Posts by Kat Colmer

I write Young and New Adult stories with humour and heart.

Psychology of the Villain

Villains. We love to hate them, and at times hate to find we love them. Last Tuesday’s Aussie Writers post looked at the possible motivations behind a villain’s actions, but what in their psyche allows them to make the choices that lead to these villainous deeds? To help me answer this question, I thought I better enlist an expert, so I teamed up with PsychWriter author, Tamar Sloan, to explore a villain’s psychology.

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A complex villain in most books isn’t your run of the mill sociopath with fifteen bodies in their basement. Yes, these individuals exist. We’ve seen the documentaries and read the books about them, but the broken characters we love to hate have greater depth than that. The villain of our masterpiece is usually a wounded human with the capacity for empathy, guilt and remorse. A human who makes choices that violate ethical, legal and moral boundaries.

What ultimately makes them a villain is that they reach a point where they’re okay with their choice, maybe even delight in it, and it’s the progression to this point that is valuable to tease out as a writer. Either in the planning or in the aftermath, your villain moves through a series of psychological steps that allows them to live with their choices and sleep the sleep of the guilt-free (or mostly guilt-free). Capture this process in your book and you’ve got a realistic, authentic villain your readers are going to be fascinated by, and possibly even understand on some primal, psychological level.

So what is this psychological, possibly subconscious, process your villain goes through before or after their villainous deeds?

The starting point is often a discrepancy between your villain’s beliefs and their behaviour. We each hold many beliefs and thoughts about the world and ourselves. Most of the time these beliefs, and the choices we make, coexist happily in the folds of our grey matter. Sometimes though, discrepancies arise. Like when we eat chocolate cake even though we know we should be dieting. Like saying family comes first, but then having an affair. Or like saying we value humanity, and then sacrificing thousands in the name of a cause.

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Image credit: Ryan McGuire http://www.gratisography.com

When our beliefs and behaviour clash we become uncomfortable. Nervous. Distressed. And if there’s one thing our brain doesn’t like, and has evolved to avoid, it’s discomfort. So it will do what it needs to do to achieve harmony and balance. Since the behaviour has usually already happened, or is committed to happening, the brain needs to do some cognitive gymnastics, and your villain will probably do one or more of the following:

  1. Change their belief: The ‘I don’t really need to be on a diet’ reasoning.

Saruman in the classic Lord of the Rings uses such reasoning. Originally a powerful Istari entrusted with guarding Middle Earth like Gandalf, Saruman’s belief—and allegiance—changes when he comes to believe that Sauron’s victory can’t be avoided. His love of power drives him to abandon his order and convinces him that he’s better off on the side of evil.

  1. Minimise their behaviour and how they perceive it: The ‘I hardly ate any chocolate cake at all’ reasoning.

From Middle Earth to Creekwood High and Martin Addison in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. It’s not often the class clown is written as the villain, but when Martin stumbles on a personal email of Simon’s, he threatens to out him unless he helps Martin get close to Simon’s friend, Abby. When Simon asks if Martin is actually going to make him do this, Martin deftly minimises his behaviour:

‘Make you? Come on. It’s not like that … It’s not like anything … I was just thinking you would want to help me here.’

  1. Rationalise their behaviour: the ‘Chocolate cake is a good source of calcium’ reasoning.

The Hunger Games series offers us a slow-boil villain in President Alma Coin. She is all about freeing Panem and making it a better place, but her desire to take President Snow’s place as ruler at any cost, including killing Katniss’ sister, Prim, reveals her for the power hungry sociopath that she really is. Whether an act or her true belief, Alma Coin’s ‘for the greater good’ reasoning continues to the very end:

‘Today, the greatest friend to revolution will fire the shot to end all wars. May her arrow signify the end of tyranny and the beginning of a new era.’

  1. Reduce perceived choice: the ‘I didn’t have a choice. It would have been rude not to eat it …’ reasoning.

Twilight’s Aro is a villain with very clear cut, black and white principles. His primary objective as head of the Volturi coven is to keep the existence of their kind hidden. When it’s rumoured that Bella and Edward have created an immortal child, Aro argues he ‘has no choice’ but to destroy the infant who poses a threat of exposure for the vampires. Only when Aro sees a vision of his own death as a result of him trying to kill the child does he back down and let her live. Even a vampire sleeps easier at night when he’s convinced himself he had no choice.

