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Bad Girls: The Scorned Woman

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

“Women do not have any macho tradition to uphold. We are socialized to be nurturing and nice. Beneath these feelings, however, has always been an icy rage. When you ask a woman to focus her imagination toward murder, she treats it as fresh turf and brings to it an enthusiasm that may not be naturally shared by a man, exposed as he has been to violent moments his entire life.”
~Sue Grafton

We’ve danced around this topic throughout this series. We’ve talked about our favorite Disney villains, which includes a large number of females. But when it comes to creating believable female villains—Bad Girls, in other words—it takes a totally different skill set than it does to create a male bad guy.

Cherie Lunghi as Lady Augusta Pembroke from RH

Cherie Lunghi as Lady Augusta Pembroke from RH

I’ve already given a detailed example of two female characters who are the antagonists in their own stories. I’ve also been known to use a Bad Girl upon occasion in my books—y’all know about Ransome’s Honor, but I have a Bad Girl in A Case for Love as well. When I created these Bad Girls, their sole purpose is to thwart one of the main characters (Julia in RH, Forbes in Case). Because they aren’t POV characters, and because there was no need to redeem them at the end of the story—just to have their actions influence Julia and Forbes—I wasn’t concerned so much about whether or not the reader feels sympathy for them . . . though I do try to show why the Bad Girl in Case may have turned out the way she is. I did, however, want them to be believable and not the Cartoon Caricatures I wrote about yesterday. (Y’all will have to tell me if I succeeded or not!)

As I’ve thought about Bad Girls—and especially as I wrote the post about the two wedding movies—I began to think about the “other woman” Bad Girl. And I knew that one of the members of my local group, Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, is writing a romance novel in which the hero is already seeing someone when the story opens—and she’s not the heroine. In fact, this female antagonist becomes a villain because she becomes the woman that all mankind should fear: the SCORNED WOMAN. So I asked Krista Phillips if she would share some thoughts on creating a Bad Girl/Scorned Woman character:

When I think of “bad girls,” the “Bad Boys, Bad Boys, What ya gonna do?” song runs through my head… just substituting “Boys” with “Girls.” (Feel free to blame me if you find yourself singing the particular tune for the next 48 hours.)

My latest WIP features a female antagonist, and I gotta say, it’s been both fun and frustrating. On one hand, I can take all those experiences with catty girls/women that have left scars on me in the past and pour them into my character… then I can make her life completely miserable, especially at the end. Ahhh… sounds like fun right? (A little unchristian too….)

But then I realized that my antagonist was puny and one-dimensional.

So, I took out my bike air pump, inserted it into the mouth of my female antagonist, and started to go for it. Okay, sorry, that was more of that vindictiveness in me. I see a prayer of repentance in my future.

Seriously, my first step to add dimension was to look at her motive. Why is my bad girl so bad? What made her like this? We need to do this with EVERY character we write, but I think it’s a common pitfall for writers to forget about the antagonists motives, especially females. A man is on a quest for power, control, or vindication. But what does a woman want?

On the surface, we may think “attention” or “beauty” or “the man.” And all those things are true, but a woman is a deeply emotional being. It’s how God created us. So when you have your antagonist, figure out why she wants those things. Many times, it comes down to her need for love and acceptance, or she’s acting out of her lack of love and acceptance.

That said, these motives don’t have to be redeeming. But they can be. It is perfectly acceptable for your reader to STILL not like your antagonist, and it’s fine not to give readers the complete backstory. As long as there IS a backstory. Geez, look at all the other female antagonists we’ve seen. The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (total middle child syndrome!) The wicked stepmother in Cinderella (well… the poor lady DID lose her husband! And probably two husbands… or maybe the stepsisters were out of wedlock… ohhh, now THERE’S an interesting twist!). Amanda/Angel in Redeeming Love (yes, she’s the protagonist AND one of the many antagonists…) the three hormonal cheerleaders in Never Been Kissed (I bet all of their fathers are workaholics who just hand over the credit card instead of spending time with their daughters.) Regardless, somewhere in their pasts, something made them how they are. Find it, and it will help you deepen your antagonist.

TPSWhen I started my new book, all I knew was that my main character (MC) was engaged, and this new girl came on the scene and he fell in love with her. (I knew more than that but don’t want to spoil the story!) But… what was I to do with said fiancée? I couldn’t have her be nice, otherwise everyone would be mad at my MC for being a jerk. I didn’t really want him to cheat on her…. I AM writing Christian fiction after all. The idea was for Maddie, the new girl, to be “sandwiched” in between the couple.

