Good morning, everyone! Welcome to Writer Wednesday, where I share my little tidbits about craft and fiction writing. Today, I'm carrying on about the Antagonist. In other words, the villain.
We all love to hate him, but have you ever stopped to think that as much as we hate the villain, we love the villain. Yes, it's true. For me, one of the worst villain's I've encountered is Hannibal Lector. I fear him, he repulses me, I wouldn't wish him on my worst enemy...and yet, I don't want the feds to capture him again.
Why is that? Well, I like to think it's because I'm not truly sick. He's incredibly brilliant--course the true psychopaths are--and the fact he was able to get free from such a condemning situation is also, well, brilliant. And that intelligence is a draw in some weird (sick?) way.
So let's talk about what makes a villain successful.
|We've all met this guy...|
A Villain Doesn't Just Wander Into The Pages
A villain is not the random guy stuffed into the plot who does atrocious deeds out of the blue. He cannot be stereotypical like our friend Snidely Whiplash to the right. A villain who does this is just...annoying... and a reader wants to swat him like a fly and get on with the plot.
Creating a true chaotic evil character is exceptionally hard in fiction, though totally plausible in gaming tables. A villain cannot "do" something "just because." He cannot be stereotypical and cartoonish like Mr. Whiplash.
A Villain Has Motivation
If he can't be chaos personified, he must have motivation. By motivation I mean a goal, and a chain of actions, that the reader can relate to. He must be human. Even if that humanity is defined far different than our own.
One of my other favorite villains is Claudius in Gladiator. His humanity is different than mine, but his motivation is something I can, as a human being, understand. He felt betrayed by his father and wanted the same respect and success his father knew. He was denied his birthright, and in that era, it was an insufferable shame. Therefore, anyone who knew the truth and who could cast suspicion about his father's death, would be eliminated. When he acts against his nephew and sister, he has suffered the deepest of betrayals, and you understand, as that is transpiring, that when he finds out the fit is going to hit the shan.
A Villain Does Not Set Out to Be Evil
Nobody ever decides they are going to be evil. In a villain's mind, he is doing the right thing, even if he knows society is against his actions. Think Waco. Think of all the pirates we love so much--they were villains to society. This all goes back to motivation and the very important question the author must know, without a doubt, why is the villain doing this? He is infallibly right at the core of his existence, and this must go back to his ideals, moral perspective, and perspective of the world around him.
I watched a National Geographic special about big cats where clearly the majestic lion was the villain. He purposefully and brutally hunted four cheetahs, which to the photographer (a cheetah researcher) was completely unlike lion behavior. In later analysis with a lion researcher they concluded one simple fact: Though the Cheetah does not impose upon the lion's hunting grounds or 'menu', it stands to reason that the Cheetah kills lion cubs if able, to protect its own population. Therefore the cheetah has become a mortal enemy of the lion, and made the horrific massacre completely plausible. Did the lion set out to be evil in the eyes of mankind? No. But to me, who saw the brutality and understands how terribly fragile the cheetah population is, this lion was a huge villain. (We'll say nothing about the fact the cheetahs fell into the Too Stupid To Live category in this particular scenario. Ahem!)
A Villain Has Emotion
A memorable villain has emotion readers can bond with. The author can pull this out, making the villain more ...unforgettable. Again, we can go back to Claudius for this example--he is in pain with every betrayal. Yes, we want him to die and pay for his crime, but we understand and his suffering pulls at us. Another renowned villain is Magneto from X-Men. He's a holocaust survivor and he knows what evils humans can wreck upon the world. He is afraid of humans. And he is willing to do anything to protect the mutants.
The more emotion an author can wrest out of a villain, the more a reader can relate to him. So don't be afraid to dig deep and get into his mind.
A Villain is Proactive
Just like your main characters, a villain cannot be reactive. I would go so far as to say the entire core of your plot is your villain. He must drive the action. Otherwise, he is ineffective and doesn't create the threat the author desires. This also somewhat translates to a villain must be alpha -- at least in his psyche.
Most Villains Have A Streak of Goodness
If your villain has a soft spot (of the normal not deranged kind) for puppies, this makes him more likeable. If the author can portray this, even when he's at his most wicked, (or even better if a wicked moment is pre-empted by an unexpected softness) he again becomes more human. Like in Silence of the Lambs, the serial killer has a pet dog who he clearly adores.
This is really just the surface of villains, but if you, as an author, can keep these points in mind you're one step closer to mastering The Villain. The better you craft your bad-guy, the better your overall plot will stick in reader's minds.
Finish The Story!