Brainstorming Strategy # 2: Villains

Have you ever known someone who would put you down in any way that they could? Then you have met with a villain. It is easy to think that a villain is just for suspense or thriller type novels, but they are a great source of conflict in all genres.

To figure out the best type of villain for your novel, start with figuring out the end of the book goal for your characters. These would be things like love, safety, freedom, security, etc. Then look for the type villain that would make reaching that goal difficult. Also, at this preliminary stage you should consider the competence of the character, or what they are especially good at. You want the villain to oppose this as well.

Romantic Suspense:

*Sarah is a doctor who works in the Emergency Room. She values saving lives. Wes is a homicide detective who catches killers.

Villain- A killer who has targeted Sarah when she is working her shift at the hospital. Bringing his victims to the edge of death and leaves a note for her on the body. He targets victims only in the area where the ambulance would transport them to her ER and only on the days she is working.  (This challenges her competence and provides opportunity for Wes and Sarah to disagree about whether she should continue working.)

Contemporary Romance:

*Carmen is a florist who arranges beautiful flowers for events like weddings. She dreams of love, but fears it is just a fairy tale until she meets Jake. Jake is a photographer who specializes in wedding photos.

*Villain- Carmen’s next door neighbor is the unsuspecting villain. She means well, but is always trying to match make. This leads to a lot of conflict for our happy couple as other suitors show up with flowers, or are invited to dinner next door along with an unsuspecting Carmen. (This keeps her from Jake and true love)

Speculative Fiction:

*Ramak is the last of her species on the planet. All of the elders of her community have planned for her to marry the prince of another species, but she doesn’t want to end her search for the legendary Kenon of her species that some say still exhists. They once were in love, but war separated them and she was told that he had died. Kenon lives in the outer perimeter waiting for the perfect opportunity to enter the city unawares to find Ramak. The wedding proves the perfect opportunity, but would it be too late to save her?

*Villain- The evil king who knows Kenon is still alive, but wants his son to marry Ramak gaining the riches of her kingdom. The king is powerful and rich as well. With all of the guards and army under his control, he tries to thwart Ramak’s exploration and eliminate her loyal followers.

Historical Fiction:

*Loretta is the owner of the largest spread of land with control of water to the neighboring properties. She ran the ranch in her father’s ailing years, so when he passes she is determined to continue as before. Charles is the foreman of the ranch who worked for her in the last two years since her father became ill. He is skilled in leadership and recognizing that something is very wrong, even though Loretta pretends nothing is going on.

Villain- Someone in the small town knows her secret, that she really isn’t the blood daughter of the man she called father since she was three. They are determined to get the ranch or reveal her dirty secret and watch the bank claim what is rightfully hers. (This challenges her ability to hold onto and run the ranch.)


As you can see, creating a villain is as simple as determining what the character’s overarching goal is, their area of competence, and who would best keep them from their goals. Try this with your novel. Write down your hero/heroine’s name, there area of competence and their overarching goal. From there you can determine who would be the best villain.

Michelle Lim, My Book Therapy, The Craft and Coaching Community for NovelistsOur Huddle Coach, Michelle Lim semi-finaled in the 2011 Genesis with Death’s Apprentice and received Bronze Medal Recognition in the 2010 Frasier contest with Singed. She is the vice president of MN N.I.C.E., a local chapter of ACFW. At My Book Therapy she coordinates the e-zine’s Genre Java Column and is the Brainstorm and Huddle Coach,our program for local craft groups. Michelle taught elementary school for eleven years. She lives in Minnesota with her husband Hui Hong and four rambunctious kids that keep her life full of laughter and suspense. Contact her at:


Ten Common Author Mistakes. #8

My Best Friend’s Wedding

Neglecting to create dynamic secondary characters.

Definition: Secondary characters are the protagonist, and the author’s best friend. A great story telling tool. They widen the stage, round out the story, spotlight the protagonist.

They help tell the story.

They add depth.

They add conflict.

They add humor.

They reveal truth.

It’s so easy to get caught up in creating our protagonist(s) we often forget to layer and deepen other characters. The end up being placeholders or sound bit machines. Secondary characters need to have a goal. A purpose. A hint at a problem. They can be a bit shallower than the main characters, and a bit two-dimensional, a bit more flippant, a bit more of a hyperbole.

Use secondary characters to show the heart and depth of the protagonist.


How to create dynamic secondary characters?

Make them fun. Give them a problem. Allow them to be a little bit over the top.


Do the same character work you’d do for your protagonist. Figure out how the secondary character’s problem or journey ties into the protagonists journey.


Is the best friend of your heroine getting married while she’s ending her relationship – thus her hopes of happily ever after?


Rule: Let secondary characters go over the top.

Workshop It: Do you have a secondary character that needs a bit of exaggeration? Give him or her a quirk or funny saying, or secret desire that suddenly is revealed on the page.




I’m Important Too! (the care and feeding of Secondary Characters!)

The use of Secondary Characters:


I’m important too!! 


So, I’m sitting here at my husband’s office, mulling over today’s blog, and the front desk guy (a friend named Jim) asks me, of course, what I’m writing about: 


Me:  The Use of Secondary Characters in a book.

Him:  Or misuse.  (he’s an avid reader).

Me:  (because I haven’t had my coffee yet…) Huh?

Him:  Well, think about it, just the name:  Secondary Character.  How would you like to be called a Secondary Character?  They’re important, too!


He’s brilliant!  And right!  See, secondary characters are key to a great story.  Think of Watson, to Sherlock Holmes.  And Danny Glover to Mel Gibson (sorry to bring him up, but again, I’m needing coffee), and how about um…Bert and Ernie?  (okay, I’m really hitting the bottom here.)  Oh!  Harry Potter and Ron Weasley!  And Barney Fife to Andy Griffith?  Laverne and Shirley?  And, Holy Sidekicks, how about Batman and Robin?  


(I’m running to get coffee right now). 


The point is…a great character, and a great story is enhanced by great secondary characters.  


Who is in your world?  We are, in large part, defied by the people we allow into our lives, the people we chose to spend time with, listen to, allow to influence us, and even challenge us.  These people help us grow, (even if we make mistakes with them!) and teach more about ourselves, our world, our faith. 


Secondary characters in  novel act the same way.  Rachel Hauck wrote an excellent article about secondary characters in the spring issue of the MBT Voices Ezine, and with her permission, I’m going to use some of her points here as a starting place.  And by the way, the NEW  issue is JUST OUT!!  Check it out at:  It’s fabulous!


From Rachel:

“Secondary Characters are critical to every story. Through their eyes, we see the hero and heroine from different angles. Even if a SC is not a point-of-view (POV) character, his or her dialog and action can round out the story and the protagonist.”


I’m not going to rehash all the great things Rachel said about Secondary Characters – here, however is a short list of the benefits of secondary characters:

Secondary Characters widen the story

Secondary Characters trigger backstory

Secondary Characters supply humor

Secondary Character can be setting

Secondary Characters reveal the protagonist’s character


All these are true!  And, I want to add: Secondary characters enhance the THEME of the story.


More than just people who give the protagonist someone to chat with, they can act as truth tellers or even catalysts to change in the character’s journey.  They are, in short, Voices of either Reason or Passion. 


What is a voice of Reason or Passion?


The Voice of Passion lives in my house. She’s dressed like my teenage daughter (on any given day that might be a pair of jeans, topped with a skirt, with a tank top under a short sleeved sweatshirt, and a pair of what my husband calls her Wonder Woman arm protectors). Now, to be fair, my daughter has long moments of what I call sanity, where Reason prevails, when I can convince her that no, her brothers aren’t trying to drive her crazy, even though they insist on leaving the bathroom…well, you know.


