Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Attacking the Speed Trap - PACING SECRETS

It's the Holiday Season, a time of joy... and gifts. So this year I decided to Give Away one of my writing secrets as a Christmas present to you all. If it's one thing I'm known for it's the fast-pace of my thrillers. How do I achieve this?

Yes, this is a writing tips post... so let's talk about Martial Arts.

When I teach Martial Arts I often use the strange and unpredictable to get the message across. One such trick had all my students dancing to a Waltz on the tatami. A widely-held opinion at the time was that I’d finally flipped, but no, there was madness in my method.

You see, everything in life has rhythm, even a fight. Sometimes it’s natural, like the tapping of rain on a window pane as a storm ramps up; on other occasions it is man-made – the clacking of train wheels on the metal rail joints or the swishing of car tyres on an asphalt street come easily to mind.

And so with your novel.

Different genres have different rhythms, so how do you find the right one for the genre you have chosen.

Let’s use my genre, Thrillers, as an example.

I have always heard that old adage that all thriller novels should be like a roller coaster ride. At first, your reaction, like mine, may be to agree. But we would both be wrong.

Times and writing styles are changing. Today, most thrillers start with a bang; something that grabs the reader’s attention and refuses to let go until they have finished the novel. Yet it was not always this way.

If you examine some of the thrillers of just twenty years ago you may notice they start with a slow burn, like a lit fuse that does not cause the explosive opening to the tale until several chapters have gone by. Thriller writer David Morrell is a master at this type of start; he builds tension and suspense then the BANG happens. That is the starting gun for the speed of the novel to increase and take the reader on a fast ride. This is still a perfectly valid way to write a thriller novel and it does conform to the analogy of a roller coaster where we sit in the car and are drawn slowly to a great height before being released into the waiting troughs and peaks. Although most rides also end on the flat, rolling to a gentle stop as your novel’s climax is passed and ‘normality’ returns.

If you have read any of my books (if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) you will notice I like to start AND end with a bang. The ending may often be a cliffhanger of sorts, not necessarily implying there is to be a sequel, but trying to get you to discuss the denouement and draw your own conclusions.

The important bit, however is the middle.

This is the bit where you can bore your readers, so you need to keep an eye on the rhythm of your novel.

This is my secret weapon:

Don’t try to read it; it’s cleverly designed to bust your eyeballs if you do. However the important bit is easily seen. If you are reading this in color, then it’s the red at the top; if you are in fifty shades of gray then it’s the bit that looks like a skyline.

I call this my Pace Meter.

The one I use for all my books was generated in five minutes using a spreadsheet program, but if that is beyond you technical scope, then paper, pencil and a ruler are all you need. Red ink is optional, but it does add a little flair!

My Pace Meter has a row for every chapter in my book and a scale (column on the spreadsheet) of five. I’ve found this to be about right and it’s easy to decide what value you are going to insert in each one.

The example shows the real Pace Meter for the end of ‘2012’ and you can see how the amount of red grows as I near the end of the novel (that’s the dark bits, for the fifty shades people). This is the scale I use:

Five is Maximum Pace, or tongue hanging out of open mouth, eyelids wide open.

Four corresponds to leaning forward in your chair.

Three is a tensing of the fingers and neck muscles as you read.

Two is the feeling that something is about to happen; a general unease spreading through the body.

One is gentle normality.

None is – something is seriously wrong with this chapter – Rewrite NOW..

Now let’s just zoom in a little:

You will immediately notice two things: There are several ‘troughs’, where the pace slows, that occur just before it speeds up dramatically, and after a fast-paced bit, which may span several chapters, I deliberately slow things down.

Why do I do this? Surely a thriller needs to be fast-paced throughout?

Well the trick is in the VARIANCE of Pace, not the Pace itself. Readers would quickly become bored with a novel that maintains the same rhythm throughout.

Now, you might ask, am I monitoring this from the moment I pen the first word, and the answer is a resounding NO.

If you are going to use this method, and I’ll tell you how to apply it to your genre in a moment, forget about it until the Second Draft – never try to apply this to your First Draft.

Writing a First Draft should be EXCLUSIVELY about getting the tale down on paper. Nothing else. From then on we can start to polish that tale and make it easier to read, more interesting for our potential readers.

You see, the relationship between a writer and his reader is twofold – there’s entertainment and there’s engagement. Of course you want the experience of reading your novel to be enjoyable for your reader, because then they will talk about your book and maybe buy the next one. This is a passive involvement in your tale, however; if you do it right, your reader will place their eyeballs on page one, finish your book and then smile, sigh, cry or emote in some fashion, just before writing their glowing review of your work.

But we writers are a greedy bunch. We want to sequester the innocent holding our novel and drag them onto the page. We want them involved with the action, interested in the characters, worried about the outcome of events. In short, we want them emotionally engaged with our tale. Pacing is an important part of this.

Play with the Pace you create; let the reader relax then hit them with something that’ll knock their socks off. Change it up… and down… and you will have your reader there, on the page, with your protagonist, living the events as they happen.

Am I sure that readers react this way?

My answer, all modesty aside, is to reproduce part of a real review, a very insightful review, I might add, from someone who knows how to write a useful one (and NO, it wasn’t a Five-star review – I’ve included the snippet so you can see that readers do notice the use of this trick):

Gates' writing style dictates your mood towards the story. At times he uses short, choppy sentences, making the action seem even more intense. Other times his writing is soothing. Yet again, the way that his sentences are put together brings out further compassion for the characters involved. Each section of the novel is written in a way to maximize impact, while still flowing seamlessly together. The novel also remains gripping throughout. Even the parts that are simply background information or descriptive narrative are never boring.

[Taken from Jonel Boyko’s review of ‘the CULL – Bloodline’, cited here with permission. Check out Jonel’s website and especially read her thoughts on book reviewing – this is a professional attitude!].

The comments also highlight some of the tricks I use to play with the Pace. Remember, you are looking to generate an emotional reaction in your reader, so to make their heart beat faster, shorter sentences, even ones that contain one or two words (one of my trademarks) work well as long as you don’t overuse them.

But this is just the start...

If you look at the reviews for my Thrillers the words most repeated are 'fast-paced'. In this second part of my article, I'll reveal even more secrets to managing the Pace in your writing. 

If you recall from part one of this post, I showed that the key to good Pacing is in it's VARIANCE. In this extract from ‘Full Disclosure’ look how I subtly vary the Pace from when the shooter is waiting to take his shot, to the firing of the gun:

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Looking through the scope again; the minutes dragged by. His eyes watered; sweat poured down his face, adding to the discomfort as the salt stung his tear ducts and pooled around his pudgy lips. He used his left hand to swipe away the perspiration, running the jacket sleeve across his eyes. More waiting; the awkward wetness returned.
A figure half crossed his field of vision, turned back, speaking to someone, then turned again and took a step.
Ayuso jerked on the trigger.
The rifle fired.
Through the scope he saw the window shatter.
He couldn’t see the bitch he aimed at.
Did he get her?
Lights were extinguished; first from his target’s house, then, some seconds later, from the place alongside.

Observe how I employ semi-colons as well as very short phrases to break up longer narratives into a more staccato beat and increase the pace.

Then there’s the image your writing creates on the page. I have found that this can be effective too. We all know about the reader’s reaction when seeing a solid block of narrative text that occupies most of a page, right. I have been using several techniques in this short article to make it easier for you to read: I’ve used extracts from books presented in a slightly smaller font size; cartoons and diagrams; short, often italicized sentences; bold lettering; even humor.

Look at your own writing and break it up. Build in snippets of dialogue, or paragraph breaks, so the image the reader perceives doesn’t introduce any unwanted prejudice.

You can also take this to an extreme, so the ‘pattern’ of the words on the page adds to the sensorial experience for the reader. I did this at the start of book one of ‘the CULL’ series – a storm was just breaking and I used this little device to add to the reader’s experience. Never start a book with weather, they say; oh how I love breaking the rules:

Black thunderheads obscured by the oppressive night air. Closer they move; drawn into explosive detonation. The first thunderclap announced a prodigious tempest. The strengthened glass wall shuddered
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as the sound waves tried to penetrate the quiet interior with their full force. Anka Syzmanski’s step hung suspended for a fraction of a second; the hallway lit with jagged electric blue. She completed the step; started another.
The lights went out.
Another celestial drumroll; quicker now, the storm approaching fast.
Seconds passed; she waited. Fighting against the darkness, the emergency lighting sputtered into action.
Plick, plick.
Plick, plick, plick, plick.
Spattering against the glass separating wet from dry, the rain began. A heavenly tap opened; grime swabbed down the transparent wall by sluicing torrents; lightning filtered through cascading wash forming eccentric shadows.

