How do you create drama in your fiction? When I coach fiction authors, it’s often simple to make their novels more exciting.
Many authors fall into the trap of creating perfect characters. You need to give your characters flaws, and I suggested:
(Although) it’s advisable not to use your family and friends when writing fiction… you can use people’s flaws—and your own too.
But what if you went beyond everyday flaws, and developed characters who are explicitly evil? That thought gives many of us pause, because part of the joy of writing is our affection for our characters.
If you want to create drama in your fiction however (and you should, because your job is to entertain), consider evil. It’s a useful device.
Want to create drama? Go for evil (but beware of melodrama)
Think about people in everyday life. People at school, at work, or among your family and friends. Are any evil? Perhaps not. It’s hard to see evil, especially if you consider the devil a mythical creature, and think that anyone behaving badly just needs understanding and compassion.
Whether you believe in evil or not, for the sake of your fiction, imagine that evil exists, and that fictional characters can be evil.
A tip: beware of tipping your fiction’s dramatic moments into melodrama.
Drama and melodrama: balance good and evil
A master of emotion and entertainment, Charles Dickens was often criticized for melodramatic plots and characters, as were other Victorian novelists.
Melodrama is subjective. But if you’re inclined to giggle at a dramatic moment in a movie or novel, it’s because something about the scene is melodramatic, rather than dramatic. It may be the situation, or the characters.
If your fiction is bland, I recommend forgetting the dangers of melodrama. It’s unlikely you’ll create it—you haven’t, so far. For now, concentrate: strive to make your fiction dramatic.
Start with your characters. Balance your “good”characters (your hero and heroine) with characters who are evil.
The good, the bad, and the truly horrid: aim for balance in your fictional characters
One of the challenges of creating an evil character is your own lack of belief in the character. If you struggle with that, try pushing a good character trait to its limit in one of your characters.
For example, in Elizabeth George’s novel, A Banquet of Consequences, Caroline Goodacre seems a concerned mother. That’s a good trait, isn’t it? She loves her sons. Gradually, you see that Caroline is too concerned about her adult sons. You begin to wonder about Caroline, and rightfully so. Without spoiling the novel for you… Eventually you understand that Caroline is truly evil.
Think about a character trait of one of your “good” characters. Here’s a massive list of traits you can use if you don’t have one. Choose an admirable trait, then brainstorm ways to push it to the limit in the wrong direction.
Let’s say your character is daring. Admirable… But push it.
Imagine that your daring character has a son. He’s a fan of hands-off parenting, and makes excuses for the child’s bad behavior. To create drama, push this trait to the limit, and make your character’s daring trait evil.
My favorite evil character in fiction: Blue Duck
When Larry McMurtry wrote Lonesome Dove, he created a truly evil and memorable character in Blue Duck:
The man called Blue Duck was much more frightening. He might not hit at all—or he might do something worse.
Think about evil, and how you can use it to create drama in your fiction. Balance the good characters you create with one or more who are evil. You’ll improve your fiction immediately.
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.