Writing An Evil Genius Who Isn’t An Idiot

When I introduced the character of Agony Delapour in Catskinner’s Book, I really hadn’t thought further than wanting to show just how far out of his depth James had gotten.  I wanted him to see how completely he had misunderstood the scope of the Outsider’s power and influence, and showing the book’s main villain to be just an expendable henchman of a greater threat seemed a good way to do that.

Having Godiva negotiate a deal with Agony at the end seemed to be a good way to wrap up the current storyline, lay groundwork for the next book, and show the moral ambiguity of even the character who had been, up to that point, the least tainted of the protagonists.

Then, in Cannibal Hearts, I needed a way to put pressure on James to keep him moving.  Agony seemed again to be a good way to do that, she had arbitrary commands and a track record of using the threat of a fate worse than death to enforce her edicts.   Putting in the relationship between Agony and James & Catskinner was equal parts homage to the great “sudden hidden sibling reveal” trope in melodrama and an explanation for why Agony showed such an interest in James.

Now, in The Worms Of Heaven, Agony is suddenly a major character.  Unfortunately, this means that following the rules that I set up for her makes plotting a lot of work.  Agony is basically Catskinner without James.  She’s a different breed of orthovore than Catskinner, and her physical capabilities are different (Catskinner is able to run James’ body at hijack gear metabolism because he has James to act as a governor, Agony doesn’t have that.)

Her mind, however, is not human.  Because her consciousness is  information that exists of itself and is tethered to a human body, rather than being composed of information stored in a human body, Agony doesn’t experience time the same way that a human does.  She can’t see the future, but everything that she has experienced in the past is as clear to her as what is happening “now”.  It’s not so much that she has a perfect memory as that “memory” as such doesn’t exist for her–everything that has happened is always happening.

More than that, she has literally all the time in the universe to think things through. When she gets new information she can analyze it, place it within the context of what she already knows, consider the implications, contemplate and weigh a hundred different responses, use the data to construct new models to predict future events–all in the time it takes her body to blink.

And, of course, she is utterly amoral.  She has, essentially, one motivation.  She needs to control things–everything.  It’s less an emotion and more of a tropism, she can’t not try to take control of her environment any more than a stalk of grass can decide not to reach for the sun.  It’s what she is, it’s what defines her as an organism.  Both Agony and Catskinner, as information based creatures, feed on order, but Catskinner is a hunter where Agony is a farmer–she imposes structure in order to harvest it.

This means that in order to be true to the character as I’ve created her I have to write her as always doing the most effective thing for herself and her continued existence.  Unfortunately this means that I’m spending a lot of time coming up with ideas and then realizing that Agony would have anticipated that and taken steps to prevent it, and *poof* there goes my exciting action sequence.

It’s a little frustrating, to be honest.  I was able to get her into trouble initially because I was able to posit the existence of players that Agony hadn’t previously suspected.  She’s not omniscient, after all.  But it does mean that I have to keep adding layers to my already nigh-Gnostic cosmology.

I do think I have turned the corner and am into the home stretch with Worms Of Heaven. The Orchid has one more trick up her stolen sleeve, and it’s a doozy, so I think I can pull off a final battle without disappointing my readers.

However, for the sake of the narrative I think that James and Agony’s relationship is going to become more adversarial in Gingerbread Wolves.  And that’s a good thing.  Characters change over time, and situations change.  As the Badger said, “Crime and politics, little girl. Situation is always… fluid.”

Still working on getting a publisher for The Book Of Lost Doors. I really don’t want to self-publish The Worms Of Heaven, my ideal scenario is for a publisher to re-issue the first two and then bring out Worms under their own imprint solely.  However, if I have the book finished and still have no publisher in site I will likely circulate copies to my loyal fans, so you don’t have to wait.  Watch this space for more information.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in Cannibal Hearts, On Writing, Worms Of Heaven and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Writing An Evil Genius Who Isn’t An Idiot

  1. Harliqueen says:

    Good luck with it! 🙂

  2. I have to admit, that’s always one thing that’s daunted me about introducing a character who’s truly a genius. Because every time I come up with an obstacle to thwart them, I have to stop and think, “No, wait, this is way too obvious and they would definitely see it coming”. I suppose one way to get around that is to give the genius a fatal flaw — overconfidence, or something like that. It’s devilishly hard to pull off, though! However, I love what you’ve done with Agony. She’s just so COOL. I really hope someone turns your books into movies one day, because I would love to see her brought to the big screen.

  3. Dave Higgins says:

    Have you considered threats that use randomness, either as an applied factor (such as a table of actions and a die/coin/I-Ching/&c.), or an inherent quality (e.g. Heisenberg uncertainty)

  4. Best of luck with your books! I hope you do get a publisher to re-issue the others – that would be wonderful! And best of luck, too, in keeping ahead of your evil genius! ;->

  5. Good luck with a publisher. But don’t leave a book unpublished. I’m ready for the next one now.

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