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Monday, June 30, 2014

Character on the Couch: Debbie Herbert's Female Villain

I'm excited today to welcome Harlequin Nocturne author Debbie Herbert and her Female Villain, who shall remain nameless, from book three of the series to the blog. If you haven't read Debbie's first, which is out now - and look at that gorgeous cover! - I highly recommend it. She brings something unique and fresh to the urban fantasy world with her mermaid clan, and her villains are creeptastic.

Here is the original exchange:

Brief description and relevant history: 

Besides occupation, F.V.’s a loner, probably never married, if she had a boyfriend he dumped her because she grew too clingy and obsessive in their relationship.

What you may not want me to share generally in the post: 

Her name because it could possibly be a spoiler.  Just call her ‘villain’ or ‘antagonist’.  

Note: I chose F.V. for Female Villain. Original, huh? Give me a break - it's Monday, and I was dreaming of the beach when I woke up this morning.

Where you're stuck, or why your character needs a psychologist: 

Explanation for antisocial, aggressive, irrational behavior.

For the first time, I’m working with a female character that is the villain.  F.V. is obsessed with the hero, Nash, and has been for years, although he doesn’t know it.  She has delusional fantasies where he loves her back and wants to marry her.

F.V. hasn’t told him of her love because she has a scar on her cheek and feels she is not worthy of the perfect Nash.  Over the years, she’s had several plastic surgery operations and now the scar is very faint, but in her mind it is still a big imperfection.  But just as she gathers her courage to tell Nash of her feelings, along comes the beautiful Lily (the heroine) who ‘steals’ her man.

F.V. is furious and stalks Lily.  She commits a string of increasingly aggressive actions against Lily to scare her away from Nash.  Finally, she decides the competition must be eliminated. Forever.

I’ve tried to find psychological profiles on female stalkers, etc. but found little other than the infamous David Letterman stalker fantasized that she was actually married to him.  I’ve also read most violent women do not directly, violently assault their victims, preferring instead to use such indirect means as poison.

So my question is, what would make a person become this way?  Should I portray her as psychopathic, sociopathic, living in a fantasy world? What kind of parents/background contribute to this behavior?
Any help much appreciated! 

Note:  This post is based on a conversation I had with Debbie after the June 21 Georgia Romance Writers' meeting. We went to lunch with aspiring author Waverly Bishop, and we all brainstormed about this character. The content below is a summary of the conversation.

By the time we talked, Debbie had already come up with some really great backstory aspects to explain some of F.V.'s irrational and sociopathic behavior. Namely, that she had been attacked at some point, leaving her scarred, and that in her mind, she feels that warning her potential victims justifies eliminating them as competition if they don't heed the warning. She also came up in foster care. But Debbie still struggled with how it would all make for such intense emotions and behaviors, and she was also unsure of whether it made sense for F.V. to still be so obsessed about her scar, which she's had several plastic surgeries to correct, and therefore is practically invisible to everyone but her.

With regard to why F.V. is how she is, we basically worked backwards from the present and decided that F.V. would have been warned before she herself was attacked. Since her aggression is targeted toward females, it made sense for her scar to have been made by another female, possibly her foster mother. Also, because F.V.'s violent tendencies are all tied up with her attraction to a certain man, her attack could have happened as a result of her pushing sexual boundaries, possibly with a foster brother, whom she'd been warned to stay away from. Her feelings toward her foster mother would possibly be mixed – admiration for the power she displayed but fear and loathing for keeping F.V. from her desired target and then attacking and damaging her physically as well as emotionally. It also served as a very effective example as to how to deal with a woman you want to keep away from a man, even down to giving "fair warning."

As for the scar, there is a disorder called Body Dysmorphic Disorder, in which a person perceives some sort of flaw in their appearance and obsesses over it to the point of severe distress. It's not uncommon for someone with BDD to have several cosmetic surgeries to "fix" the perceived flaw and to still not be satisfied. Yes, there are treatments for it, but it's often difficult to convince someone to seek treatments. Plus, it sounds like the F.V. has some delusional characteristics even beyond the BDD. Here's a link to the Mayo Clinic's information on BDD.

This sounds like a fantastic book, and I can't wait to read it! Debbie really does a great job coming up with freaky villains, which you'd never suspect because she's so sweet in persion. It's always the ones you least suspect, huh? Her first book Siren's Secret is out now from Harlequin Nocturne, and it's available on Amazon and all other retailers.


  1. This is wonderful - thank you so much! You really helped me nail the villain's motivation and backstory.

    This is such an amazing, unique service you provide to writers struggling with characterization in their WIPs.

    Your psychological insights are what make your books such a great read too!

    1. Thank you, Debbie, for both the compliment and the opportunity to analyze your female villain. :-)

  2. Too cool. I enjoyed reading this!

  3. I can't wait for book 2 and 3! And this just adds to the excitement. Very interesting to see it from a psych point of view. Interesting read.