You notice the  pyramidal effect of the ‘plick’ words.

Plick is not a real word, but it is onomatopoeic (the Webster Dictionary defines it as ‘the use of words whose sound suggests the sense’) and this is another trick you can use. Certain words sound harder or softer than others, and by choosing the right ones you can emotionally stimulate your reader by the sound they make, and suggest the pace too. Metal CLANGS not caresses – you can feel the difference between the use of either word on the pace of the imagined scene:

The sword clanged to the ground.


He caressed her bare arm with the blade’s cold metal.

Different pace, right?

It’s not just the word choices, especially the verbs, that will set the pace (it’s not the same when Tommy walks into the room or he bursts into the room) but the nouns used, the noises the words make, or imply, and the context too. Try writing a soft romantic scene using harder, more guttural words (those that start with B, D, G, J, K, N, P, R, T, V, Z); as soon as you introduce a couple, the mood changes... and so does the pace.

Going bigger scale, you could also make your chapters shorter. James Patterson discovered this years ago. Today, with people taking tablets, e-readers and smartphones everywhere, reading in spare moments while they wait for trains and buses, or in lunch breaks etc, short chapters are very welcome by readers too. Of late I keep coming across that old saw that chapters MUST be fourteen pages long- Poppycock (or the stronger word I really had in mind)! Did you know that this ancient Traditional Publishing 'rule' had far more to do with how books were bound than anything else? Bound any e-books of late?

And don’t forget the influence of the background music you listen to when writing either! Check out my thoughts on this dangerous trap here.

So how do you choose the right pace for your genre? How do you build your particular Pace Meter?

This will take a little time but the results will be worth it.

  • Pick five novels you have not read before, by different popular authors, in the genre you wish to adopt.
  • Create a blank Pace Meter for each one.
  • Now read the books, one at a time.
  • Stop briefly after each chapter to annotate your reaction to the pace of what you have just read. NOTE: I said Pace; not level of intrigue, suspense, romanticism, or anything else – just the PACE. Use the definitions in Part One of this article - you'll quickly get the hang of it, and the brief pause as you select the value will allow your mind to reset and evaluate the following chapter with greater objectivity.

When you have completed your reading of all five books in your chosen genre, compare the resultant diagrams. Don’t be surprised if you find then eerily similar.

That’s what you should be aiming for in your excursions into that genre… at least as you set your foot firmly into the writing waters for the first time. With practice, you will develop your own pacing; something that readers will instantly recognize as part of your particular narrative voice.

A Happy New Year to everyone!
Have fun, make some great Resolutions and above all READ A BOOK or three (preferably mine!)

With so many star starstarstarstar reviews

is the IDEAL GIFT 
or just a GREAT READ for yourself:
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(article adapted from 'How NOT to be an ASPIRING writer')
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Eric @

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Guest: Andy Laker

If you are a writer, or are trying to become one, this is PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT POST YOU WILL EVER READ. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Andy Laker

A writer’s worst enemy

Any writer understands that procrastination is the scourge of us all, without it we’d all be content with the quantity of our work, right? We’ve all done it at some time or another, I know I have.  Many times I’ve told myself it won’t matter if I just have one more go at my new computer game, or watch the programme I recorded on TV last night. There will always be another chance to write my best-seller tomorrow.

But will there?

I hope, for all of you the answer to that question is a resounding yes, but there is no guarantee. The ability to write well and put into words something that other people want to read and enjoy reading, is a gift that’s not given to us all. You’re among the lucky ones and I urge you to use your skills to their full potential. After all, you could be like me and have it all taken away, which is why I want to tell you my story, in the hope that you will add it to your literary armoury. Then, the next time you get the urge to do something else when you could be writing, you’ll think of me and use your time productively.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for your sympathy. I genuinely believe that my MS has opened as many doors as it closed. However, if I’d had a choice, I’d have removed this particular door from its hinges to ensure it could never close. Unfortunately I had no influence over which way my MS progressed.

