Now Reading
Rachel Wolf on characters we love to hate

Rachel Wolf on characters we love to hate

Iago, Logan Roy, Nurse Ratched, Patrick Bateman, Annie Wilkes…

There’s nothing like a compelling villain to make your blood boil and bring a gloriously seductive element to a story. When power lands in the wrong hands, or twists those defending it, the story becomes electric.

When I was planning Five Nights, like almost everyone else, I was obsessed with Succession. I decided I had to have my own powerful family in my next book, with jealousies, secrets and lies. And so was born the Scarmardo family.

Years ago I lived in Bologna, and I already had a character who was from Bologna and now lived in Sicily, and so she became the wife of Mattia Scarmardo – brought up in Newcastle but with an Italian mother. With this combination, I knew I could take full advantage of the stunning Italian locations but also introduce an English family with a glamorous edge and money to burn.

I had a lot of fun looking at the caricatures of adult children of the wealthy – how they spoke, their casual throwaway lifestyles and where they spent their time. Once I had a picture-board of the family, I just had to bring their characters to life on the page. What did they really want? What was stopping them getting it?

Iago, from Othello, is one of the all-time great villains. It is difficult to pin down his exact motive. He seems to hate everything and everyone. He destroys for its own sake. Is he jealous? Is he in love? I love how clever he is, how his early plans in the play gather pace and snowball to the finish. I wanted an element of this planning in my villain, and I also wanted to introduce the idea of someone destroying for the sake of destroying. I tried hard to weave these elements into some of the characters, while at the same time trying to keep sympathetic elements – some redeeming features.

Nurse Ratched, from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is crazy with power. The same with Annie Wilkes, from Misery. With both, they begin as the saviour – the nurse and the rescuer – but soon their depiction becomes that of the villain. I like how they defy the readers’ expectation. I have a few victims in Five Nights, but one very clear one. And her saviour is not necessarily the selfless character they first appear…

The reverse of this surprise in character arc is also true. Protagonists are often considered ‘good’ people. They are characters we want to root for. However, just like people, characters are rarely all good. All great protagonists are capable of something dark – and this makes them all the more attractive. The challenge for any writer is getting the balance right – how make the reader uncomfortable with the protagonist, while at the same time never losing interest in the story.

Five Nights was a lot of fun to write and research. I hope readers enjoy the best and worst sides of all the characters, and love the novel.

Five Nights by Rachel Wolf is published on the 29 February by Head of Zeus at £9.99

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.