Saturday, April 11, 2015

Kathleen Y'Barbo on Characterization

Pinkerton Agents, Inventions, and the Charming Villain:
Three Essential Ingredients of a Good Bad Guy

Will Tucker is a handsome fellow with enough charm and drop-dead good looks to gain more than one wealthy fiancĂ©. And he does. Not exactly hero material, is he? That’s because Will Tucker, the subject of my new Southern-with-a-dash-of-Steampunk historical series The Secret Lives of Will Tucker is not the hero. He’s the villain.

Writing a series with a villain at its center is a departure for me. Thus, taking on the telling of the story of Will Tucker, the charming and smooth-talking chameleon with the dubious intentions was new territory. In order to write heroines who would be fooled by this fellow and yet not appear to be less than worthy of their stories, I had to find that combination of good intentions and strong will. I also had to create a villain who these women would be willing to marry. Thus, the bad guy had to be good, at least in part. What a conundrum.

In the process of creating Will Tucker, I came up with a general list of requirements for any good (and by that I mean bad) villain. For the sake of clarity, I refer to the villain as a male, but rest assured that these tips can just as easily apply to women.

  • A villain must have a good reason for his actions. This can be past history, current circumstances, or something altogether different. However, the reason must make sense to him. For example, if he feels compelled to kick old ladies, he’d best have an elderly female in his past that was a source of pain or fear.
  • A villain must have at least one redeeming quality. He may murder people, but he adores his mother. Or maybe he treats his pets with loving care or donates half of his paycheck each week to charity. Whatever it is, let there be something about this guy that is likeable.
  • A villain must not be one-dimensional. Avoid clichĂ© bad guys who have nothing else in life except the evil they commit. Make them members of a community or perhaps give them hobbies or family. Ground a bad guy in a real world scenario that makes him seem more relatable.

Using these three elements, I created a handsome and charming swindler whose penchant for entering into engagements with society women is eclipsed only by the ease with which he bestows his attention upon them. Will Tucker’s education and background gives him the skills to pass himself as a member of their social strata while those same elements provide his excuse for scheming against them. Because he has a family, a history, and a reason for his actions, Will Tucker holds his own against the Southern belles and Pinkertons who populate his world.

So what becomes of a villain who is so likeable that women fall for him and men don’t mind calling themselves his friend? As I wrote the tales of Flora Brimm, and Millie Cope , and even as I began Sadie Callum’s story, I wasn’t sure how I could pull off an ending worthy of such a fellow. In the end, Will himself determined his fate. Without giving anything away, I will say that the villain can sometimes switch hats and play the hero, too.


Bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee of more than fifty novels with almost two million copies in print in the US and abroad. A tenth-generation Texan, she has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award as well a Reader’s Choice Award and Book of the Year by Romantic Times magazine.

Kathleen is a paralegal, a proud military wife, and an expatriate Texan cheering on her beloved Texas Aggies from north of the Red River. Connect with her through social media at

Sadie’s Secret, a Secret Life of Will Tucker historical romantic suspense novel, is in stores now:

Watch for Firefly Summer, the first in the contemporary Pies, Books & Jesus Book Club series coming this summer from Redbud Press! 

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