Disclaimer: no chocolate cake was harmed in the writing of this article! Well, not a lot of it anyway, and our hands were tied. We had to eat it … for research purposes.

About the author:

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Tamar really struggled writing this bio because she hasn’t decided whether she’s primarily a psychologist who loves writing, or a writer with a lifelong fascination for psychology. Somehow she got lucky enough to do both. Tamar is the author of the PsychWriter blog – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers.

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Tamar is also a passionate writer of young adult stories of finding love and life beyond your comfort zone. You can find out more about Tamar’s books at www.tamarsloan.com

 

 

 


Kat Colmer Author

Kat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA The Third Kiss is due out with ENTANGLED TEEN in August 2017. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

7 Tips to Ace Your School Author Visit

April has seen Aussie Owned and Read talk about all things marketing. So far, the focus has been on online marketing strategies, but today I’d like to take a look at a face-to-face strategy particularly useful for YA authors – school visits.

IMG_3261 by Kian McKellar via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/qzBhBH

Image by Kian McKellar Flickr CC

“Word of mouth is the best kind of marketing there is”

In my role as a high-school teacher librarian I have been lucky enough to attend numerous school author visits. Authors LOVE to talk about their books, BUT there’s no quicker way to send a class of teens into a coma than to wax lyrical about every detail of your publication journey and current book baby. There’s a good chance most of your audience haven’t even read your book, so your mission is to make your story sparkle brighter than Edward Cullen on a cloudless midsummer scorcher and give them good reason to give up six to nine hours of watching funny cat videos on YouTube to want to read it.

So, how do you grab their attention, you ask?

Make connections. Establishing a relevant context for students by drawing connections between your experience and the students’ can leave them with a more rewarding experience. Try these ideas:

1. Tie into the syllabus content covered in class. Speak to the group’s teachers / teacher librarian before the visit and ask about the units the class is currently studying in different subjects. You’d be surprised where you can find crossover content to help make your novel’s subject matter relevant. English, yes, but also, History, Science, PDHPE.

2. Talk about your research. High school students are familiar with different research strategies for school assignments. Ask about their surprising / funny / unexpected research experiences then tell them about yours:

  • How did you go about your research?
  • Did you go anywhere special?
  • Did you meet / interview anyone in particular?

A visiting author I once saw had a hall of ninth graders in the palm of her hand when she told them about the time she was set on fire (under controlled conditions!) in the name of research.

3. Unpack the revision process. Talking about the evolution of your manuscript and all the challenges along the way can be effective if discussed in the context of the students’ creative writing.

  • Bring visuals of marked up pages – scrawls and scribbles of red by you and suggestions by your editor.
  • Show students the different stages of editing, allowing them to see all the work that goes into the finished product. If nothing else, the English staff will love you, because you’ve vindicated them in their constant mantra of ‘writing is re-writing’.

Image by Laura Ritchie via Flickr CC

Now, all this talking is fine and good, but to make your author visit a success you’ll need to balance your gabbing with something else, namely …

Less words, more action. One repeated negative piece of feedback I hear from students and teachers is that the author spent most of the session talking at them. To mitigate your audience tuning out, try the following:

4. Break up your presentation into segments. Five to ten minute segments are best, each with a different focus but with clear transitions linking one to the next.

5. ‘Activity’ is king. Involve your audience as much as possible!

  • Got a YA fantasy involving martial arts? Have students learn some basic martial arts moves.
  • Got a YA contemporary featuring dance? Get the kids grooving with a ten second dance routine.
  • No martial arts or dancing in your novel? No problem. Pick a bunch of students to act out a short scene from your book while you read out the excerpt.

Anything that involves the audience will make for a better experience. Even something as simple as …

Props and visuals. Everyone has a dominant learning style, be it visual, kinesthetic or auditory, so it’s good to include visual and hands-on material in your author talk, such as:

6. Slide-shows.

  • If you’re reading out a passage from your novel, have a slide-show ready to help set the mood or introduce the physical setting.
  • You could show pictures (hello Pinterest!) of your ‘cast’ of characters using actors.
  • Share images or video related to your research – people, places, activities.

