I think it’s worthwhile to really spend some time trying to see the conflict from the villain’s point of view. That can help us write more convincing villains.
As I mentioned above, I think many writers are uncomfortable with doing that. They don’t want to delve into a dark character because it requires them to delve into the dark parts of themselves. Being able to do so, however, can make your villain far less of a cardboard cutout and far more of a character. And stronger characters make more compelling stories.
(Quote from Carolyn Kaufman, author of The Writer's Guide To Psychology in this interview)
When I read this quote I was struck by how much it mirrored what I ended up having to do during the edits of my upcoming book, She Makes It Look Easy. The "she" in the title is Justine Miller, domestic diva and queen of Essex Falls, the neighborhood that the main character, Ariel Baxter moves into. Ariel is Justine's backdoor neighbor and the two form a tenuous friendship based on proximity and Ariel's unabashed admiration for Justine. Ariel would like their friendship to deepen but there seems to be something holding Justine back from going below the surface. Through the course of the novel, Ariel must come to terms with what that something is-- even if it means seeing Justine's faults and grasping that nothing is really as easy as it looks.
When I originally wrote the book, I wrote it completely from Ariel's perspective. You only saw Justine through Ariel's eyes. This was safe, because Ariel was safe. She was the one who was (mostly) making the right decisions and (mostly) wanting to be a better person. Justine was the dangerous one, the rogue. She was more ambiguous as a character and if I didn't write her from her own perspective, the writing stayed safe.
Guess what my editor wanted me to do right off the bat?
You got it... Give Justine a voice.
So I took about two weeks to really think through Justine's voice-- her perspective, the way she saw things. I let her-- as my editor said-- talk to me. I didn't look like I was working but in my mind I was. (My husband has said that the inside of my mind must be a scary place to be. Let's just say I am never bored.)
After two weeks of mulling I was ready to delve into the darkness that was Justine. It was not a comfortable place to be. I found her thoughts disturbing. Largely because of what Carolyn Kaufman described in this quote-- I was delving into the darkest parts of myself, seeing what thoughts I was capable of, taking a good look at the blackness that lurks in all of our souls.
What ended up happening is that I found a sympathy for Justine as a person that I know has added something to the novel that was not there in the draft I originally wrote. And my editor agrees. The novel is better for it. I am a better writer because I pushed myself to delve beyond the happy sunshiney surface I wanted to live on as a writer. I learned from these edits that delving into the darkness might not be comfortable, but it is necessary if you want to produce an emotional novel. Carolyn Kaufman says it will make for a more compelling story and that's what I want-- to compel my readers to turn the pages.