As I was reading the book Sol of the Coliseum for my review, I found myself asking “Why?” Why was the villain such a cruel bastard? Why did he do the things he did? What set him down the path to being a torturer, assassin, and all-around a-hole?
That is something that I’ve also been doing in my own life. When my kids start snarking at me, my wife, or each other, instead of looking at the words they say, I’ve started looking at the reason WHY they said those words. Maybe it’s a bad day, a problem at school, or something else going on. Instead of looking at the actions, a look at the “cause” behind the “effect” can help you understand others more.
This is something that everyone needs to do more!
As authors, you need to get into the “why” of your characters’ actions. For example, in my secret side series (coming in 2019 or thereabouts…), the main character is raped by the villain. Throughout the book, the villain is clearly an antagonist, but he only crosses the line at the end.
But what caused him to go over the deep end and take that step? He’d beaten the MC (a girl) half to death, killed her best friend, and more, but what made him take it to new lows?
It’s all explained in a few simple comments the villain makes: (Warning: Graphic)
“You don’t belong in the Night Guild! You’re a woman, not a thief. You’re good for nothing but being a whore!”
“Do you know what happens to whores, little Hawk? I do. My father showed me many times what a real man does to whores. And now, I’m going to show you.”
“But it’s like Father always said, ‘Show a woman her place, and she’ll be grateful for it.'”
“Yes, scream for me, little Hawk! Mother always screamed like that. Father said that’s how she showed that she was enjoying it. Are you enjoying it, little Hawk?”
“Remember this, little Hawk: you deserve this!”
Pretty insightful, isn’t it? Instead of giving you the villain’s backstory or showing his journey into villainy, these excerpts give you a hint of what he went through to turn him into the monster he is. You don’t need to know more about him because these things give you enough insight into the character. You can guess at the trauma and abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, or the things he witnessed that twisted him so.
It’s important to understand the “WHY” behind things. And I’m not just talking about the things people say and do in your books, but also in real life. If you can take a deeper look at what is causing the actions, it will help you connect better–be it with your main character in your novel, with that a-hole at work, or with your kids. It’s highly unlikely that they are acting that way without a reason! Once you understand why, it helps you to see things from their point of view, making it easier to deal with them.