Sunday, February 8, 2015

How to Build a Better Villain

I'm writing from the Coastal Magic Convention, right on lovely Daytona Beach. I've been doing sunrise beach walks each morning with fab book blogger Jen from That's What I'm Talking About. Wonderful way to start the conference day!

This week's topic, following on last week's ruminations on negative traits in our heroes and heroines, is how the development of positive traits builds better villains.

I confess I rarely, if ever, think in terms of villains. The word calls to mind the old-style melodramas, in which the villain is identifiable by a glossy handlebar mustache and an evil cackle. Just not my schtick. Because, you all should know by now, I'm a shades of gray kind of gal. I don't even really believe in the concept of evil. I think people do the things they do not acting out some struggle between good and evil, but because they're doing what they want and need to do. Everybody has reasons for their choices. Maybe not admirable or understandable ones, but reasons nevertheless.

Which is the key to writing a better villain.

Give them REASONS.

Villains are, after all, characters in your story also. They should be as fully fleshed as any other character, with goals and conflicts. This is probably why I shy away from the word "villain" - because that implies a single motivation, which is to be evil. Instead, the antagonist should have a noble dream or goal of their own. This is where positive traits come in.

Anyone who vigorously pursues their passion is fascinating to us. We love the story of the underdog who triumphs, the drive to succeed and secure personal victories. Whatever the villain of a given story is striving for, that motivation will be interesting. Even better if he or she sincerely believes that what they want is Good and Right and Necessary.

For example, in my Twelve Kingdoms books, High King Uorsin absolutely - even megalomaniacally - believes in the union of the warring kingdoms. He's a warrior, powerfully determined, nearly a force of nature. It's easy for the reader to see just how wrong and awful he is, but HE doesn't know it. He'd be an admirable person, if he weren't quite so narcissistic.

But hey - we all have our flaws. 

7 comments:

  1. I often like villains better than the heroes because the villains have a reason for what they do. Too often the hero doesn't get a good reason for doing the right thing and being heroic, ( apparantly always doing good doesn't need a reason) making the hero less relatable than the villain.

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    1. That's such an interesting point! Yes, very often our heroes sacrifice themselves to save the world because they're just that damn noble. Good thing to remember on writing the heroes!

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  2. Or the priest, he is a villain in Tears of the Rose but I didn't really think of him as a villain because he had such conviction for what he was doing...he was just a strong character that I wanted to stab.

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    1. That's funny - and an excellent point. He might reappear in Book 4. :D

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  3. Excellent post, Jeffe. A strong hero needs a strong antagonist. You're right about the latter having excellent reasons for doing what s/he does. She or he is the hero of their own story.

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    1. Thanks Diane! I love the way you put that - so true!

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