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Friday, August 2, 2013

Writing Extravaganza Post 6 - Writing A Villain Worth Reading

 On this, the sixth of our Writing Extravaganza Posts, we have Jo M. Coleman, who offered to write about villains. She did a fantastic job, and even included some pictures! (I love pictures!)

Please check out and support Jo on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JoMColeman.

As of yet, the villain that I have hated the *most* is "The Swede" in AMC's TV series, "Hell on Wheels." More than Voldemort, more than President Snow. The creators of this TV series definitely knew what they were doing. They know what Joanna is about to tell. Her advice is gonna help you write villains that are AMC quality, detestable people. Hooray!

"In the old days villains had mustaches and kicked the dog. Audiences are smarter today. They don't want their villain to be thrown at them with green limelight on his face. They want an ordinary human being with failings." — Alfred Hitchcock 

We all love a good villain. That being who stands in the way of our hero, whose goals directly oppose those that we root for. The man with the scar on his cheek, clad in black. The woman with long fingernails painted red and an evil smirk on her face. The man with a grudge and a weapon. The woman with a memory and an army. What makes a good villain? How can we write better villains; ones that will tear a person's heartstrings, make the reader call for a lynching, do as much damage as possible to our poor heroes? I believe this sort of villain is borne out of understanding. Not necessarily on the reader's part, but very certainly on the writer's part. We must KNOW our villains, the way we know our hero, our best friend, our parents. A good villain needs to be sympathetic on some level. We as readers want to understand them, even if we are horrified at what they do. We want to know that Tom Riddle was unwanted and unloved as a child, and so we understand in part why he chose the path he did.

 Tom_2   We hate his hatred toward the half-bloods, the 'mud-bloods'. We hate who he is, and what he stands for, but as the story unfolds, we begin to understand how he got there. As we begin to understand it, and perhaps in a small way, feel some level of sympathy for him (he cannot love, after all, and that is certainly not his fault), we also see that he was presented with opportunities to do right, to make a positive change in the world, and he chose different. Understanding your villain is the first step to creating a villain worth reading about, worth pitting your hero against. Loki is not very lovable, were we to happen upon him as a self-proclaimed overlord, hardly batting an eyelash at killing any number of (in his eyes) unimportant people. He doesn't think twice about controlling and enslaving them. He is willing even to destroy the entire earth and everyone on it with no remorse on his end.

Loki_Avengers_enemy  And yet... in some way we see that he didn't really want it to be this way. He didn't want to turn out the way he did. Growing up in the shadow of his older brother, he eventually found out he never was part of the family, he could never measure up. And so he decides to make his own mark on the universe.   We understand him. We sympathize because we wonder what we would do in that situation. We understand his motives, though we may not agree with them. He hates humans because his brother loves them. He begrudges his brother the acclamation and acceptance that he feels he will never receive. Not every villain will be as sympathetic as Loki, and not every villain will have a tragic back story attributing to their current evilness... but they will have SOME story, and until you find out what it is, you'll only be writing a cardboard cutout of a character – one few people will want to read about, or force themselves to believe.


Some questions to ask yourself about your villain: What motivates him/her? A grudge from the past? Love? A broken heart? Anger? Past hurt? Revenge? Goals based off of a wrong mindset where they truly feel they are doing the right thing? Why has your villain become who they are? Childhood trauma? Family issues? Rejection? What is his/her ultimate goal? Why THAT goal? What will it mean for them personally to achieve that goal? What inspired them to set that goal? A person? A memory? What makes your villain tick? What makes him happy? What makes her sad? So, before diving into your villain's scenes of dastardly wicked deeds, make sure you, as the author, know why he (or she) has become that way. That you understand them. Give us a reason to care about your villain's story, just as we care for the hero's story, and then make us believe it.


Anonymous said...

The way you described how we must understand villains was intriguing. I just read (oh, fine, reread) the part in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where Dumbledore shows Harry the memories of Voldemort. I definitely felt bad for Voldemort, like you said we do in your post. Great explanation!

-Trixie Hall

Oliver Dahl said...

Thanks for the comment, Trixie! I totally agree! Jo did a great job on this post.

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