Sunday, September 13, 2009

Guest Post by Myra Johnson: The Lessons of Wicked"

Lessons from WICKED: villains we love to hate!

In August I had the pleasure of attending Wicked, the musical stage production based on the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire. This enchanting story of how the Wicked Witch came to be . . . well . . . wicked . . . begins with her birth and takes us through some surprising twists and clever takeoffs from the story’s inspiration, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Not to give away any spoilers if you haven’t seen the play or read the book, but Elphaba (as she’s named in the story) didn’t start out bad, just green. And anyone who’s ever felt their differentness to any degree can relate. Elphaba is shunned by her own father, teased by her classmates, despised by just about everyone except . . .

Galinda (yes, that’s how she originally spelled her name). Though the bubble-headed Galinda starts out as one of Elphaba’s worst detractors, she soon finds herself Elphaba’s reluctant best friend and finally her champion.

But enough about Wicked. The moral of this story is that (most) villains have hearts too. Who’s the baddie in your novel? Have you thoroughly investigated his or her backstory? Do you know why the antagonist acts the way he does, why she so badly wants whatever it is she wants? If not, then you haven’t dug deeply enough. Your villain will be one-dimensional and not nearly as interesting.

In The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass writes, “[M]ost of the time bad actions have a comprehensible basis no matter how hard they may be to discern. In any event, villains whose motives we can understand are much scarier than those whose motive is merely Mwoo-ha-ha-ha!”

So let’s talk about villains and antagonists, the ones who stand out as truly memorable because we can see their humanity despite their evil intentions, and possibly even identify with them in some small way.

Here’s one example. Mary Connealy has done a great job of humanizing the antagonist in Montana Rose. Wade Sawyer is dangerously obsessed with having Cassie Dawson for himself. But when we see how his father treats him, how he struggles for any semblance of confidence or self-esteem, he becomes much more understandable. We want him to get what he deserves, but even more, we hope he can be redeemed.

Your turn. Describe a villain you’ve read or written about recently. Can you trace his or her descent into badness? Can you understand this person, maybe even relate? Why or why not?

About Myra Johnson: Myra’s roots go deep into Texas soil, but she’s proud to be a new Oklahoman. Empty-nesters now, she and her husband share their home with two loveable dogs and a snobby parakeet. Her debut novel, One ImPerfect Christmas, released in August 2009 from Abingdon Press. She also writes for Barbour Publishing’s Heartsong Presents line. Autumn Rains, winner of the 2005 RWA Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript, releases October 2009, soon to be followed by Romance by the Book and Where the Dogwoods Bloom. Myra writes full-time and is active in her church as well as local and national writers groups. She and her husband, Jack, have been married since 1972. The Johnsons have two married daughters and five grandchildren.

About One ImPerfect Christmas: Christmas is the season of miracles, but when blame and guilt keep people apart, a miracle needs a helping hand. Natalie Pearce loves Christmas so much she’d gladly make it a year-round celebration—until her mother suffers a massive stroke while taking down the decorations. Natalie’s guilt over not being there to help her mom soon builds a wall that separates her from the rest of her family, including her husband, Daniel, and their teenage daughter. As the next December approaches, the last thing Natalie wants to be reminded of is another Christmas season. Only her family’s tenacious love and an unexpected Christmas gift from her mother can help Natalie mend the broken pieces of their lives.


  1. Sounds like a great book.
    Thanks for sharing.

    God's blessings

  2. Who said, "We're all the hero of our own story"? Someone smarter than I am, obviously. LOL But Myra offers excellent advice to remember our villians are motivated by what makes sense in their worlds - however twisted that world may be.

    Another wonderful post!