Hello, book people. I don’t know about you folks, but I’m heartily tired of winter. We’ve been having 40, 50, and even 60 degree days followed by 20 and 30 degree days with either snow or ice. Although I enjoy snuggling up on my reading chair with a blanket and cup of tea to read, I’m sick of the inclement weather (and clearing off snow and ice, not to mention washing my car because of the salt). Even though I’m not a fan of the colder, darker weather, I seem to gravitate towards darker themed mystery and suspense thriller reads during this time of the year. I’m always amazed at how authors depict their villains in these books. How do they get inside these character’s minds and make them not only believable but terrifying? I’m very pleased to welcome Joanna Elm, author of the soon-to-be-released Fool Her Once. Ms. Elm will be providing us with a glimpse into crafting a believable villain. I hope you’ll enjoy her presentation, add Fool Her Once to your TBR list, and follow the tour to learn more about this book and author. Thank you, Ms. Elm, for joining us today, I can’t wait to learn more about your take on “the antagonist.”
by Joanna Elm
The antagonist or villain of a psychological thriller is probably the most important character in the novel. As Bob McKee, the screenwriting guru, says: “The antagonist, and his negative energy drive the story.”
When I set out to write my third thriller, Fool Her Once, I knew who the antagonist was and what he was going to do in the plot which involved Jenna Sinclair, a female investigative reporter. Jenna had outed the secret, illegitimate son of a notorious serial killer, and her tabloid article had tragic consequences.
So, when bad things start happening in her life a couple of decades later, Jenna fears that the son is still out for revenge. She decides she must track him down and stop him before he harms her daughter.
Initially, in early drafts, my story focused on Jenna’s quest to find the serial killer’s son. I had plotted some of the bad happenings that Jenna attributes to him and the sort of leads she could pursue to find him. I focused on her reactions to what she perceived as his stalkings and vengeful actions.
But he was still mostly a fuzzy personality in my outlines. Very quickly, after attending seminars, workshops, and writer bootcamps, I realized that I needed to know a lot more about him. It just wasn’t enough to say that his motive was revenge.
At one writer workshop I attended, I outlined my story for Fool Her Once to Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Olen Butler, a mentor at the workshop. He immediately responded: “Your story is really about the antagonist isn’t it? Who is he? What does he really want? Is he a psychopath like his father?”
I realized those were key questions I had to answer before proceeding with my thriller. I had to be clear in my own mind exactly what my antagonist wanted/expected to gain from his misdeeds, and how far he’d succeed in getting what he wanted.
I was also well aware of the generally held view that an antagonist cannot be all evil without becoming a cartoon character. The antagonist must be a well-rounded, 3-D character to be credible. Think Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Yes, he was a repulsive killer, but his relationship with FBI agent Clarice Starling made him a little more human and acceptable. And, did we really want him recaptured at the end of the movie???
In other words, an antagonist, however brutal, must have some redeeming features. Especially because at some point in a psychological thriller, the antagonist usually draws the protagonist into danger by earning her trust.
In one of my earliest drafts for Fool Her Once, therefore, I decided to write the antagonist’s chapters from his first-person point of view. It allowed me to get to know him and to dissect every move he made. I needed to establish why he was doing what he was doing, what he wanted to achieve by pursuing the heroine, and how he was going to earn her trust.
So, I gave him some likable and charming traits. Of course, since the heroine believes that the serial killer’s son has inherited his father’s psychopathic gene, the reader should wonder if my antagonist’s personality really is charming or if he’s like the majority of psychopaths, and knows how to fool people by “walking the walk and talking the talk” of normal individuals.
In one recent book club meeting I attended at which the group discussed Fool Her Once, a reader remarked about my antagonist: “He always has an explanation or a justification for what he’s done.” She pretty much hit the nail on the head. As Bob Mckee states, antagonists in thrillers never believe they’re evil or wrong. “Do evil people think they’re evil?” McKee asks rhetorically in his “How to Write a Thriller” webinar. “No,” he responds. “They have their reasons, their justifications.”
In other words, an antagonist in a thriller usually believes he’s absolutely justified in committing whatever horrible deeds he commits.
Readers of the final published version of Fool Her Once will not meet the antagonist as a first person character. I was advised to revise him by rewriting all his scenes in a third-person POV. Which I did—although I found it very useful and more than a little chilling to inhabit my antagonist’s mind so intimately for a little while. ♦
Fool Her Once
by Joanna Elm
February 1-28, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
Some killers are born. Others are made.
As a rookie tabloid reporter, Jenna Sinclair made a tragic mistake when she outed Denny Dennison, the illegitimate son of an executed serial killer. So she hid behind her marriage and motherhood. Now, decades later, betrayed by her husband and resented by her teenage daughter, Jenna decides to resurrect her career—and returns to the city she loves.
When her former lover is brutally assaulted outside Jenna’s NYC apartment building, Jenna suspects that Denny has inherited his father’s psychopath gene and is out for revenge. She knows she must track him down before he can harm his next target, her daughter.
Meanwhile, her estranged husband, Zack, fears that her investigative reporting skills will unearth his own devastating secret he’d kept buried in the past.
From New York City to the remote North Fork of Long Island and the murky waters surrounding it, Jenna rushes to uncover the terrible truth about a psychopath and realizes her own investigation may save or destroy her family.
Genre: Thriller (Domestic)
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: March 1st 2022
Number of Pages: 416
ISBN: 0744304938 (ISBN13: 9780744304930 – Hardcover)
ISBN: 9780744304923 (paperback – large print)
ISBN: 9780744304817 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780744304794 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09QRFG5QR (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09RJR3WGW (Kindle edition)
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | Barnes and Noble | BookDepository.com | BookShop.org | CamCat Books | eBooks.com | Goodreads | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook
Joanna Elm is an author, journalist, blogger and an attorney. Before publication of her first two suspense novels (Scandal, Tor/Forge 1996); (Delusion, Tor/Forge/1997), she was an investigative journalist on the London Evening News on Fleet Street in the U.K. She also wrote for British magazines like Woman’s Own.
Then, she moved to New York where she worked as a writer/producer for television news and tabloid TV programs like A Current Affair. She was also the researcher/writer for WNEW-TV’s Emmy-award winning documentary Irish Eyes. In 1980, she joined the Star as a reporter, eventually becoming the magazine’s news editor and managing editor before moving to Philadelphia as editor of the news/features section of TV Guide.
After completing her first two novels while living in South Florida, (Nelson DeMille described Scandal as “fresh, original and unpredictable”) Joanna returned to New York, enrolled in law school, graduated summa cum laude, passed the NY Bar exam and worked as principal law clerk for an appellate division justice in the prestigious First Department. She has been married to husband Joe for 35 years, and has one son.
Catch Up With Joanna Elm:
BookBub – @authorjoannaelm
Instagram – @authorjoannaelm
Twitter – @authorjoannaelm
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