I’m stepping aside today and giving the reigns of my blog over to N.S. Wikarski, the author of archaeological thriller “The Granite Key”, who will talk about writing believable bad guys. Enjoy!
How to Write Believable Bad Guys
“And the thing is, I like my evil like I like my men – evil. You know, straight up, black hat, tied to the train tracks, ‘soon my electro-ray will destroy Metropolis’, bad. Not all mixed up with guilt and the destruction of an indigenous culture.” –Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Buffy is my hero in all things, save this. Straight up evil villains don’t make the most believable bad guys in a novel. I consider a villain to be the single most important character in mystery fiction. Without a good villain, what’s a hero left to do? It only stands to reason that the character burdened with carrying the entire plot forward should be endowed with a tad more emotional complexity than a cartoon.
Some authors equate good villainy with monstrosity. If they can write a fiend so grotesque that mothers grab their children and clear the streets, they feel they’ve done their job. Freakish bad guys are only interesting to people who pay money to attend circus sideshows. To such an audience, the mere sight of someone biting off a live chicken’s head is an end in itself.
I’d like to think that good fiction demands something more of its heavies. They don’t need to be piteous specimens who immediately claim our sympathy but they should have some kind of rationale for what they do. A writer can’t make a bigger mistake than to pen a bad guy whose basic motivation could be summed up in the words, “Because I’m evil, evil, evil! Bwa-ha-ha!”
Thriller novels featuring sociopathic serial killers have been the trend for at least the past two decades. From a motivational standpoint, serial killers make uninteresting villains. According to the latest psychological research, sociopaths process reality in a different way than the rest of us. Their brains don’t make an emotional connection to others so they have no brake pedal called empathy to stop their heinous actions. They do what they do because they’re incapable of doing otherwise. A serial killer who acts on compulsion is a wind-up toy, albeit a murderous one. His bloody rampages inspire shock in the reader but that sensation lasts about as long as the nausea after a roller coaster ride. If you want a villain to be memorable, his atrocities have to be fueled by something more than a blind urge.
What I’m driving at here is the notion of choice. The old fashioned term would have been free will. Knowing the difference between right and wrong requires a conscience. The most realistic villains all have a conscience but they’ve managed to twist it into a tool of destruction. They commit epic crimes against humanity because they believe they’re doing the right thing. These men are determined to save the world no matter how many people they have to kill to do it. To me, a villain like that is far scarier than the guy in the hockey mask toting a butcher knife. A believable villain’s eyes glow with inner conviction. He can hide in plain sight. You’ll never see the danger…until it’s too late.
The Granite Key
Author: Nancy Wikarski
Genre: Archaeological Thriller
THE ARKANA SERIES: Archaeological Thrillers That Defy History
Volume One – The Granite Key
“Think ‘MEDIUM meets THE LOST SYMBOL’ and it only begins to describe the pleasures of THE GRANITE KEY – 5 Stars.” (Kindle Nation)
A Wake-Up Call
In a nightmare, nineteen year old Cassie Forsythe sees her sister attacked by a man in a cowboy hat who demands something called “the key.” Her nightmare mutates into reality before the night is over. Cassie is called to identify her sister’s body–murdered exactly as her dream foretold. Cassie dismisses her vision as a fluke and fights to get on with her life. Disconnected and aimless now that her only family is gone, she drifts until the evening when she catches the man in the cowboy hat ransacking her sister’s apartment. He bolts with an odd-looking stone cylinder–the granite key. From that moment, Cassie’s normal world evaporates.
A Secret Society
She learns that her sister led a double life–retrieving artifacts for a secret organization called the Arkana. The Arkana’s leader, an elder named Faye, explains that her group performs a controversial kind of archaeology. They scour the globe for evidence of ancient pre-patriarchal civilizations in hopes of salvaging the lost history of the world. Their network of troves safeguards artifacts from highly sophisticated goddess-worshipping cultures on every continent. Cassie’s sister had the psychic ability to touch an artifact and relive its past. Cassie has now inherited this gift. Faye wants the girl to take over her sister’s role in the organization. Cassie doubts her powers but agrees. Now an insider, she is transported to the Arkana’s mysterious underground vault in the countryside outside Chicago where the group tackles the mystery of her sister’s murder.
A Dangerous Cult
The Arkana learns that the man in the cowboy hat is a hired mercenary named Leroy Hunt and that he is working for a fundamentalist religious cult known as the Blessed Nephilim. He takes his orders directly from the cult’s domineering prophet–Abraham Metcalf. The granite key which Leroy stole is inscribed with hieroglyphics revealing the location of a mythological artifact reputed to have mystical powers–the Sage Stone. Although skeptical of its legendary capabilities, the Arkana is still afraid to allow the relic to fall into the cult’s hands. Abraham’s fanatical belief in the power of the Sage Stone could be the catalyst to start a war of religious genocide.
Unlocking The Key
Before she died, Cassie’s sister took photos of the strange markings on the granite key. The Arkana decodes the hieroglyphics which point to the ancient ruins of Minoan Crete as the hiding place of the Sage Stone. Faye hastily assembles a retrieval team including Cassie, her newly-appointed bodyguard Erik, and a British researcher named Griffin. The band of treasure hunters is mismatched and wildly dysfunctional from the start. Griffin has never gone on a field mission, Erik treats his inexperienced colleagues with contempt, and Cassie second-guesses her psychic hunches. She battles to prove herself to Erik at every turn. Their internal clashes rival the bigger crisis of what to do when they come face to face with their enemies.
A Matter Of Life Or Death
Even as they rake through megalithic tombs and Minoan palaces for clues, Abraham dispatches his son Daniel and hired gun Leroy Hunt to recover the Sage Stone. The Nephilim operatives won’t hesitate to kill anyone standing in their way. Will Cassie and her teammates avert global disaster or find themselves casualties of Abraham’s mania to exterminate the world of unbelievers? The Granite Key holds the answer.
Nancy Wikarski is a fugitive from academia. After earning her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, she became a computer consultant and then turned to mystery and historical fiction writing. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, the Society Of Midland Authors, and has served as vice president of Sisters In Crime – Twin Cities and on the programming board of the Chicago chapter. Her short stories have appeared in Futures Magazine and DIME Anthology, while her book reviews have been featured in Murder: Past Tense and Deadly Pleasures.
She has written the Gilded Age Chicago History Mysteries series set in 1890s Chicago. Titles include The Fall Of White City (2002) and Shrouded In Thought (2005). The series has received People’s Choice Award nominations for Best First Novel and Best Historical as well as a Lovey Award for Best Traditional Amateur Sleuth.
She is currently writing the seven book Arkana Archaeology Thriller Mystery series. Titles include The Granite Key (2011), The Mountain Mother Cipher (2011), and The Dragon’s Wing Enigma (2012). The fourth volume in the series, The Riddle Of The Diamond Dove, is scheduled for publication in December of 2013. Ms. Wikarski’s work on the Arkana books has prompted Kindle Nation to call her one of its favorite authors.
Purchase Link – Amazon (for US store) http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004NIFTI8
Facebook public page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/N-S-Wikarski/111546722263900