "The Lady of Shallot" by Tennyson also has a powerful witch who casts a spell on the Lady.  I considered making this a high-fantasy novel with a lot of world-building that included my own magic system, but I really balked at the idea.  I mean, when I look at J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis on my bookshelves, I just automatically give up on high-fantasy ideas because nothing I could possibly come up with would be as immersive and splendid as their works.  Then I thought about the Salem Witch Trials and did a bit of research about witch hunts in ye olden Medieval days, and thought about a situation like that.  As I was doing that, I came across a post in one of the writing groups I'm involved in on Facebook, in which someone was asking about the lines that should be drawn in writing about witchcraft in a Christian novel.  It was an enlightening discussion...that terrified the ever-living tar out of me.  There's some weird stuff out there.  I put the whole story on the backburner at that point because I wasn't sure how to write such a villain without either "faking til I made it" or falling into the deep dark recesses of the Internet.  So I shelved the idea as a whole for a little while. And tried not to think about anything else, because it freaked me out. 

And then I picked up a book by Chip Ingram called The Invisible War, which talks about spiritual warfare (it's a spectacular read given...2020 as a whole...just don't read it at night.  I'm being serious about that last part; I had the weirdest dreams...)  Anyway, it talked a lot about the very real evil that works in this world -- something that consumes and devours.  If I remember correctly, it describes evil as seemingly enormous, but God has already overcome it.  It tries to overwhelm its victims, but it's really just a small, prickly shadow of temptation and suggestion that can be dispelled.  And things almost always get worse before they get better in such cases -- evil doesn't like to give up, you see.  So I came up with a pretty interesting twist for Amaranth as a person controlled and overtaken by the devil, someone who has pledged their allegiance fully to the devil.  It really helped me realign my perspective on her character and how she needed to be represented in the book. Sometimes you just have to have a good villain -- and you have to understand their motivation as well. This is what really, truly got the ball rolling, even though this decision created the need for an entire rewrite.  Plus, with help from my developmental editor, I was able to put a couple little twists in there as well...which I can't talk about, because spoilers.

One aspect of Amaranth Argent's story, which I can talk about, is exactly how uncaring she is.  I'm fascinated with psychology and kept my forensic psychology book from college, which talks in depth about various criminal justice procedures and the untreated mental problems that criminals typically have.  It's a rather handy book for a fiction writer.  Amaranth is completely a narcissistic sociopath; someone who craves the spotlight and has absolutely no conscience.  Someone who willingly exploits another person; someone who belittles and bullies others and feels completely entitled to do so.  At first, I barely had any scenes depicting Amaranth's treatment of Evangeline, because I wasn't sure how to broach the issue...until I realized that I was, a little bit, protecting Amaranth.  Trying to let the readers decide for themselves whether she was evil or not, without sticking my own opinion in.  

But deciding whether Amaranth is evil or not isn't the point of the book, and that doesn't necessarily work for this book -- evil is evil, and I for one am tired of letting people label blatantly evil things as something softer and nicer so they feel better.  In fact, that's one thing that Amaranth does too -- she claims she's the only one who cares for Evangeline; she twists the truth and tells Evangeline that she's the good guy, that she's the one being hurt the most in this story.  She's a manipulator and an abuser.  Destruction follows in her wake.  And more will, if she isn't stopped.  Contrasted against the person that Evangeline is, Amaranth comes across as a complete and utter monster...but she has to be.  Light meets the dark.  

And in the end, instead of an ambiguous plot that paints Amaranth as neither good nor bad, we have to ask this question: does evil consume itself?

I guess that's something we'll have to discover in November. 

In October's newsletter, I'll be offering a free snippet, exclusive to newsletter recipients, with a cut prologue that I wrote from Amaranth Argent's point of view.  It gives you a taste of what's to come, and if you like crazy...well, sign up.  I might also include a snippet from the novel in case you'd rather read something sweet.  Whether you like tricks or treats, click HERE to sign up -- it will land in your inbox October 13th.

Also, changing gears a little bit here, I wanted to let you know about an Instagram challenge that I'm hosting from October 1st through release week.  If you don't follow me on Instagram already, you'll want to check out THIS post for more information -- and I hope to see some of your gorgeous pics! 


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