And then there are the moments when Passion takes over. When, despite our best efforts, life is simply too much, when she must play her music at the top of the allowed decibel levels, when, to put it into GreySpeak, she has to dance it out.  In that Passion moment, the inner wild thing must be heard and set free, if only briefly. Only then can she breathe deeply, restore her sanity.


Sadly, or perhaps comfortingly, I see so much of myself in her. So, I know, someday, this too shall pass. (Or not, according to my husband).


So, the point is, we all have two sides to ourselves…a Voice of Reason, and a Voice of Passion. They people we are when we are sane (Reason) and when we’re…well, without coffee (Passion). All my characters, when I develop them, have said voices, and I use them in various plot points throughout the book.  But the fun part is that SECONDARY characters are a great way to to illustrate the THEME of the story by making them either a Voice of Reason or a Voice of Passion.  Two sides of the character, lived out, so to speak.


For example…let’s say our theme is forgiveness, like in my book Happily Ever After.  My hero Joe is grappling with forgiveness and doesn’t know how to forgive someone for something that happened to him. He has a brother who acts as a voice of REASON, the voice that has perspective and grace and found the right answer.


Also in the story is a villain, someone who is out to sabotage my heroine, Mona. The villain is acting out of unforgiveness, and his anger is causing him to lose his morals, and eventually his freedom. Hmm….sounds like the Voice of Passion to me. 


Another example is…and here I go again, but the Hunt for Red October. The central character in the theme is Jack Ryan…and the theme is loyalty and trust. Of course, our voice of REASON is Sean Connery, who has looked at his life and this silent war and decided to aim for the US Eastern Seaboard. And, in the end, he decides to trust someone he’s never met. The voice of PASSION is the OTHER Russian sub commander, who decides NOT to trust his own countrymen, and in fact kill them. (which of course, makes perfect sense, if you’re a Russian sub commander). But its two sides to the same theme…how much should you trust someone?


How do you incorporate the Voice of Reason and the Voice of Passion in a book? 


1.       Start with your theme – what are the two extremes that could be played out?  Revenge verses Acceptance?  Betrayal versus Loyalty. 

2.      What would it look like to act out those two extremes in your story?

3.      WHO could play those roles?  (look at family members, community, friends, even setting)

4.      How could they influence your character to either: 

a.      Identify with them? 

b.      Reject them? 

(Ideally, both moments should be in the story, even as a way to show the character: what if…?) 


The Voice of Reason often pops up during Act 2, as a Truth Teller.  The Voice of Passion often shows up either at the very beginning, as a part of the home world, or inciting incident, OR, it shows up near the black moment – perhaps before or after, as a glimpse of how things could/have gone terribly wrong. 


Do you have secondary characters in your stories?  Are you using them as a Voice of Reason or Passion?


The Voice of Reason and the Voice of Passion are great ways to utilize your Secondary characters. Look for ways you can accentuate the theme, give it different points of view, and then apply them to your secondary characters. Suddenly, they’ll have their own voice and meaning on the page. And you’ll have made them not a Secondary Character…but a Significant Character.  (Do you like that better, Jim?)


Let’s talk about our Secondary Characters!  Head over to: and let your Voice be heard!


And don’t forget to sign up for the MBT Pizza Party at the ACFW Conference.  (sign up at:


And, if you would like intensive, hands-on help in building your story from idea to plot, you may want to consider the Storycrafter’s Retreat – October 29-31, Minneapolis MN.  Find out more here:


Have a great week!

Susie May


Voice of Reason/Passion winners!

Hey all!

After five days of internet, uh…let’s call it CHAOS…I am finally able to get back online. Something involving a burned out router, and a settings glitch, and I don’t know…but WOW, did it bring out the VOICE OF PASSION as I stared at my “cannot connect to the internet” windows screen.

I wanted to hurl something at the monitor. But a smart, rational girl listening to her Voice of Reason husband, (who calmly reminds her that it’s NOT the new Dell Monitor’s fault) refrains from acting out. Even though the wildly frustrated girl wants to embrace her Voice of Passion and call up her computer guy and threaten bodily harm if he doesn’t show and I mean Right Now to fix it.