My love of writing began when I joined the Royal Navy back in the Dark Ages. It was long before computers and the Internet, when time and paper were at a premium and every word was precious. I had to think about what I was writing because there was no delete button on my writing pad. During those long periods at sea I’d write letters to anyone I thought would write back, telling them in great detail, what I’d seen and done. Except my mother of course, I spared her the finer detail, because the exploits of young sailors ashore aren’t for a mother to read about.

It was before I’d studied creative writing, but even back then I committed my senses to paper to tell my stories in the most powerful way I could. I became a slave to good grammar and could spot a spelling mistake from fifty paces. Then, like many writers I progressed to poetry and short stories, and I even had some small pieces of my work published. I was hardly Stephen King, but I felt a buzz every time I saw something I’d written in a genuine newspaper or magazine.

Following those small successes I moved on to bigger projects. My first crime novel ‘Time to Think’ is available on Amazon and my second is almost at the editing stage. Yes, I’ve had my fair share of rejection slips, but I have always believed life’s too short to worry about what a nameless editor thinks of my writing and I learnt to move on.

In short I loved to write and couldn’t imagine going anywhere without at least a pencil and paper, to scribble my observations on for use when I got home. Sadly in 2002 it all began to slip away with my diagnosis of Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. It was a bombshell I can tell you, but (cliché alert) I promised my family that I might have MS, but it didn’t have me. I have kept that promise and after getting over our early shock we carried on with our lives by adapting to the pressures of my condition. To this day we live life our way, not the MS way. We just use wheelchairs and hoists to do so, it's no big deal.

So what’s my point? Well, simply it's that this is the last piece of creative writing of any length that I will complete. My brain remains as alert as ever and I still see and hear incidents that I instantly recognise as potential for a story, but my tired body is weak. A passion for writing still fills my every waking moment, but my fingers are too stiff to transform my thoughts into written words. I used to think it would never happen to me but it has, so I urge you if not for yourself, do this for me. If you are a writer who lets other preoccupations get in the way, don’t procrastinate, get writing. I may not be able to write, but I can still read and like millions of other people, I want to read what you have to say. You have a special talent and you owe it to yourself and people like me to embrace it. Take it from me, your future is not an exact science and the skills you hold are too precious to waste on procrastination.

*  *  *

Support Andy by reading his superb thriller novel, 'Time to Think' and following him on Social Media:

Thank you, Andy my friend, for your sobering words. It's true many of us forget to see the trees for the wood.

Eric @

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Guest: John Dolan

Something a little different this week. I've had a visit (virtual) from a (virtual) friend who asked me a question: How can you co-author a book with someone you never meet? Intrigued? So was I. Ladies and Gentlemen...

John Dolan

a Stranger Alliance

One of my old writer buddies – John Dolan – has dropped by today for a chat. Some of you will know John from his ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ mystery series, and he has penned the occasional post for this blog.

EJG: Welcome, John.

JD: Thanks, Eric. It’s good to be here again. Wherever ‘here’ is!

EJG: You have a new book out this month, ‘Chaos Is Come Again’, which you co-authored with the Virginia-based thriller writer, Fiona Quinn. And I understand there is something a little unusual about this collaboration.

JD: You could say that. You see, Fiona and I have never met.

EJG: How is that even possible?

JD: To tell you the truth, I don’t even quite believe it myself. Last Spring, when I was working in Dubai, Fiona and I encountered each other purely by chance on Twitter. We started chatting, then Skyping, reading each other’s works, and the next thing we knew, we’d decided to write a novel together.

EJG: That sounds risky.

JD: It sounds insane, now I come to think of it. But during our Skype calls we started throwing around ideas and jokes, moulding characters, and coming up with their storylines. We set up a Word document on the Cloud which we could both update – either online, or separately offline using a colour-coding methodology. By the time I left Dubai in July last year, we had a 25,000 word document.

EJG: That’s almost a third of a book!