To solve my problem, I took a long hard look at Livy.

What did I find? Well, Livy comes from a divorced parents, has no contact with her dead-beat dad, has a crazy whack-job of a mother, and is engaged to her high school sweetheart who she fears doesn’t even love her anymore, yet she is still deeply in love with him. When miss “thang” walks in and Livy’s fiancé’s eyes start to wander… she panics. She pulls out her “sexy” card… but that doesn’t work. When she’s sure that she’s being cheated on, she turns to her mother to console her, who in turn hands her a “revenge” card. Thus… she becomes my bad girl.

And from there… yeah, let’s just see she gives the Cinderella’s step-mom a run for her money.

Ah . . . jealousy. The age-old maker of Scorned Women throughout the ages. Just look at the tradition of Scorned Women Bad Girls: Scarlett O’Hara, Caroline Bingley, Ashton Main Huntoon, Becky Sharp, Velma Kelly, Hera (Greek mythology), the wives in First Wives Club, and Alex Forrest (Fatal Attraction).

There’s so much more to talk about with Bad Girls, so we’ll carry on tomorrow!

For Discussion:
Who are some of your favorite Scorned/Jealous Women Bad Girl characters?

  1. Tuesday, September 15, 2009 2:40 pm

    Velma Kelly and Scarlett O’Hara! (I love the musical Chicago, which is based on a Ginger Rogers movie called Roxy Hart)

    Forgive my slight TLM obsession, but Ursula also falls into the Scorned Woman category of villains. It’s not as apparent in the movie, but it’s really played up in the Broadway musical. The set-up there is that Ursula and Triton, as the children of Poseidon, were to rule jointly. He divided his power in half between a shell and Triton’s trident. The trident is the more powerful of the two. Ursula has a wonderful song called “I Want The Good Times Back” that’s her singing about all the things she did that made “brother, darling!” scorn her. One of the best things about the musical is the deepening of Ursula’s character and motivations.


    • Tuesday, September 15, 2009 8:45 pm

      My favorite villianess again!!!! And one of the reasons I loved the musical so much was for the broadening of Ursula’s character. I’m still torn whose version of Poor Unfortunate Souls I like better.

      I always loved Josie Pye in Anne.

      Oooooh! I almost forgot. Ida in “The Inheritance”. She was beautiful, but sooooo wicked it was awful. When Edith got James instead of her, Ida was positively a witch. And doing all the things she did to actually physically harm Edith was awful. She’s one of those characters that bring out the violent in a person. I was wishing for some grisly end for her to pay her back. Alas, all she got was an embarrassing exposure and living with those two old aunts forever or something like that. But yeah. Epitome of scorned/jealous woman there.


      • Tuesday, September 15, 2009 10:36 pm

        To put you into even more of a tizzy, watch Faith Prince’s version on YouTube if you haven’t already! It’s closed on Broadway now, but going on tour next year.

        I got to see it with original cast right after the stagehand’s strike. Have a friend that saw it three times. She knows I’m jealous!


        • Tuesday, September 15, 2009 11:19 pm

          Aww, you lucky! 😉 My friend went to see it on her honeymoon.

          I have to say that if I ever were asked to play in the musical (which would entail a shell bikini, so that wouldn’t work 😉 ) it would be hard to pick between Ursula and Ariel. I think the only deciding factor would be the fact that Ariel sings “Part of Your World”, which is one of my F-A-V-O-R-I-T-E songs. Otherwise…Ursula would be soooo fun. Why oh why is it more fun????? I see a serious phsycological discussion coming up. 😉


        • Wednesday, September 16, 2009 3:33 pm

          Maybe because she gets to act like a vamp…

          Ariel’s costume is not a shell bikini. All of the mermaids are wearing those flesh-colored leotards, like some figure skaters do. There’s a really neat behind-the-scenes featurette on the TLM 3 DVD.

          I co-own a TLM message board called The Secret Grotto and as soon as the tour info is out we’ll have it posted.


  2. Tuesday, September 15, 2009 7:46 pm

    Ahhh, Ursula! FANTASTIC example of a female antagonist!

    BTW, isn’t it funny that I can read something thirty billion times and STILL not catch my stupid errors???

    “let’s just see she gives”

    I meant say, not see. lol!


  3. Thursday, September 17, 2009 10:06 am

    In Pride and Prejudice I would say Miss Bingley is my favorite ‘bad girl’ ~ just a pest overall to the family, especially to Jane. 🙂


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