5-18 Powell's City of Books, World's Largest Indie Bookstore by Judith Ashley and Sarah Raplee

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Secret to Writing Great Villains

by Madelle Morgan

The secret is two words: character quirks.

And what better source for inspiration than extended family? Sit back at gatherings, observe, and use their strengths and weaknesses, unique idiosyncrasies and passions to humanize your villains. Change the names and appearances, of course!

My widowed mother suffered a health crisis in January and could no longer safely live alone, shop or cook. Two of my sisters and I lived with Mom in her apartment on a rotating basis until we were able to move her into a seniors residence on March 2.

I’d soon discover that aspects of my sisters’ characters were in fact villainous under those specific circumstances.

The Zealot

Sister One is hyper-vigilant about every substance that goes on or in her body: no tuna, mussels or most other seafood (mercury), only organic vegetables and greens (pesticides), no drinking out of lead crystal glasses (lead poisoning), and on and on. The rest of the family ignores her, being of the “everything in moderation” camp. I eat seafood and non-organic veggies. I drink from Mom’s beautiful 1950s lead crystal glasses on special occasions. I apparently live dangerously.

I had no idea Sister One would strong-arm a dependent person into compliance with her views. Mom wanted a new lipstick. Mom had to rely on Sister One to take her to the drugstore, who nixed the lipstick. The toxic chemicals! You’d think Mom wanted to smear cyanide on her lips! Sister One insisted Mom buy a natural lip balm instead. And she made Mom PAY for the expensive lip balm she didn’t want.

When Sister One moved her mother-in-law into a seniors’ home, she and her husband denied the woman the opportunity to choose what items to take, because “it was easier”. She wanted to do the same to our Mom. Both elderly women have all their marbles. They’re just in the unfortunate position of being at the mercy of their family.

The Iron Fist in the Velvet Glove

Sister Two calmly and rationally organizes Mom’s life under the guise of “this is what is best for you”, ignoring her protests and never asking for input or feedback. I witnessed Mom grow increasingly angry and frustrated under the gentle tyranny. “Always Right” Sister Two never listens to anyone, including me. But when she doesn’t listen to a powerless person and “makes it happen” anyway, it becomes bullying.

The Villain or the Victim?

Both sisters blithely took away Mom’s ability to make her own choices. Over time, don’t you think it’s enough to drive a person to murderous rage?

Such emotional abuse can escalate to physical and financial elder abuse. As co-executor of my grandmother’s estate a few years ago, I discovered that my bookkeeper aunt manipulated Grandma into paying for house renovations and utility bills in return for room and board. My partially blind grandmother signed post-dated checks to cover my aunt’s mortgage payments. God help my aunt’s larcenous soul. It was like taking candy from a baby. Would it then be an easy next step to bilk clients? 

God help all dependent, powerless people, young and old, who are victims of abuse. Can you blame the victims for retaliating? Who then is the villain—the abuser or the victim in unbearable circumstances who lashes back?

Not all villains are evil. They could be your friends or family members. Under the right circumstances, the villain could be me. Or you. Sobering thought.

Madelle (who wears lipstick)

Madelle Morgan  writes romance set in Canada. 

Petra’s buddy Carter in Madelle's romantic thriller Diamond Hunter  on Amazon is a good guy gone bad—a secondary villain. Read it for free in Kindle Unlimited.

5 stars! This Romantic Dramedy is wonderfully written. Catrina is both beautiful and flawed, strong in spite of the past horrors. While not as lighthearted as Caught on Camera, it still manages to to read like your favorite movie you keep in your DVD collection. —Goodreads review

Last Chance to buy at $0.99! Seduced by the Screenwriter is available on Amazon free in KU and for $0.99 to buy until the end of March. After that, it will go wide (Kobo, iBooks) and revert to the permanent price of $3.99.


Diana McCollum said...

What a heartfelt post!!! It is sad when the elderly have there decision making taken away from them. I watched my Aunt leave her house and go live with my cousin. My aunt wasn't allowed to do anything. This was a woman used to taking care of herself and her home. It was the cause of her down hill demise and with in 7 months she was put into an assisted living home. She lasted there for about one year, and hated every minute. I could certainly see where an elderly mentally or physically abused person might very well lash out. Great post.

Madelle Morgan said...

Diana, with the massive numbers of Baby Boomers moving into their senior years, I am hoping this post raises awareness of the issue of elder abuse. Family members or friends need to be alert to the possibility of senior abuse, be proactive about speaking out when they witness it, and be advocates for those who are too intimidated or dependent to report abuse to the authorities.

I belonged to a chapter of Zonta, a charitable woman's club, and after I told members about what happened to my grandmother, their community programming for a year was devoted to raising awareness of elder abuse.

It is sure not easy to call family members (especially respected or powerful people) on their behavior and expose it. However, if you ever became a victim, wouldn't you hope that someone stood up for you?

Judith Ashley said...

Madelle, I now live alone and have done several things to minimize my exposure to fraud and abuse. I've completed my living will/advanced directives and doctor and friends have copies and I've talked to people including doctor, his nurse, financial people, granddaughters, close friends, neighbors, etc. It makes a difference when people with differing views of how I Should live my life now have been told how I want to live my life under these circumstances. And, it gives credence to all those other folks who are on the side-lines when they speak up because they Heard Me State my wants not just "know what I'd want." I've also done safety things and since the day my youngest granddaughter moved out, I Always wear my emergency call button, have an extra set of keys in a lock box that my security company has the code to, etc.

I'm also very fortunate to have worked for 20 years for Multnomah County's After Hours Emergency Response Program. My job was to go out and check on people, provide family members with information and resources to handle challenges, to take financial exploitation reports, to document abuse reports and do what was needed to see that the person was safe. Multnomah County is one of the few places, if not the only place, in the US that has this type of program. However, all local law enforcement agencies provide this "service" when a social service agency isn't involved. Knowing what they will and won't respond to is also a good idea if you might need that type of back-up.

By being clear about what I want before anything happens, it makes it easier for those people acting on my behalf if I'm unable to, to assert themselves with the statement "Judith has always said she wants xxx." If I'm in the room, all I need to do is agree.

Madelle Morgan said...

Judith, Multnomah County has a proven model for other jurisdictions to emulate across North America. I am so impressed by the program you describe. It would also save time and money in terms of allocation of police resources, while protecting and supporting family members before the drastic step of charging a family member with a crime.

You are certainly an expert in this area, Judith. We can all learn from your strategies to document your wishes in advance and keep yourself safe. This is very timely advice for retirees or anyone with health issues. Thank you for this.