JD: Yup. We then had a hiatus: I was writing ‘A PoisonTree’ and Fiona was up to her jugular in stuff. But by May of this year, we had cleared our diaries – sort of. So we threw together a spreadsheet showing what needed to happen in each chapter, divided the writing load in half, and set about it. We got a first draft out in three months, flipped the editing back and forth and then submitted it to an editor for polishing. Et voila! We have a book.

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EJG: So what is ‘Chaos’ about?

JD: It’s a psychological suspense, a mystery and a love story. All the characters are off-the-wall (and some of them are off the planet). The humour is rather dark, sometimes non-PC, and occasionally blasphemous. The action flips between Washington DC and London, where the plot lines all eventually converge.

EJG: Sounds wacky. Who is your target audience?

JD: Broad-minded folks who enjoy gallows humour and spotting literary references. The back cover of the paperback version features the following warning: “Contains references to Judas Iscariot, a dwarf, and a performing monkey.”

EJG: Hahaha. And are you and Fiona Quinn still speaking?

JD: Still speaking, but still not meeting.

EJG: Thanks for dropping by, John.

JD: It’s been a pleasure, as the actress said to the bishop.

Elevator pitch:

Sean hears voices in his head.
Travis snorts cocaine.
Teagan thinks she’s the next Lady Gaga.
Avery has the boss from Hell, and a mother with dementia.
And Goose wants to catch a serial killer.


John Dolan

"Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants."

John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.

Twitter @JohnDolanAuthor 

Fiona Quinn

Canadian born, Fiona Quinn is now rooted in the Old Dominion outside of D.C. with her husband and four children. There, she homeschools, pops chocolates, devours books, and taps continuously on her laptop.

Twitter @FionaQuinnBooks 

So that's us virtually done. I've had the privilege of reading John and Foina's new novel and it's superb. Don't miss it! A great read! Virtually perfect!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My Guest: Jonel Boyko

My Guest this week is a top independent Book Reviewer who will share the secrets of how to write a superb critique of a novel; comments that will help readers decide whether to read a given book, and that are extremely useful for the authors too. Ladies and Gentlemen... 

Jonel Boyko

Crafting Killer Reviews

It goes without saying that we all enjoy reading, and many of us like to leave reviews about the novels that we enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy, whatever the case may be).  But how do you start?  What should you include?  Which of your thoughts are going to be most relevant to those who read your reviews?  An easy way to get a feel for reviewing is to read lot of other reviews (just not for the book that you’re about to review).  That way you’ll get a feel for what you find helpful and what you don’t.

When writing a review, you should always write your honest thoughts about the book while remembering that a review is about the book and its content. You may agree or disagree with what the book says or how it is written, but being personally critical of the author doesn't offer your audience much value.

I like to think of my reviews in 3 basic parts:  the story, the characters, and then my overall impressions & final thoughts.

For the first section I think about what caught and held my attention, if my emotions were engaged, did I enjoy the pace of the story, were the descriptions vivid enough to allow me to picture everything?

For the second section I focus on the development of the characters and if I was able to connect with and engage with them.

The final thought includes my overall impression of the novel, if I’d recommend it to others, would I read more by this author, and if it’s part of a series, could it be read as a standalone.

Make sure to write about the why’s.  If you say ‘I didn’t like this character’, as a reader I’m left wondering why.  However, if you say ‘I couldn’t connect with the main character who was too self-involved’ or ‘The characters in this novel were underdeveloped and superficial’ then, as a reader, I understand what the problem was and I can make an informed decision as to whether or not it is something that I would have problems with as well.  Also, if you simply state that you didn’t enjoy the story, or that you loved it, without giving any basis for your statement you don’t provide anything useful to those reading your review.

For the love of all things book-ish, don’t regurgitate the plot of the story.  Authors provide a synopsis on book sites for this purpose.  Also, don’t include spoilers.  A quote or two to emphasize certain aspects you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy is one thing, but don’t ruin the story for others by giving everything away. 

And the number one thing to remember when writing a review?  Have fun with it!  There are no two identical stories & therefore no two reviews will ever be the same.  Just be sure to provide your honest thoughts and feelings on the book you read.

