Stupid things your Beta Readers Find: Letting Your Villain Off The Hook Too Easily.

This is one of those “type things out to clear my head” posts.

I’ve written before that if one person makes a comment, consider it.  If two people make the same comment, seriously consider it.  If several more people make the same comment, revise.

I’m wavering on this one, though.

When I request beta reads, I ask for people to express the emotion they feel in each chapter.  A few people have said that my villain gets off the hook too easily.

Now, are they expressing an emotional response, or do they think that’s an error on my part?  That is what I am trying to figure out.  Even after questioning them, I am still not quite sure.

For one thing, they all would have squawked at my first seven or so drafts, where he completely got away with it.   I’m at least happy with my decision for him to get caught.

I can’t have him die a horrible death though, because then he can’t come back with a vengeance to really screw with Magellan’s head in another book.

I guess the visceral reaction of people is that if someone kills almost a hundred people with no remorse, he should get no less than that in the end.  The problem is that my villain is just too much fun.  Everyone has said that he makes their skin crawl, but they love it.  He is a great character, and I want him to come out and play again.

I think the problem might lie in the fact that you see him get caught, and you see the initial “punishment”, but you don’t get to see the aftermath… but if I do go and show the reader that aftermath, it will get red-lined because that is not intrinsic to the main-plotline for a POV character to be there to see it.

I don’t really have to show you the aftermath… I can show you the emotional response of the aftermath from another character’s POV.  I can intertwine that into the main plotline as the characters move into the final scene.

That’s it!  I got it!  I knew talking to you guys would help. You are all so smart!

Gotta go!  The idea is bursting out of my head, and I need to write it down before it disappears!


15 responses to “Stupid things your Beta Readers Find: Letting Your Villain Off The Hook Too Easily.

  1. Isn’t it grand when our thinking is productive? Love it!

  2. No, you don’t have to kill him but you could maim him or submit him to a taste of his own medicine. That could be fun and give him a reason to raise hell in the sequel! A madman that suddenly realizes he’s vulnerable might send him deeper into the depths of madness, fearing that he won’t be around to commit his next atrocity. Maybe he feels the seconds ticking away and the need to get that next kill. Just a thought…………

  3. I can relate to this. I have also found that if you don’t give your villains a tiny shred of like-ability, then the reader doesn’t grow to love to hate them, but just hates them. Look at the character of Carnegie played by Gary Oldman in “The Book of Eli” for an example of a well balanced villain. An interesting take on a villain is making them so likable that the reader can gain sympathy for them, like Gene Hackman’s character in the Clint Eastwood masterpiece “Unforgiven”.

    • I have a beta rooting for my bad guy to win. Funny. Yes, I gave him reasons for doing what he does, and the are understandable… although most sane people would not do what he did, we may have fantasized about it.

  4. I love how inspiration seems to hit, unexpectedly, like that. Half of my writing epiphanies seem to come this way –random, middle of the night, Ah-hahs. 🙂

  5. No problem, love to help a fellow human being out in a jam.

    I feel like the guy that doesn’t say a word while someone rants. The arms flap. My mouth opens and then closes as the ranter circles my chair. Finally I sit back and enjoy the show.

    Oh, and of course, accept all the credit. 🙂

  6. Glad we could….ummm….help you out.

  7. Hmmm, being one of those betas and remembering my own responses to that scene, I wanna see the update!

  8. I think Anastasia raises a great point—those “loose ends” can send us looking for the sequel and more content on fan/web sites or join in the mile-long forum post of “What do you think happened to X?”

    Too many loose ends can make a reader feel cheated and keep them away from future works. But I think a situation like yours is more likely to generate more interest, espcially if you can foreshadow that there will be a future conflict and reckoning.

  9. I love this topic Jennifer. In my thriller, “A Mother’s Love” <—shameless plug, Colin is a terribly nasty sexual sadist and 2 of my 3 beta readers wanted him dead at the end (or at least in jail for life). In order to please them, I originally wrote it like that but a after a few days I said to myself, "What are you doing? Is this book based on their ideas or yours?" I wanted to see him win. I wanted your jaw to drop as you read the ending. I wanted to keep you up at night, wondering what he would do next. And yes, I wanted to leave it so that if I wanted, I could write another book with him as the star/villain. I love the villain. He's my favorite character and the easiest POV for me to write from. 🙂

  10. So glad I could help by sleeping as you mused. I’m certain I sent brilliant vibes your way on the (quite clever) solution you found. May I expect credits in your acknowledgements page? No? RATS.

  11. Not knowing what happens to a character at the end of a book makes me CaRayZee. I literally start reading the book jacket, then the foreword/afterword/epilogue/sneak peak at book 2’s. Then I move to the internet and fan pages and wikipedia and fan fiction JUST to get mental closure on what happened. So, from one perspective, having some sort of resolution is nice even if it’s not just desserts. Not having any resolution on a character is irritating, but generates interest in what else you’re going to write later. Most sequels I read JUST to find out what happened to the guy at the end of the last book.