In his review of my book "Tranquillity Initiative" - which he called a "good read" (with) a really good "reveal" at the end." Jon Steel took issue with my villains as a little too much "baby killers" although he said they worked the plot along. Actually the plot wouldn't work without them, but that brings me to a chapter in my forthcoming book "What Car Would Hamlet Drive: 2000 Questions To Ask Fictional Characters."
In my fiction writing, I write in the thriller genre. In this genre it is imperative that my hero be kept in a state of immanent peril.
In "Hamlet's Car," I pose the idea that "your hero is defined by your villain." If the villain isn't strong and truly threatening, then it's hard to see your hero as truly brave or in danger. The only way to make your villain truly threatening is to have him (or them) do really bad things to other people - kill, main, torture, rape - so that when your hero faces his nemesis - or a collection of nemesis allies (villains usually have supporters or employees who are equally bad) - you fear for the hero because you understand what the villain is capable of.
During the time I was finishing the writing of "Tranquillity Initiative" I had a conversation with a woman I had known in Vermont. Her husband had returned from Iraq a very damaged man. For months he had terrorized his wife and children, keeping them virtual prisoners in their house in order to protect them from attack. "The army turned my husband into a killer," she told me. "Then they sent him home without bothering to turn him back into a civilian." I thought that was very interesting and it bore out some of my character theories.
In "Tranquillity Initiative" I needed a second stream of villains (the "baby killers") because I had seriously weakened the terrorists by giving them anthrax when they released the disease into the population. Besides which, I had made the terrorists somewhat sympathetic because I motivated them by having their families killed - "Digging through the rubble of what had remained of their homes until they had torn off their fingernails." Of course the terrorists were terrorists and behaved like terrorists but their mission was not to attack the hero, it was to attack the population of New York. So the baby killers were needed to attack the hero.
Writing is such an interesting activity - It is a never ending array of problem solving. I love doing it, learning about it, picking it apart and talking about it.
I'm grateful for Jon Steel's very interesting review. I learned from it. I look forward to the rest of the reviews that are scheduled to arrive over the next weeks and months.