There you have it, the Voice of Reason and Voice of Passion dealing with the same emotion: Frustration.

Thanks for your patience! And for your excellent examples!

Here’s one from Jessica on the emotion of Loss or Grief:

The Voice of Passion is starting to lean toward Izumi, my heroine’s, brother-in-law. He has lost his brother and has a means and opportunity to find the murder. He is steadily climbing to the top of his influential mob family in Chicago.

(Susie: It seems to me that Izumi is following his thirst for Revenge (Passion) to satiate his grief)

The Voice of Reason is becoming Izumi’s sister. She is there to help her over the difficult bumps on the way to Izumi understanding widowhood. Actually it’s more like coping with widowhood.

(Susie: Izumi’s sister is a great voice of Reason. She balances out Izumi’s passionate voice and gives another look at how to deal with grief.)

Well done, Jessica!

Susan C had a great point to accompany her example:

“I think it’s important to balance the Voices of Reason and Passion–to, in Jungian terms, own our Shadows–in order to be fully realized people/characters, in real life and/or in our books. A character/person who doesn’t embrace her shadow will be one-dimensional. Not very interesting, in real life or in fiction.”

Hear, hear! Although secondary character can more fully illuminate the theme, the character should her his/her own voices of passion/reason so we can see their inner struggles.

Here’s her example of Vof P/R in secondary characters in her memoir in progress:

The Voice of Reason is sometimes my mother, sometimes my husband, sometimes my spiritual directors, sometimes, a best friend. And the Voice of Passion is also sometimes my best friend, and my friends in art groups and writing groups.

But the Voice of Oppression is an important third element in my book. It’s when the Voice of Reason becomes legalistic and over-bearing.

(Susie: A very good analysis on when the voice of Reason actually morphs into a negative….suggesting, perhaps that there ARE times when we should follow our voice of Passion instead. Which brings me to a good point…

I got a couple interesting emails from folks who had real trouble writing the voice of passion, whether in secondary characters or their POV character because they simply couldn’t respect someone who lives by their passions. Yeah – I’m hearing that, because who wants to live in middle school all the time? Or worse, a soap opera? However…one great plotting point for your character might be – when would his voice of Passion be the right choice? Isn’t that the message of so many romance novels, the reason that Darcy stands in the field, forcing himself to bare his heart to Elizabeth? )

Here’s another great one from Rachel S:

In A Time For War, my Russian set historical, the voice of reason is the hero’s friend Ivan. His quiet wisdom has saved Sergei from making stupid decisions many times.

The Voice of Passion is Sergei’s headstrong younger sister who refuses to live her life the way she’s expected to. That reckless passion leads her into marrying a man who will manipulate anyone to get what he wants, which is access to the family fortune.

Good job, Rachel!


Now…how to write Passion and Reason into your story. I got an excerpt from a Voices reader, and I took just a snippet to show how a person might cross over from reason to passion….


Early Tuesday morning, Ian hooked the wood trailer to the tractor and drove it up into the woods. As he loaded up the pine logs that he’d felled and trimmed the day before, it occurred to him that he could have taken the trailer with him in the first place and had the whole pile loaded, especially with his nephews there to help, but he wasn’t thinking that far ahead. At the time, he wasn’t thinking about anything but knocking something down. Repeatedly.
(Susie: see how his voice of passion is taking over? One idea for a great continuation of this scene would be for him to make a costly mistake while in the grips of passion…and have a voice of reason save him….just a therapist’s thought there…)

Thanks, Camille!

All four courageous voices will receive an advanced copy of Wiser than Serpents (hopefully in the next couple weeks!) Thank you for playing!

And now….if my internet cooperates, tomorrow we’ll start a discussion on…writing DIALOGUE.

“That’s right, good, nice, ATTRACTIVE, little computer, work with me here, I really didn’t mean all the nasty things I may have said to you…”