So, you've thought up a great idea for a novel, have your hero and his cronies, the plot line, the setting, even the ending of the story, but, wait a second, what's missing? The villain!
Everyone knows that the villain is the most important part of any story, especially a mystery novel, and if you don't have him pinned down, then you're story is just not going to go anywhere. If you don't know why your villain is causing the problems he is, then how do you expect your hero to figure it out? Even though characters are sometimes driven by gut feeling, they still have to come from the author's brain, and if you're hitting a blank, well, then your hero will be hitting a blank as well.
Yes, I'm talking about this because I speak from experience. You've probably heard me mention my upcoming Victorian steampunk mystery that currently does not have a title, but has an amazing hero detective by the name of Anthony Maxwell (who you can find on Facebook via the sidebar of this blog). Anthony could not have come more naturally to me. In fact, one night he just knocked on my door and said, "Hazel, I'm ready to tell my story, write this down." And I did, I wrote the first chapter and most of the second and it was as effortless as if he really was speaking to me (which he was, actually ;-) But then I realized that, while I had the story line worked out, the murders plotted, the really nasty lackey of the main villain, I realized that my villain had not yet revealed to me his motive! How can I write a mystery novel with all the articulating parts when I can't figure out the motive of my villain? So, I started working on my historical drama, "By Blood and By Bond" instead, thus leaving Anthony unfairly in the lurch.
So how do I get my villain to tell me what I need to know? Employ torture? I have definitely been tempted on more than one occasion, but it has just seemed to tighten his lips even more. For starters, I do know his name: Narcissus. Or at least that's what he commonly calls himself. I even have his character. He's a master of disguise, he's rather dapper, and, as his name implies, full of himself. He's also very dangerous, but more willing to let others do the dirty work instead of doing it himself. So I have him in my mind, but what the dickens is his motive? What nationality is he? Could that have something to do with his plotting? Is his vendetta a large scale thing, or is it something more personal. From what I know of his character, it could go either way.
What will I do to get him to tell me? Well, right now he seems to have gotten a restraining order against me and won't talk at all. I wish to study a little more into the history and politics of the time period and see if that helps any. Then I will force him to talk to me, or at least write in his journal. Writing journals for your villains is a very fun thing to do. Let them tell the story from their point of view. Sometimes this really works. Perhaps I need to write a little about his past. Backstories are always really fun too, and they get you a lot closer to a character. Your readers never really need to know half the information you have on your villains, but YOU do need to know otherwise you will never be able to write them convincingly. Just as it is easier to write about a subject you know backwards and forwards, it is easier to write a character you know like that as well. Think about them like friends and acquaintances. If they are still just like that person you say hi to at the coffee shop every day, then you need to get to know them a little better. Trust me, it really worked writing backstories for my characters from "By Blood and By Bond".
Do you have any tricks you use to getting your villains to tell you what they're up to?