Note from Eric:

I have had several of my novels reviewed by Jonel thus far and always find her observations insightful and helpful. A while ago, in conversations with her regarding how we could provide an example of one of her reviews so you may see the product of her methodology applied for real, I suggested she tackle my recently-completed novel - at all times I stressed (unnecessarily as she is a professional) that the result must be unbiased and independent of the invitation to my blog. I believe in my work and was willing to reflect whatever result she produced. The following is the review:

I can't stop thinking about it, October 15, 2014

As we’ve come to expect from Gates’ work, this story is complex and multifaceted. Readers are taken on an intricate journey through this one of a kind plot without ever looking back. Gates brings the world that he creates to life in vivid clarity, allowing readers to picture each aspect of the tale without curbing their imagination. The unique concepts not only catch your attention but are fully developed, allowing you to join in with the characters in their plight. The suspense carries through the tale, keeping you on your toes to the very last chapter. He had me guessing throughout, but was always a step ahead of me.

Gates’ in depth characters will leave you breathless. Not only do you get to know them well, but you can identify with them. I found myself firmly placed by the side of the main character, racing through this tale. There was, of course, individuals that I didn’t personally like as people, but Gates set up the characters in such a way that I could always see where they were coming from and how their past and present affected who they are.

This isn’t a light, easy read. It will definitely take more than one sitting, but you’ll be thinking about it throughout. That’s one of the things I like best about Gates’ writing. His story is intense and thought provoking, taking storytelling to another level.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this work in exchange for an honest review.”

(Please note, Jonel doesn't always give me 5 Stars for a review - she's honest and direct and that's what matters to me as an author.)

Jonel Boyko is the sole reviewer at Pure Jonel, a book blog with 700+ followers, launched in December of 2012, with monthly hits of 6000+ and daily posts including reviews, guest posts, author interviews, giveaways and more. She caters to authors of all types and a variety of different publishers, Indie & traditionally published alike.  Jonel has ranked in the top 25 Canadian reviewers on Goodreads for the past year, and maintains a 90%+ helpful reviewer rating on Amazon.

If you are an author, please feel free to contact her at any time to request a review, interview, or guest post.  Just email her at 

Jonel also has an excellent blog here:  

Thank you, Jonel, for a superb practical post which is instructive to both readers and writers alike.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Guest: Tamie Dearen

My Guest this week has chosen to tackle the Dark Side... Yes, it's not all about Heroes and Heroines, folks. There are some fantastic Bad Guys out there... Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...

Tamie Dearen

Greatest Literary Villian

Who is the greatest literary villain in history? 

Before I answer that question, let me explain my methods of determination. Employing a (highly-scientific) poll of my Facebook friends, I compounded a list of probable candidates. The question was, “Who are the top ten literary villains of all time?” The response was overwhelming. My criteria included a specification that any movie villain must have first originated in a book. Despite these instructions, a number of folks nominated Darth Vader. Many suggested villains from comic books, and I decided to include these in the list, rather than be thought a literary snob. The following is the list, in no particular order. I don’t claim to have read every book on the list, so I don’t have personal knowledge of every villain’s qualifications. And I apologize if your favorite wretched fiend has been excluded, but I will be glad to add them in.

What makes a good literary villain?
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Villainous characters are plentiful, found in most literary genres. Some are simply selfish or mean-spirited people. Some have supernatural strength and inhuman power. Some are terrifying to behold. Some hide their evil behind an eerily beautiful façade. The White Witch’s enticing beauty, for example, conflicts with her evil intent.

Stephen King was nominated multiple times for his bone-chilling villains, but Randall Flagg stands out above the others, appearing in multiple books with multiple names. In Flagg, we find a villain who is the embodiment of evil. Pitted against average humans, his supernatural powers allow him to spread evil and destruction, continuing the fear and horror, seemingly impossible to kill.

Cruella De Vil ranks with these other villains simply because she wants to kill puppies. We can always find some reason a man deserves to die, but someone who kills innocent puppies and skins them to make a fur coat is truly villainous. In Oliver Twist, Bill Sikes beats his dog and bludgeons his girlfriend to death, while Fagan uses and abuses children, another intolerable act to solidify status as a villain. 

