I love unexpected turns in stories, especially psychological twists. What you think is the monster turns out to be a purring kitten. The demon that should have terrified you is the one holding the bloody butcher knife, in your own hand.
A good psychological suspense thrives on ambiguity, but nothing is less ambiguous than cookie cutter, two-dimensional villains. Which raises the question, what makes a bad guy bad? Or more importantly, what makes a good bad guy?
When we were little, most of us were taught about right and wrong. We were raised with a set of rules. If you followed the rules you were “good,” if you broke them, you were “bad.” Good people get bubblegum. Bad people go to jail. Really bad people should die.
Hopefully, as we mature, our experiences and personal interactions will broaden our perspective. We learn that clear-cut distinctions can be very illusive in the real world. Sometimes there is no right answer. We find ourselves in the gray area between black and white. And that’s okay. Maintaining a black-and-white paradigm in a full color world is the root of all manner of evil.
The first thing we need to understand is that monster is a label, a false label. It allows us to separate ourselves from truly heinous villains, assures us that we are nothing like them because monsters are not human. But that is simply not true. Every villain that has ever perpetrated evil on anyone did so from some sort of human motivation. Usually it is greed or lust or envy, but a surprising number of evil deeds are done in the name of love or misguided attempts at justice.
Let’s take a look at the monstrous Andrea Yates, who drowned her five babies in the bathtub. She deserves the title “monster” because she lacked one of the most basic of human instincts: a mother’s drive to protect her young.
But that is the edited-for-nightly-news version. It generates a lot of attention and emotion, but it misses the essential truth. Andrea was suffering severe mental illness, which was exacerbated by a slew of mismatched psychotropic drugs prescribed by incompetent doctors. It was medically impossible for her to think rationally at the time of the murders. Her family was not available to support her. The only folks who did offer to help were a fundamentalist religious cult. They spent hours with Andrea each week, warning her of the horrors of hell, telling her that the devil was after her children and that he would get them unless they were baptized.
Andrea was terrified for her children. In her drug scrambled mind, the only way she could see to save her children from hell was to baptize them straight into heaven, where the devil couldn’t touch them. She knew murder was evil. She knew she would go to hell for killing the children, but she was willing to accept eternal damnation, if it would guarantee the safety of her children.
It wasn’t a horrible black heart that drove Yates to murder. It was, in fact, a mother’s love, that basic tenet of humanity. Yes it was misguided, deranged, horrific and inexcusable. But it was also human, a misapplication of the same motivations that control each of us. In this manner, we are the same as Andrea Yates. Yikes.
So, let’s bring that understanding into fiction. Villains need to be fueled by true human motivation. And it is best if that motivation is one with which we can sympathize.
My novella, Supergirls, follows two sisters born into white trash city. Their junkie mom and whatever guy happened to be crashing at the pad that night were the parental guidance. Jenn and May’s belief system is based on television and superhero comic books. The sisters grow up to be hookers and thieves. They take advantage of “good people.” They are the villains.
But when I tell you their story, about how May is ill and Jenn wants nothing except to take care of her, about how Jenn dreams of taking May away from the slums and their shitty lives to a little house out in the country, when you see how much they love each other, how they sacrifice for each other—maybe, villains aren’t bad people. Maybe they’re just you and me, pursuing the American dream.
Jenn and May encounter many antagonists in Supergirls. From the mundane, everyday junkies, johns and thieves, to the stalking serial psycho—Frederic Bells, aka Fat Bastard. And Fat Bastard’s bodyguard, Leroy. And the Whistling Deer Head in the living room. But ultimately, we discover that Jenn and May are their own villains, their own worst antagonists…and we love them because of it.
Are they different from you and me? Not really. Sure, most of us don’t whore out our bodies or kidnap rich guys for their money. But we’ve manipulated or lied haven’t we? We’ve maybe taken advantage of someone? Does that make us bad people? Or does that make us good people doing bad things, perhaps even while trying to do the right thing?
In the end, reality isn’t white or black, good or evil. Reality is the gray mist in between, and we each are doing what we think is right.
Humanize a villain. Make them real. Give them emotions, dreams and fears. When we can relate to the villain, they become even scarier, because we may recognize the villain in ourselves. And that’s a good thing. Only after seeing our faults can hope to overcome them.
Sisters Jenn and May have finally found their golden ticket out of the slums. Pervy sugar daddy, Frederick Bells, promises to be an easy score with a big payoff—millions are hidden within his mansion.
The plan is simple: tie up the pig, steal his cash, and skip town. But fate has a different plan, including a villain with a wicked imagination. The sisters resort to playing their childhood game SUPERGIRLS to battle their fears in Bell’s den of horrors.
Will the SUPERGIRLS find their prize or will their heads join the pile behind the black cellar door?
When Mav Skye isn’t turning innocent characters into axe murderers, refinishing old furniture, chasing around her spring ducklings, or reading the latest horror novel, she’s editing at the almighty Pulp Metal Magazine.
She adores puppies, pirates, skulls, red hots, Tarantino movies and yes, Godzilla.
She is the author of Supergirls and The Undistilled Sky. Look for her wicked horror romance, Wanted:Single Rose, this fall and the second book in the Supergirls series, Night without Stars, early 2015.
Facebook Page: http://on.fb.me/1qPcFVK
Supergirls is available in print or ebook at: Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LWHA438, Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00LWHA438?*Version*=1&*entries*=0
Mav will be awarding a $35 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn winner and a signed paperback copy of Supergirls (interntional) will be awarded to another randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. A $25 Amazon GC will be awarded to a randomly drawn host.
Old folks say the world is simply made of black and white. There is no gray. How is that true? How does that sum up reality? Right now, this second, I could toss the dagger, grab May’s hand and escape through the white door, white like heaven, and what then? We’d have zip. Nada. We can’t return to the studio. Fat Bastard and Leroy know where we live. All we’d have is our miserable, crappy (and psychotic) lives.
And each other, something whispers or does it whistle? I don’t know anymore. Through the white door—it’s running away. Running away from the one thing May and I have always wanted: peace.
No, the only way to peace is through darkness, the black door, through the cellar to the money.
I turn and face the black door, place my hand on the bolt. There is a monster in the dark to confront.
Perhaps I’ll die, perhaps May will. This is where the gray area lies, the future. Why can’t there be a clear-cut way of what to do and when?
The moaning creature pounds the door.
Fat Bastard. I grit my teeth and draw my eyes away from the tree with gems. Black, white or grey: if you want something you have to go for it, the consequences be damned.
The monster pounds the door harder.
May startles and turns to me.
I motion to her and breathe, “When I unbolt the door, I’ll drop to the floor and you shoot.”
She says nothing, but stands back and aims the pistol.
I say, “One, two, three…”