Today, I wanted to highlight one of the key building blocks of a successful story. Oy vay, you say. There are so many of them! Yep, but let’s go real basic… So, you’ve got your hero, and you’ve got your heroine…AND now you need your VILLAIN! A villain (or antagonist) can take any form you’d like – a person, circumstances, memories or anything that hinders your H/H for achieving their goals.
But, you knew that : )
For simplicity sake, I’ll talk about the human kind of villain—and to keep it really simple, I’ll refer to him as a man despite the fact women make excellent villains. The villain can make or break your story. If he’s too lame, you’ll get a bunch of eye rolling from your reader. If he’s too evil, you’re looking at the Exorcist revisited (and NOBODY wants that!). We need to develop goals, motivations and conflict for the villain to carefully complement those of the hero and heroine.
There are lots of elements that help build the villain, I’m just talking about 5 of them because it’s our fifth birthday : )
5 attributes of a successful Villain
Villains are more than a big ol’ pile of icky
Everyone knows a strong hero and heroine are flawed. They do their best to hide that one characteristic that makes them -vulnerable, human- and helps us relate to them. Root for them more. Villains need flaws, too. They need something deep down in their past that makes the path they’ve chosen plausible. Always remember, flawed villains do good things at the most unexpected moments. Interesting, complicated villains are not all evil--they like puppies or enjoy a great waltz around the dance floor. Contrary personality traits add depth and realism to all characters.
Nothing makes a hero and heroine great like a villain that’s their equal
We’ve all read books where the villain is as predictable as boiling water is hot. Often times we can guess what his next step is and then counter it (in our own minds) with the offense taken by the hero. What fun is that? Dealing with a worthy opponent is the difference between your hero playing ping-pong against the folded side of the table, calculating the result of each slap of the paddle, anticipating the results, and playing an opponent with his own set of techniques and talents that keeps the shots a guessing game, a lesson in strategy. A good villain will make your hero reach deep inside himself and grab every ounce of courage and instinct to win the game and bring home the victory.
Careful not to have too much fun with your villain
Where the image of your hero is always in the back of your mind, there are no limits restraining the villain. Their good and bad side have free reign to run rampant through your story. Think about it. Your hero has to be worthy, likable, and well, heroic. Generally matters like causing an automobile crash, battling the ravages of natural disasters, or even something as simple as his dog digging up his neighbor’s prize potato patch give the hero a platform for his responsibility and ingenuity to shine. He will assess the situation, and even if he chooses poorly, we still get the feeling of general compassion.
Not so the villain. Nope, he can whip through that intersection causing a dually full-ton pick-up truck to T-bone the newly restored ’68 Mustang to smithereens and never think twice about the heartache. He can live by the motto Every-Man-For-Himself when the worst tornado in history flies off the Category # Scale crumbling the local hospital, while he sets up housekeeping in his safe, underground cellar. And really, do we expect him to care if his junkyard dog tears through Grandma Jenkins’ garden after she’s spent years perfecting the giant spud in order to win the Baker’s Challenge contest so her Senior Center can afford matching croquet uniforms?
The more callous and insensitive the villain behaves, the more your emotions rise to the challenge. So let your villain lie, steal, swindle, smoke, and every other vice known to man. He’s met his match in the hero. A strong villain only makes for a stronger hero.
Villains disassociate themselves with, well, themselves
Every character works hard to be unique. The villain tends to work double time at this. Think about all the bad guys NCIS has brought to justice (don’t you just love a good Leroy Jethro Gibbs thrown in for good measure??). They lead ordinary, everyday lives and are overlooked by the general public until clue after clue uncovers anomalies, contrary traits to their persona, a dark side about them. Hiding In Plain Sight makes a great title for novels, and personifies the mindset of the villain. Make them someone your characters would trust in a heartbeat and unravel the truth, thread by thread. It not only gives your reader a complex puzzle to solve, it makes every other character a suspect for a brief time, too.
Villains believe they are justified in their actions
Some of the best and most memorable villains behave the way they do because they believe they’re acting on behalf of the greater good. The reader recognizes the emotions that fashion this character so opposite their “good” counterparts in the book. Anger, indignation, revulsion, dread, revenge are ignited for the reader due to the villain’s cunning thread through the story. Is there anything more intense than a character committing wrong for all his internally right reasons? A skillful writer will have the reader feeling just as morally intense for the villain as the hero/heroine because the goals, motivation and conflict are just as solidly developed, and his hurts run just as deep.
I know that are lots of other considerations when building a villain, but here are my birthday Five. How about you? What talent or trait do you think needs to be incorporated in a villain? Leave a comment and I’ll be drawing a name for a sampling of my pre-season holiday almond bark.
Chocolate is always good : )
|Happy Birthday, Seekerville!!|