by Brighton Luke
Everyone loves a good villain, and if there’s one truly great gift you can get your hero it’s a worthy foe. So, how can we avoid getting stuck with one dimensional, underwhelming, or just plain confusing bad guys/ gals?
I often see variations on the idea that evil characters (or people) don’t see themselves as evil, that no one thinks they’re the villain of the story. It’s a simplified way of trying to get at the point that villains need a motive. They can’t just go around being evil or the sake of it, that’s boring. Though if you look at some of the most popular villains some of them are well aware of their status as the bad guy, and even relish it. Look at Voldemort in Harry Potter, or Richard III, who got to headline his own Shakespeare play, but comes right out from the start admitting what a bad dude he is. The exciting part wasn’t that they were evil, it was how the villains motives contrasted and interplayed with those of the hero.
Giving your villain a motive is more than just having him/ her want something. Them wanting world domination, or to kill the hero is the WHAT, the motive is all about the WHY.
Think about anytime you see a gruesome crime on the news, Why? Is always one of the questions that crosses your mind. Why would anyone do such a thing? In real life we aren’t always lucky enough to find out, but it’s always something we crave, because the why is inherently interesting. So while a real life court case may not legally require a motive for conviction, your readers may very well require one for their interest in your story. Why is the thing everyone wants to know, and in fiction we have the power to give it to them.
If Voldemort was just killing people for the heck of it there would not have been enough story to fill up seven books. What made Voldemort such a good villain was WHY he was killing people. The WHY of Voldemort’s actions are so interesting that Harry and Dumbledore spend most of the 6th book on a hunt for information about Voldemort’s past and what clues it gives to his motives. In fact it’s his motives that lead to the climax of the story and his ultimate defeat, his obsession with magical superiority and purity meant he chose Horcruxes that had magical significance making them much easier to find, an adventure that had enough juice to fill up almost the entire 7th book.
So take some time to really go through and work out why your villain is pursuing their current goal, and what impact it has not only on how they go about achieving it, but also on how it affects how your hero will stop them.
I have commercials for online dating sites to blame for the fact that when I hear the word compatibility I now think questionnaires, and lonely single folk looking for love. Compatibility isn’t just for romance though, it’s key in finding your hero the perfect villain.
If your hero dispatches the main villain without breaking a sweat, you’re doing it wrong.
If your villain wins, you have a tragedy, but if your hero never stood a chance then your story is just depressing.
A compatible villain and hero challenge each other to the max, and make us seriously wonder who’s going to come out on top. Writing is hard, you have to go to work and hurt people, especially your hero.
So, if things are too easy for anyone in your story take a look at their antagonist and see if they need a bit of upgrading.
3) Stop smirking.
This one comes from the land of TV, and anyone who has seen the BBC’s otherwise delightful Merlin series will know what I’m talking about. Morgana (who everyone not a character in the show knows turns bad) starts off the series as a decent person, but just incase we were not catching on to her obvious and inevitable transformation to the dark side the writers and show runner decided to have her give an evil smirk at the end of nearly every line she gives once she starts going bad, all the while the characters around her are completely oblivious to it. I love Morgana, she is a badass formidable foe, (and I totally ship her and Merlin together) but all the smirking made me hate the writers.
Do not make your readers hate you. If you think your readers need to be hit over the head with some plot point it means you either did not write it correctly to start with, or you are writing for the wrong audience.
Questions for the comment section:
What are your favorite villain motives?
What villain pet-peeves do you have?