Fear in Writing: The Witch in Your Book

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Witch in Your Book

Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
"Marmion," Sir Walter Scott
As mystery writers, we often write deceptive characters.  Our job is to untangle their webs and unfurl their truths before readers at exactly the right moment.  Not everyone does this well.
My 4yo son loves ghost stories.  He loves monsters and dragons and the like.  He loves Scooby Doo and Hercules.  Our favorite books to read together are 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The BFG by Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and Dr. Seuss's What Was I Scared Of?  But the other day we were reading some very basic scary tales, when it struck me: the witch is the perfect villain, but she has absolutely no psychological confusion.
She weaves no tangled web.  She knows exactly who she is and makes no apology for it.  She has one goal: to do evil.  She may have a sub-goal as well, be it to find the ingredients for a certain spell or take over part of the world or acquire little children for dinner.  But at heart, she is very basic.  Have cat, have broom, have cauldron, will do evil, make no apologies.
I am jealous of her, in a way.  I wish I knew that much about myself!  My life is not so cut and dry.  Growing up I thought it would be easier as an adult, that emotions would be clear, that paths would be set.  But they aren't.  And writing is similar.  It doesn't seem to get easier, it seems to get more complex.
But I digress.  Do you have a witch-type villain in your book, or someone more psychologically complex?  Is your antagonist defined by their evil, or is evil a result of their actions?

Postscript: I am 30 today.  It's going to be a great decade.

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  1. Ah-ha! Here we are comments! Please email me again if you have any more troubles here...Thank you, friends, for letting me know this section wasn't working!

  2. Happy Birthday Michele. May all your wishes come true and the day be all you hope for.

  3. Yay...I can speak! :)

    My villain is similar to a witch...in that they don't see themselves as evil.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY (again)!!

  4. Thanks, Mason! I am writing in a coffee shop and comments are working, so not a bad start.

    DL- That's a really interesting trait to give a villain: not seeing themselves as evil. But also tricky. They have to make certain choices in society, and you really have to get inside their heads and understand the way they think. Thanks for the birthday wishes (twice)!

  5. Although it sounds strange coming from an elven creature O:-))) I actually like witches a lot, the three witches from Shakespeare's MACBETH must be my favourite characters of that kind. But I also like court jesters and their modern counterparts, so that could be a topic for another of your posts Chels - the comic characters in your books, those which bring some humour into your novels and bright up the mystery and atmosphere :)

  6. And a big HAPPY B-DAY to you!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Hope you'll have a published novel before you get to the next birthday ;)

  7. That would be an interesting post, Dez. I thought of Macbeth's witches while writing this post, but wasn't in a state of mind to work them in.
    Are you saying I'm too serious? :P
    And thank you for the birthday wish! Your hope is my hope, too. :) I've already spent a good chunk of today working on it.


  8. Happy B-day, Michele! Love the new look. Clean, yet mod.

  9. Best wishes for your birthday, Michele and I like this new look, much easier to read!

    How I wish one of my characters was evil! I think it would be easier to write. All of mine are very human, with their own agendas, wanting what makes them happy and the world a better place. It's their individual ideas of how to make that happen that causes trouble.

  10. Happy birthday, Michele! Sending virtual sushi and martini thoughts your way... :)

  11. Alan- Thanks, and thanks for trying twice for me today!

    Elspeth- Many thanks for the wishes. I like this better as well. More feminine, but still urban. And LIGHT! I suppose I should have said that my characters (so far) are not evil either. I do hope to experiment with different types of antagonists in each book, though.

    Simon- Virtual sushi! Martini! Fantastic! So far it's been scrambled eggs and PB&J with the kids. :) I did have some fantastic drinks and food Saturday night at a great local restaurant. Highly recommend for miidle NCers!

  12. a gentle reprise of Cheerful Birthday to you wafts through the ethernet!
    In my wip - the killer is far from a witch - the act is understandable and it is really the victim who may be a witch or warlock or really a charming manipulator...
    In the last one (the one gamely seeking a home in the arms of a publisher) the villains were greedy, vicious and rather stupid. One was a witch for sure but the other had at least one moment of redemption.

  13. I like your new look blog. Much easier to read. My bad guys more psychologically complex and evil is a by-product of their work.

  14. Happy Birthday. I hope you have a fabulous decade. It's great to picture you and your son reading all those spooky stories. I loved to be scared as a child myself.

    I have a witchy woman in my WIP, she's complicated though, not simple. Or maybe she's simple and I don't see it yet?

  15. Ah, Jan! As usual, very interesting! You turn the tables and pen sympathy on the killer. Fantastic!

    Stephen- Thank you and I am glad to make it easy on the eyes. I think your villain is similar to those for which I strive.

    Elizabeth- I loved to be scared as well, and I certainly loved to read! Hmmm...Interesting analysis of your witchy woman. Let us know when you figure more of her out!

  16. Happy Birthday!! Enjoy the 30s - they're lots of fun :)

    The villains in my ms are more complicated - mostly just hired thugs who do what they do for money.

  17. Happy birthday!
    Glad comments are working again.
    I haven't written a truly evil character - yet.

  18. Happy Birthday! A milestone birthday at that. More importantly, a "bauble birthday"! :)

  19. I write some pretty evil villains, but I always keep a spark of good in everyone, whether its loyalty, or regret, a noble goal, or mourning for the people they used to be. It doesn't keep them from being the villain, because the darker aspects of their psyches are stronger. Still, I need something in them I can relate to, else they're cardboard cutouts.

  20. Jemi- Thanks! Interesting that you said hired thugs are "more complicated." I know what you mean, though. They have more complex motivation than pure evil with no other understanding than their own makeup.

    Alex- Ah! But surely with SciFi you will!

    Rose- I love baubles! Thanks for stopping by. Yours was one of the first blogs I 'discovered.'

    Lorel- That keeps them human. Witches are not human. You are writing villains exactly as I like to read them!

  21. Happy Birthday (for the other day).
    Aren't witches fun!
    It is interesting the most 'evil' character in my upcoming book is also probably the most honest and straightforward. I find the evil character who believes what they are doing is right or even noble fascinating.


    Publish or Perish