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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Character on the Couch: Getting Catty with Another Villain

Someone didn't get his coffee this morning. (Image attribution via Wikimedia Commons: Puma concolor shot at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum |Source=self-made |Author= User:Cm0rris0n)

Fellow author of shifter literature Abigail Owen approached me wanting to make the villain of her second book, Kyle Carstairs, a bit more menacing. Here's our initial exchange:

Character name: Kyle Carstairs

Age: 28ish

Gender: Male

Species (if applicable): mountain lion shifter

Cultural or historical context: these shifters are very similar to their wild counterparts - loners and very aggressive. They've been forced to band together in pride-like groups.

Brief description and relevant history:  Kyle is my villain in the 2nd book in a series. He was co-villain but mostly off-stage in the 1st book. Kyle's father was the Alpha for one of the prides. He ruled with an iron fist. He and his father were challenged together. The dad was killed, and Kyle ran off. In book 2 he's joined forces with a larger off-screen villain (the reason cougars had to band together in the first place - these people take more shape in book 3).

Where you're stuck, or why your character needs a psychologist: Trying to make him more menacing without going over the top. Getting behind his motivations.

What you may not want me to share generally in the post:
Open to sharing all that in the post. :)
Note: I removed one question/answer pair that may lead to spoilers.

Rawr. (Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

So I sent the following questions for follow-up:

Are your mountain lion shifters (love it!) female-dominant?
The society is male dominated, but with a twist. I based the society on real mountain lion behavior. Mountain lions don't live in packs or with other lions - they're very much loners. The older males are the 'big dogs' because they're bigger and stronger only. Cougars are known to kill each other for territory. I add another twist. Due to natural environments shrinking, the types of shifters who do live in packs (lions, wolves) are attacking the loners like cougars, and killing them to gain their territories. Cougar shifters banded together to form the Shadowcat Nation - a group of ten Dares (like prides) that are Alpha Male led. But it's a really tense situation, since their animal forms don't naturally live in groups.

Even if not, what was Kyle's relationship to his mother or any other significant females? Yeah, paging Dr. Freud. ;-)
Kyle's mother doesn't even rate a mention in book 1. His father is Alpha of the Carstairs Dare, and Kyle wants the job. Based on the above scenario, Kyle's mom has been out of the picture a while. If she didn't run away from his father (who's a sadistic tyrant) then he killed her. Kyle has never asked which.

What is Kyle's greatest insecurity?
Not being in control. He wants to rule everything in his domain and destroy anything that threatens him (typical cougar). But he takes it to another level, trying to force one woman to be his mate (wife) (for political gain) while trying to force another woman to mate him (difference is this is just sex) in order to produce a cub who would inherit the mother's Seer ability. But a Seer he could control after he killed the mother.

Similarly, what strength does he have that he needs to control better? In other words, what's gotten him in trouble before?
I had to really think hard about this. My initial thinking is that his strength lies in - ironically - his strength. He's a massive cougar, very intimidating, with an ugly temper and temperament. He manages by fear. So far, only Jaxon has "bested" him in a fight, and even then not completely. Kyle still got away, though being so beaten threw his confidence a bit.

So here are my thoughts:
It seems to me that you've figured out Kyle's motivations – power and control – but they need more depth to make him truly menacing. In other words, what is his internal conflict? For example, has he ever thought about why he wants to lead the Carstairs Dare? It's a fairly straightforward motivation for someone to want to be king, but people still want to do so for their own reasons. How will him being the leader help him resolve what he's struggling with? Sure, he can want external things like wealth, but it will add depth to his character to give him more to deal with internally. You're on the right track with his insecurity and wanting control, but control of what?

I did a workshop at the 2012 Moonlight & Magnolias Conference called Characters on the Couch:  Personality as the Key to Believable Internal Conflict. Since you did an online Myers-Briggs personality profile and came up with INTJ as his personality, here are some possible things to consider:

INTJ is a good type for a fiercely independent person/shifter because independence is one of their strongest characteristics. So is the ability to come up with a vision of how things could be so much better-run or organized and strategy, although they may be less interested in implementing it themselves. In pursuing their vision, they often fail to consider how others are thinking or feeling.

So what is Kyle's vision for the dare if he should become king? Or does his vision go beyond it? How could you integrate his need for control?

I hope this was helpful, and I look forward to reading this series when it's published!

If you would like to type your characters, here's a link to a free online MBTI, which I find is accurate enough for character typing:  http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes1.htm

As for typing yourself, I recommend finding a psychologist who administers it and paying to take the real thing. A lot of companies also offer them as part of career development testing.

Oh, and here are some mountain lion kittens. Because kittens:
Too freaking adorable! (Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

If you have a character you'd like to send to my couch, please send me an email at cecilia (at) ceciliadominic (dot) com. You know what to do to make that an actual email address. I'm a clinical psychologist by trade, so I bring real-life psychological knowledge to help you through those stuck points. And no, I don't charge.


  1. Thank you so much Cecilia! This was a lot of fun, and very helpful as I work on book 2!!!

    1. Thanks for the opportunity to do this, Abigail! I enjoyed it as well.

  2. What a nifty exercise!! Great questions to ask one's characters (regardless of where they fall on the hero-villain spectrum).

    1. Thanks, Keely! Yes, these are great questions for any character, kind of like a really nosy first date. Thanks so much for stopping by!