Friday, August 20, 2010

Create Interesting Villains

The key to a good story is a good antagonist. The bad guy or bad gal makes the hero heroic. The character of a protagonist can be confining, but villains are wide open. In The Shopkeeper, Bill Sprague was an assassin that killed from a distance. In this excerpt, the hero encounters him for the first time.

McAllen was the one to speak up. “Did you see that man on the hotel porch, reading a newspaper?”
“Yes.” As instructed, I had kept alert when we walked from Jansen’s office to the hotel. The only person I spotted lingering had been reading a newspaper on the porch. He looked innocent enough, and the activity was certainly not unusual for a hotel guest.
“That was Bill Sprague.”
“What?” I hesitated, but after thinking about it, I was sure I had not seen another man. “That was Sprague? Are you sure? The man I saw looked like a bookkeeper.”
Sharp said, “That’s him, all right.”
Captain McAllen nodded and then added, “Rumor has it he once made his living totting up columns of numbers but changed professions when he discovered he had a natural knack for marksmanship. He brings a bookkeeper’s methodical manner to long-range shooting.”
I looked toward the door, but he had not followed us into the hotel. “Must take more than marksmanship. I can’t image a man making his living by killing strangers for money.”
“I heard a story about him,” McAllen said. “Don’t know if it’s true, but sounds ’bout right. Supposedly, Sprague once competed in a long-range shooting contest. Won it hands-down. But each time before he shot, he consulted this little notebook filled with numbers in tidy columns. The book contained his meticulous measurements for different ranges, wind conditions, and even different temperatures. This was years ago, when he supposedly still wore a green eyeshade to work. Not long after that contest, he put his talent out for hire. Now, I’m told, he carries those measurements in his head and uses his notebook to keep track of his money.” McAllen took a swig of beer. “Yep, I’d say he’s an odd duck.”


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