This week in The Dying Prince, I wrote an important scene in which one of the characters is able to get closer to their mysterious enemy--the Forbidden--than any one else has gotten so far. I needed to reveal enough to give the story a little more momentum--more questions, more chills--but not enough to blow all the secrets in Book Two that should be discovered throughout Books Three, Four, and Five.
I began to write the scene with the appearance of a nebulous figure:
Then, in the center of the floor, an indistinct figure appeared, wavering like cloud in a breeze, with the form of a man but the features invisible. Every time [my character] sought to distinguish features, clarity eluded him, in the same way that a star diminished when looked at directly.
I thought it was a sufficiently sinister description for my main villain, and happily continued the scene. As soon as my villain began to talk, however, the scene just tanked. He just began to feel like the normal cliche villain. He was so much more interesting when he was silent and invisible.
And that's when I had an idea. I rewrote the entire scene, but this time, my villain was not even present. In his place, I wrote of a ragged man--ordinary in appearance and uncouth in speech. As the scene unraveled, it became clear that this man was not the villain. He was merely an emissary of the true villain.
Suddenly, the scene worked. I believe it is for two main reasons:
The villain remains completely anonymous.
We do not know anything about his form or appearance. We do not even have his manner of speech by which to judge him. He remains completely blank, the thing hidden at the edges of the story, making war from a distance. Or perhaps he is closer than one would imagine... An invisible villain leaves many possibilities.
For more on my philosophy about invisible villains, read Dr. Fiction's Interview with the Invisible Man.
Information about the villain is subjective.
All we know about the villain is based on what his emissary chooses to say. Is he telling us everything? Or is he holding back some information?
It is also limited by what the emissary himself knows. Does he know everything about his master's will? Is the villain's will, as expressed by the emissary, really his intentions, or is it just a ploy to keep all the good guys looking in one direction while he strikes from another direction? What is truth--and what is trap?
An excerpt from The Dying Prince
I can't include an excerpt the scene in question without giving away a major plot point, so... sorry! But as my peace offering, I give you another scene in which the companions learn how to use the longsword. If you want to know who the characters are, read about them here, in "The Soundtrack of the Moonstone."
Edric began to teach his companions how to draw from the scabbard. Rory, it seemed, already had a great deal of practice, sweeping the blade from the scabbard with one fluid movement and thrusting exuberantly at the air. Tascu watching him coldly, but mimicked his movements exactly.
What literary villains creep you out the most? Why do you think they give you the heebie-jeebies? Share in the comments below!
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I write YA/adult fantasy & sci-fi that explores fantastic and interconnected worlds, with stories that burn through the darkest realities with hope and redemption.
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