But aren’t villains like the rest of us? Well, almost. They’re not all bad, nobody is that. They like watching sports, say, and enjoy fine wine, and maybe have a fondness for cats. It’s the twisted reasoning they employ—which is kind of fun to write—that marks out the villain.
It all comes down to that selfish kink, the any-means-to-My-end rationale. Walking in someone else’s shoes, feeling empathy, or having compassion? These aren’t in the villain’s toolbox. Compassion is to be directed his way. It’s all about “Me,” right? “My” hurts and “My” suffering and “My Turn Now.” At any cost.
And yet readers love stories of redemption. So try this. Put your bad guy into a tight spot. Pull back the curtain a little. Show the reader his inner devastation (made worse by bad choices he’s made). And then give him a chance to be decent for a change. He hesitates; readers hold their collective breath—remember Miranda Priestly in the movie The Devil Wears Prada? Will the villain at last become human? Tick-tock, the moment passes, and we have our answer. Nope.
Haters gonna hate—and villains gonna be bad. Because while we enjoy redemption, we also love justice.
My books are littered with selfish people, some worse than others, so choosing today’s excerpt wasn’t easy. And then I remembered Patrick McGillvary’s half-brother. Like Sir Walter, Ronan is a figure of fun. But also like Sir Walter, he’s capable of doing a great deal of harm in his small way. He’s another reason to write a fourth book!
“Well, well, well,” said a decidedly masculine voice. “What have we here?”
Elizabeth looked up to see a man standing behind Admiral McGillvary’s desk. He had enormous eyes and dark, unruly hair combed a la Titus. He was not tall nor was he very old—in his early thirties perhaps. This was no servant, for he wore riding clothes and sported a scarlet cravat. Most surprising was the cape he wore over all. The man stared at Elizabeth with unbecoming pertness. “Bunogiorno,” he said. “Beauty in distress?”
She gave no answer. His lips twisted into a smirk. “Settling up, is he? Odd that he should do so here.”
Elizabeth’s tears were instantly forgotten. “I beg your pardon?” she said.
“The tears are touching, but there are entirely wasted on me.” His eyes strayed to the top of the desk. “I’ve no time for women today. I’m on a treasure hunt.” He began to turn over the sheets of paper on the desk.
“Here now!” Elizabeth objected.
He paid her no mind. Right away he spotted the gray velvet bag that she had earlier cast onto the desk. The string of pearls had spilled out and was visible. The man gave a low whistle and reached for it.
Elizabeth snatched it up. He must not have her mother’s jewelry!
“Returning Paddy’s gifts, are we?” His lip curled. “A noble gesture. Stupid, but noble.” He held out his hand. “If you’re so determined to be rid of the tokens of his…affection, I’d be happy to take them off your hands.”
“No thank you!”
He gave a careless laugh. “Are you cherishing hopes of winning him back? Banish them! Once a man is finished with a woman, he’s finished. E’un peccato!” He threw a superior look and translated: “Such a pity.”
“I know what it means!”
He made a movement, and Elizabeth heard a metallic clank. Was this man wearing a sword? A sudden idea presented itself. “You are Ronan!” she said.
He tossed his head. “It so happens that I am.”
There was no reason to stand upon ceremony with such a rude person. “You do not resemble your brother,” Elizabeth observed. “Except, perhaps, for the chin.”
Ronan gave a snort of displeasure. “My brother is nothing, do you hear? Nothing! Whereas I—I am descended from nobility.” He struck a pose. “My mother is a contessa.”
Elizabeth looked at him with narrowed eyes. This Ronan, who was obviously an idiot, was the son of the Italian woman—the loathsome step-mother Mr Gill had mentioned. Could it be that some of the things he had told her were true?
[excerpt from Mercy’s Embrace: The Lady Must Decide by Laura Hile, 2010]