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#WriterProblems: When You Come to Love Your Villain

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

An author's characters are like their children. We love them even when they're misbehaving; and yes, this includes the ones who routinely misbehave.

George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is told from the perspective of many characters, and most chapters are simply named after the character we're following for the time being. When I was reading it about seven years ago, and I got to the first chapter entitled "Cercei," I remember thinking, No! No, I don't want to get in her head, I want to keep hating her!

Of course, many of you know that that's a large part of Martin's brilliance: effectively making you sympathize with the villains while killing most of the heroes (that second part for which he is notorious).

If I thought getting into a villain's head and becoming at least semi-sympathetic to her (and some others as the story progresses) was confusing and upsetting as a reader, was I in for a rude awakening when I starting writing Sons of Kings a year or so later.

My villain, High Prince Altair Rothford of Kartha'an, is distant, cold and vengeful. He kills my hero Prince Trystane's beloved father and brother, king and heir to their kingdom, holds his wife Princess Clio hostage and usurps the throne that Trystane should now occupy. He is a stone cold killer, and he commits more atrocious acts in the wake of his siege on Aesha'an. (There ae no spoilers here, by the way; this is the clearly stated catalyst of the story.)

Sounds pretty easy to despise, right? My heroine Clio certainly does!

When I began The Siege, this was all Altair was to me--he was more of an idea than a person. But as authors write, we get to know our characters better, just as our readers are intended to. Only instead of just being let into their minds for short bursts, we have to be them.

In any real life story, there is very rarely a clear "good guy" or definite "bad guy." Everyone involved is a human with human emotions, motives and flaws, and any good fictional story should reflect that.

Therefore, I could not let Altair simply remain the psychopath devoid of feeling that he first seemed to be. It's too one-note, too boring, it's unrealistic; even psychopaths tend to have reasons for what they do, twisted as they may be, and those reasons are based in emotion.

So I had to make him human. Suddenly, he was a person, and suddenly, I had a harder time hating him. In turn, I am loathe to hurt him more than he already has been.

This is not to say that I can excuse the horrible things he's done (and some are very horrible). It's certainly not to say that I won't hurt him. I have to, or there will be no story. I'm trying to write a tragic love story/war trilogy here, not a fairy tale. And I've certainly hurt my heroes enough.

But it makes things harder in a way I didn't see coming. Writing novels is hard, you guys--who'd have thought?

I took it fairly easy on myself with Nightshade: the only real "villain" in that story is, well, love (that one's a bit of a fairy tale, I must admit, but it was damn fun to write).

I have a former supporting character who's becoming more of a lead: Princess Haylia has been forced to become closer to Altair, and she hates him for it--but she's also beginning to see the human in him, which is horrifying for her, because reasons, OMG, so many reasons.

I have a feeling she and I will become quite close in the coming chapters.

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