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Every villain crosses an unwritten line separating acceptable and unacceptable social behavior. It is not the act of torture that makes the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada a villain… It is the torture of innocents. Telling a lie wouldn’t be a villainous act, but for Fagan’s plan to enrage Sikes to the point of murdering his faithful girlfriend. Dolores Umbridge takes after-school-detention to a new level. The more innocent the victim, the more villainous the act. 

What motivates a villain?

Literary villains act from a variety of motivations. Commonly, human villains are selfish, greedy, and power-seeking. Often the author will show how life’s circumstances caused a normal person to transform into the evil character we love to hate. We can almost forgive the man who commits dreadful acts when we witness his horrific, torturous childhood.

But some of the most terrifying villains are those who seem to be evil without just cause. At the age of twenty-seven, Iago had no extenuating circumstances to justify his lust for evil. Demonic and supernatural villains, such as Randall Flagg and Count Dracula, and creatures, like Grendel and Dr. Frankenstein's monster, fall into this category. 

And of course some of our villains are simply insane, Annie Wilkes being a prime example. Perhaps this mentally instable nurse from Misery is particularly disturbing to authors. The sadistic Nurse Ratched demonstrates borderline personality disorder, which would qualify her for admittance to the mental hospital she controlled. 

What bothers us about villains?
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The highly intelligent villain, such as Tom Riddle, will often commit heinous acts with anonymity. Dr. Moriarity is a criminal mastermind who readily kills innocents. Hannibal Lector’s murders and cannibalism are concealed for many years because of his brilliance - an intelligence quotient of two hundred. And the reader cannot help being fascinated with him, despite his horrific acts. 

Iago’s ruthless evil is couched in devious subterfuge. His insinuations cause good people to commit vile acts, destroying the people they love along with themselves. Had Iago simply murdered Desdemona by his own hand, the act would have been tolerable. But the reader is horrified when his intimations cause Othello to murder his innocent wife.

Aaron the Moor commits vile acts without obvious motivation, while appearing to take pleasure in the suffering of others.

Mrs. Coulter is another character we hate for her despicable actions against children. And yet, she almost redeems herself in the end, leaving the reader feeling unsettled and unsure of her motives.

Some villains remind us of real-life. Voldemort’s effort to eliminate all but those with “pure blood” is all too reminiscent of Hitler. And the fictitious Grand Inquisitor Torquemada was, of course, based on the real inquisitor. 

Who is the greatest villain in literary history?

I would never presume to have that answer. But I will give you the name of the villain at the top of my personal list… Simon Legree from Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe).

Legree is thoroughly vile and without remorse. He treats his slaves as objects rather than people. Along with his henchmen, he beats his slaves, sometimes to the point of death. He also rapes women. He reminds us of the true horrors of slavery. He probably wouldn’t be the most terrifying character in a horror flick, but he epitomizes the real-life human villain. And one is further sickened by the fact his sadistic actions would have been perfectly acceptable during that time period. 

I’ve taken a stand and given my opinion. (I hope that doesn’t make me a villain in your book!)


Tamie Dearen lives with her very romantic husband of thirty-two years. She has two beautiful daughters, two amazing son-in-laws, and one awesome grandson. She plays piano, flute, harmonica, keyboards, and guitar, and loves composing and art. And she hates housework. Tamie has been a dentist in private practice for thirty years. In her spare time, she writes books.

Tamie met her husband as a freshman in college when she acted out of character on a whim. One night in the library lobby, she spied a cute guy with his first name written on the back of his shirt. She called out his name. When he approached to talk to her, she pretended that she'd met him before, asking about his classes and how he liked college. To her surprise and delight, he also pretended that he knew her, but of course he didn't know her name. They continued this false relationship for two months. Each time they saw each other, an event that occurred three times per week at the cafeteria, he would pretend he knew her. Meanwhile, all of Tamie's friends were careful not to reveal her name to him. When he finally admitted his ignorance of her name, he was astonished to learn the truth. And the rest is history.

When Tamie is not placing the Bad Guys under close scrutiny, she can be found at:

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Thank you Tamie for such an interesting article. It's often the villains that make for outstanding novels, so take note of Tamie's observations when crafting your own.

Eric @