How does your villain go to sleep? Answering this question can really give you unique insight into this important character and move your screenplay along fast. Who, if anyone, does he or she sleep with? What do they do in bed? Where does your villain go to bed? Does he or she even have a bed? Maybe your villain sleeps in a coffin, like you know who! These are all fascinating questions that help us get to know our villains quickly.
I begin this exercise a little differently than the others, because I start by writing how I personally go to sleep. I also skip the usual prep. I don’t close my eyes or get myself centered. Why? Because I don’t really want to think about it. I just want to scratch out the first, truest things that pop into my head. So I set a timer for five minutes and quickly scribble down my current sleep rituals—whom I’m sleeping with, whether I have a snack, everything like that. When I’m done, I put that aside and, for the time being, out of my head. Now, for the next part of the exercise, I will get centered, closing my eyes, imagining a beautiful scene, and taking a deep breath. Then, when I’m ready, I open my eyes, set the timer, and write for five minutes, as if I’m a fly on the wall, observing my villain getting ready for bed, whatever that means to him or her.
Because this exercise uses the active imagination, lots of things will come to mind that we have no way of planning. Recently I worked on a story with a student who just could not get a hold of her villain. When she did this exercise, however, she realized that one of the guilty pleasures that her villain had was to read the Daily News before bedtime. The fact that the villain was a high-priced lawyer helped give this a quirky logic. With this one detail, we were able to build a significant part of the story, and the student was able to finish her screenplay with ease.
So, try this exercise when developing your villain. You’ll find out great things about this crucial and often difficult character. And be sure to try it on yourself. It will give you a solid basis for contrast, provided you aren’t too villainous yourself!
Here’s to your successful writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz