I enjoy a good villain. They can help bring a story to life. Without a villain, what is the hero or heroine to do? You can have a couple mooning over each other for 300 pages, but if there is no juicy villain to interfere with true-whatever, I get bored.
The villains should have a motive for what they are up to. Cardboard villains tend to fall flat. Blubbering evil geniuses with no reasonable reason to conquer the world leave me out in the cold. Does the villain remain the same throughout the story? Do they repent? Do they grow worse? Most well-rounded characters come complete with several shades of gray. They may not even think they are bad. The other side of the coin is that basically good people can also do bad things, maybe not on purpose, or perhaps because of unusual circumstances.
In my novel The Dark Lady, the first in a trilogy, I filled a castle with various villains. By the end of the series, some died, some retired, some changed, and hopefully a few unexpected ones popped up. In The Queen’s Pawn, I had two main ones, who both thought they were hard done by and in the right, as well as a scattering of minor minions. You can play villains for comedy, or attempt at blood-curdling shocks. In Knight’s Bridge I tried for one downright nasty individual. I think he suited that particular plot.
When I began to write my Housetrap Chronicles series, I started with one major baddy per tale. What I soon discovered, however, was that I became fond of certain villainous types, and found excuses to bring them back. Good doesn’t always completely overwhelm evil, sometimes the hero is just happy to finish with a draw. Some of the baddies in this series are actually almost likeable…well, sort of.
Think back to some of your favorite villains, be they human or beast. What makes them stick in your mind? Some of the best created are forced to return and repeat their crimes, or mistakes in countless sequels. Is Dracula simply misunderstood? Is the drooling Alien just hungry? Why are the villagers chasing Frankenstein or the Wolf-man? Well-written villains remain burned into the back of our brains long after we close the pages of a book, or toss away the empty pop-corn bag. Everyone remembers the line in the movie Jaws which went something like, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”
Overuse of the same antagonist can dilute the villainous character. Too many sequels spoil the evil plots. So can a poorly written baddy. I don’t know how many movies I’ve watched, not necessarily all graded “B”, where I’ve left thinking, well, they had the budget and they should have hired a good writer.
Ron’s brief rules for villainy:
- The villain must have a motive (unless they are a psychopath I suppose?). A backstory is a one way to bring this out. Their motives may even appear quite reasonable, but just not in the way they carry them out. They are convinced they are in the right.
- The more interesting villains are not all bad. Give them a redeeming feature or two. Do they have a sense of humor? Do they like dogs and children? Are they kind to their mother?
- Try to make them more than two dimensional. Does someone out there love them? Why are their loyal minions loyal?
So let’s hear the cry for villains who cause the heroes and heroines much grief and leave us shaking in our shoes while crying out for more.
Do you have a favorite villain? Ask yourself why!
Coming in May 2015: Alex in Wanderland,
The Dark Lady Trilogy
The Queen’s Pawn
The Housetrap Chronicles