Flopping Around

Today I’m teaching myself a painful object lesson about why the motivations of a story’s characters are important. This is maybe especially true when the character is a villain, and that’s the spot where the floor is all slippery and the writer can all too easily fall down. We want our villains to do Bad Things. So rather than think it through, the writer slips the villain a little note that says, “Here’s a bad thing. Please do this bad thing now.”

Books 1, 2, and 3 of my series (see the nice cover art?) are out on Amazon. As I work on the revisions for Book 4, I’m asking myself questions that I really ought to have asked two years ago. I have a smooth and enterprising villain — the Lord Dahilio Rundel. I have a key magical amulet — the Leafstone Shield. What exactly the Shield is capable of doing is rather vague, and that’s a problem too. I ought to have worked it out in more detail. But today’s conundrum is about Rundel’s attitude toward the Shield.

At the start of the story the Shield has disappeared, so Rundel hires a top-ranked wizard to find it. From this, we can reasonably assume that he wants it for some reason. But when it finally turns up, he lets the wizard keep it. He seems suddenly not to care very much.

Not too many pages later (we’re now at the action-packed climax of Book 3), Rundel is about to flee. Things are not going his way. My intrepid heroine has dropped the Shield in the course of a complicated fight. Rundel scoops it up from the floor, sneers at the heroine, and runs off. She leaps to her feet and pursues him. And then he drops the Shield when she orders him to. Suddenly it seems it isn’t important to him after all.

The fact that he doesn’t kill her when he has the chance, and that two minutes later she doesn’t kill him when she has the chance — I don’t want to try to fix that. There are reasons, and they’re flimsy, and this is why I’m not Neil Gaiman.

The fact that his motivation with respect to the Leafstone Shield is flopping around, however, like a live tuna on the deck of a fishing boat — that I’d like to fix. And I’m not sure how to do it. I’m not even sure there’s a way to do it.

Do not make this mistake, kids. Figure out what your villains want before you start writing.

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