7. Relevant props.

  • So your novel features martial arts, but your attempt at a roundhouse kick is likely to land you in emergency? Bring in a mannequin dressed in a dobok instead and show some video footage you came across during your research.
  • Is your novel a YA historical? Try to source some replica artefacts linked to your story that students can touch and examine.

The idea is to bring alive aspects of your story world to spark your audience’s interest.

Black Beauty by Carol VanHook

Image by Carol VanHook Flickr CC

If you include props and visual media, make sure your audience has plenty of opportunity to be involved, and you draw connections between your writing and their experience, you’re set for a successful author visit.

But how exactly is one successful author visit a marketing tool, you ask? Teachers and teacher librarians have wide reaching professional networks and word of mouth is the best kind of marketing there is. One successful author visit will likely result in invites from other schools.

Let us know what has and hasn’t worked for you when visiting schools. Leave your comments below.


Kat Colmer AuthorKat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA is due out with ENTANGLED TEEN in August 2017. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Author Interview: Beck Nicholas

This month we’re celebrating the arrival of two new bloggers with round-robin interviews so Aussie Owned and Read readers can get to know us, both old and new, better. Today we have YA author Beck Nicholas providing answers to some burning questions. Welcome Beck! Make yourself comfortable and we’ll get started.

  1. You’re the author of four YA novels, two sci-fi and two contemporary, and have a fifth due for release at the end of this year titled LAST DAYS OF US. What is this story about and what sparked you to write it?

Last Days is the story of grieving Zoey who drove her life off the rails when her big brother was killed. She’s determined to pull herself back together and sets out on a road trip to see Gray, the singer/songwriter whose music got her through the worst times. On the trip are her ex, her best friend and her ex’s cousins. It’s the road trip of a lifetime!

2. What’s a song or piece of music that in some way relates to LAST DAYS OF US?

Last Days revolves heavily around music and music is very important to Zoey, my main character. The most important song (apart from some Little Mermaid references – Ariel is Zoey’s fave princess by far) is Forever Young by Youth Group but if I tell you too much about why it will spoil the story *evil grin*.

3. Out of all the characters you’ve written, which would you most like to have over for dinner? Why?

Ooh, great question. I have such strong feelings for all of my characters (some of those being complicated) but for a dinner invite it’s probably Jolie. She’s the little cousin of her ex on the road trip with Zoey and was the most fun to write ever with such a sparkly way of looking at the world.

4. Does writing energize or exhaust you or both? How? Why?

Probably both. Being in the world of a story gives me drive and purpose but if I have a great day I do feel drained at the end of it. Like my brain has turned to mush and stringing a sentence together becomes difficult.

5. What are you working on now? Would you share a couple of lines?

Right now I’m working on a story about a girl with hearing loss who makes a big mistake in an attempt to fit in, called ‘Smart Girls Don’t’.

This is the opening:

‘Smart girls don’t let a picture of their breasts end up all over the internet.’

One hundred and sixty kilometres, give or take, into her journey to exile and Paige Miller-Jones’ ears still rang with her dad’s statement. In fact, the words filled every available space in the packed car, leaving room for nothing else to be said.

When she was seven and first fitted with hearing aids, she would have turned them off before he’d finished the sentence. But ten years and an improvement in her ‘good’ ear had both matured her and diluted her ability to block out what she didn’t want to hear.

6. You’re published in both Australia and the US. Do you feel Oz authors have to work harder to carve a name for themselves in the book world than US based authors?

I think the US is a huge place and discoverability can be a problem. However thanks to the internet it’s more open than ever before. It does make me super appreciative of our Aussie publishers and market though where Aussie voices can perhaps be heard more easily.

Now for some Fast 5:

  • Plotter or pantser? A poor amalgamation of the two
  • Daytime or nighttime writing? Better in the day time – first thing but that rarely works out
  • Short story or full length fiction? Short is HARD (much credit to you on your recent success), I’ll stick with longer
  • Pen or keyboard? Both!
  • One project at a time or multi tasking? One at a time in stretches but timelines mean I have to be flexible

You can read more about Beck on her website or connect with her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

 

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Kat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. She also sings (occasionally) and speaks German (almost fluently). Her hope is to one day read one of her novels in Deutsch.