Adventures in Book Promotion Day 8-ish: Innocent Villainy

kiddo

Day 8… ish. I was off work for a week, so… yeah.

Anyway, HI! I have good news — thanks to my wonderful friend Molly, I have the ability to write at home again! W00T! Thank you Molly for letting me borrow your iPad; I will return it as soon as I am able to buy a laptop for myself. Does this mean I will be blogging more? I certainly hope so, but knowing my scatterbrainedness (and the fact that I kinda have a book to write) let’s just wait and see, shall we?

As for today’s subject, I want to talk a little bit about villains. Namely, making them 3-D in children’s books. The norm for giving villains depth in most stories is to give them a great backstory. A hard and fast — and even sympathetic — reason for doing what they do. Who are they? Why do they do bad things? What makes them really TICK, deep down inside? But for parents, who want their children to learn that it’s NEVER okay to be a villain no matter what the reason, and for kids, who see the world in black and white, just how do you keep your villain from being a parody, a shadow, or a mask?

This is a question I have run up against many times in my writing career. I am not afraid to say that 99.9% of my bad guys have been… bland and boring. Tropey. Exactly what you’d expect a villain to be.

Blech.

But I’m not alone in this. Think about the kids’ books you have loved. From Alice in Wonderland to Coraline, from The Wizard of Oz to “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, villains in kidlit tend to just be evil for the sake of being evil. The Queen of Hearts just is a bully. No reason given. Other Mother is demonic and therefore naturally bad. The Wicked Witch*… well… need I say more? As for Count Olaf, I like to say he’s like The Joker with fewer reasons to be nuts. And I won’t even get started on any of Roald Dahl’s monstrous inventions!

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with this. After all, a large part of what makes kidlit fun is the simple good vs. evil aesthetic often inherent in it. And every single example I have given is from a story (or stories) I adore. That said, can we give our young readers more in their bad guys?

As it turns out, the answer to that is a resounding YES! At least according to some contemporary authors who are doing just that.

One great example is, of course, J.K. Rowling. Is Voldemort evil? Yes. Does he do bad things? Ohhh yeah. But Rowling also delves into his past, weaving a tragic story of a boy who struggled with loss and defeat at a very young age. Does she use this to excuse his actions? Not at all! But it does show the reader that he is more than a scary mask floating on the wind. And this is even more prevalent in her “lesser” villains, especially in young Draco Malfoy, whose character development is a work of art akin to Michelangelo’s, in my humble opinion.

But I digress.

*Fangirls*

*Ahem*

Another example can be found in the “Percy Jackson” books, though to be fair Rick Riordan kind of cheated on that end, using myths and legends who already embody the rich depth that only comes from centuries of storytelling. But I digress. His villains still count.

Still, these examples are as few and far between as the list of fantasy and sci-fi children’s books on Amazon. (Hint: it’s small.) Maybe I’m just not seeing it. Maybe I’m reading young readers wrong. Or maybe — just maybe — we need more depth, more magic, more wonder, in kidlit overall. Not just in its villains, but in… everything?

I’m in danger of getting off-topic here though. Let me return to villains. (Though I’m seeing another blog topic in the near future…)

Rowling and Riordan (and maybe others I missed; add them in comments!) have shown us that yes, kidlit villains can be 3-dimensional, if we choose to focus just a little more on them. In fact, keeping with the “marketing” aspect of this blog series, making a children’s literary world deeper and richer overall has proven to be extremely successful and popular among young readers. So why don’t we do that more often? That’s the question I’ve asked myself lately, and why I plan on doing the same with my villain in “Guts and Glory.” At the moment Dr. Fixit is little more than a shadow. I’ll be changing that in book 3.

It’s time to make Nil real.

MUAAAHAHAHAAA!

 

*(I hope it goes without saying that I’m talking about the ORIGINAL CHILDREN’S book by L Frank Baum.) 

 

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2 Responses to “Adventures in Book Promotion Day 8-ish: Innocent Villainy”

  1. I’m actually in the process of fleshing out the villain in my next book. I plan for it to be a series, and if he’s going to be more interesting, he needs a How and Why he got to where he is. It’s not going to be super deep, but deep enough for a middle grade book fer sure.

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